Kenya: Library in Memory of Two Girls Lights Hope for Reading Culture

In 2014, a Mombasa welfare group 'Donge La Mombasa' received an appeal for medical support for two young girls. That was barely two years after the group was started by a Kenyan couple based in London.

The group intervened and sponsored specialised treatment for the girls; five-year-old Fatma who had a cardiac problem, and 12-year-old Khadija who was suffering from bone cancer.

Unfortunately, the girls lost their battles.

"One of the girls' greatest wishes was to get better and go back to school. They both died while receiving treatment," recalls Lela Goldsmith, the woman who together with her spouse, are behind the welfare group.

After their death, Ms Goldsmith proposed the idea of establishing a community library in their memory.

"I wanted us to have a library because the two girls passionately loved reading and I felt literacy was also crucial to our society's progress," she says.

The local community bought into the idea and after pooling resources, the dream materialised.

And so in October 2014, the Fatma and Khadija Memorial Library was officially opened in a two-room apartment located at the Donge La Mombasa Welfare Group (DLMWG) office in Kereketa, Mombasa County.

Ms Goldsmith, who is the strategy director of the welfare group and a published author of a children's book Bibi's Blessing, says the library has been useful in nurturing reading culture and provides a safe outlet to youngsters in a county that faces the menaces of drugs, gangs and violent extremism.

Quality time

"We have seen great success, with increased membership and more children and young adults coming to read and borrow books. We incentivise them by offering them healthy snacks as they enjoy their quality time in the library," she says.

Ms Goldsmith says she was inspired to write her book, available at the library, after realising that local children needed more local stories that reflect their environment and culture.

"It's one of my proudest accomplishments. I really feel happy when I see these children hold and read my book. I decided to write it as a way of meeting the demand for local stories that can culturally and geographically relate to the readers from Mombasa and the wider Coastal region."

Her dream is to expand the Fatma and Khadija Memorial Library to other parts of Mombasa County as well as the entire Coastal region and beyond in addition to creating mobile library service and a digital reading component of e-books to reach a wider readership.

But with funding challenges, since the library is a voluntary-based and community driven project with no major donors, she says that dream may take time.

However, she welcomes any support including books, skills and talents to promote and enhance their literacy activities, which is in part a credit to the late Fatma and Khadija, the two precious souls who are memorialised by the library's very presence and contribution to society.

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