January 25, 2018

"We collected hundreds of books because all children should have equal access to information"

Access to books should be a right, not a privilege, for children in Senegal

Photo credit: Dana Schmidt

Mamoudou Ndiaye

Global Youth Ambassador from Senegal

Some students in rural Senegal have to travel miles to the nearest library - so one of our Global Youth Ambassadors decided to do something to help.

In Article 17, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to information that is important to their health and wellbeing. That they must be given access to children's books.

Unfortunately, in the region where I grew up - the rural area of Matam in the north of Senegal - having access to books is a privilege. 

When I was in middle school, the closest public library was located eight miles from my house. Our school’s so-called library fitted in a box and had fewer than 50 books for hundreds of students. 

I was, and still am, passionate about books and reading. I spend hours and hours reading just to satisfy my curiosity. In that part of the country, there are no librarians (the books are managed by the teachers).

That passion led me to study Library Sciences at the University of Dakar. When I went to the capital city, I was impressed by the fact that students there had easier access to books and information - unlike the students of my native region. 

Senegalese children who don't have access to book may not fulfil their potential

Photo credit: GPE / Chantal Rigaud

To me, that situation was unfair because I believe that all children should have equal access to information regardless of where they live. 

Those kids don’t have the means to reveal their full potential and discover the world and the magic of books.

Thus, I decided with a group of friends to collect books for students of my hometown so they won’t have to travel miles to go to the closest library. I am convinced that books play an inescapable role in the intellectual development of children.

In the first phase of the project, we collected hundreds of children's books thanks to the help of the French Institute in Senegal. Due to the success of the first phase, we decided to expand the initiative to another school in the second phase.

In that part of the country, some children drop out of school because of early marriages and others because they must help their parents in their work.

Their parents believe school is just a waste of time and would make their kids abandon their culture (my ethnic group is very conservative and the culture is above everything). 

I believe giving those kids access to books and information may create some sort of awareness and they may plead for themselves in front of their parents.

According to the Senegalese National Agency for Statistics and Demography, there are 76 early childhood care facilities with a student population of 6034 - 53% of them girls. This to say that our action represents a drop of water in the sea.

Although it is a difficult task, we are determined to pursue our efforts to give to the students of our city an easy access to books.

As it is difficult to collect enough books for those kids, we are trying to put into place an online library that may help them satisfy their information needs and entertainment using free online library creation software called Greenstone.

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