Books changing lives in Sierra Leone

Emma Taylor
Opinion - International Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Emma Taylor explains how the people of Sierra Leone, which received books from Book Aid International for the first time last year, are benefiting from the charity's work


Every year for the last three years, the UK book trade has donated in excess of one million new books to our charity, Book Aid International. We send those books to thousands of libraries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in communities where books are scarce. In 2016, we shipped 38,226 books to a new country of operation for our charity: Sierra Leone.

The need for books in Sierra Leone
There has been a long-standing need for books in Sierra Leone. Bookshops are nearly non-existent even in the country's capital, Freetown, and only 43% of the country's population is classed as literate.

Today, Sierra Leone is still recovering from the Ebola epidemic, which swept the country between 2014 and 2016, killing almost 4,000 people. Schools were forced to close for a full year to slow the spread of the disease. The crisis has increased the need for books. Sierra Leone did not have sufficient health professionals before the crisis, and Ebola killed 5% of Sierra Leone's doctors and 7% of its nurses. This has led to a huge need for books to train new health professionals. Books are now also urgently needed to help students, who missed a full year of their education, catch up.

The books that were donated by our UK book trade partners in 2016 are now in the hands of students, health care professionals and readers across Seirra Leone, helping communities and individuals recover. Here are two examples of how these books are making change possible in Sierra Leone.

Investing in health infrastructure
Hospitals, schools and clinics in Sierra Leone urgently need up-to-date medical texts. Every year, we receive thousands of medical books from UK publishers, so in 2016 we were very pleased to be able to help Sierra Leone's health professionals access the books they need.

The impact of up-to-date medical texts in universities and health care settings is hard to overstate. The Nixon Memorial Hospital in Eastern Sierra Leone, for example, has a nursing school, which trains more than 75% of the nurses who work across the entire eastern region of the country. Previously, it was forced to operate with very few up-to-date medical books. Now, 1,000 medical books, donated by our publishing partners, are being used by the nurses to ensure that they have the skills they need to provide the best possible patient care.

The hospital's manager, Mr John Saffa, explained the impact that the books are having: 'One might look at the contribution of books you have made towards the development of this hospital as very little, but we are looking at it as a great help to this hospital and the community at large.'

'The books are so good for us!'
Ensuring that schools have the books they need to get students back to learning is also a priority across Sierra Leone, so we ensured that schools across the country received books to use in their classrooms. One of those schools was Bassa Town Primary School in the town of Waterloo. The school's headteacher, Yearie (left), explains the difference that their library is making: 'Before we only had a small number of curriculum textbooks and no other books at all. Most families cannot afford to buy books for their children. That is why I was so pleased to receive a donation of books in June 2016. These books have been so good for us! Children can come to the library, read the books and improve their reading skills. They are learning about different places, people and communities, and that helps them to feel happy and lively. The children are so eager - you can see the excitement in them to come to our small library and read.'

And the students know that the books are critical for their futures. Ten-year-old Memunatu (right) says: 'I like the library because on a Wednesday we come here and learn something, and read. I like school. It is for my future. When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer.'

An eye to the future
These are just two examples of how a small percentage of the 1,032,610 books donated by our generous book donors are now changing lives in Africa.

As we look to the future, we want to continue ensuring that the books we receive reach the places where they can do the most good. This year will see us expanding our work with schools that lack resources, supporting more health institutions that cannot afford up-to-date medical books and reaching out to people who face special challenges in accessing books in Sierra Leone and beyond.

Our ability to send books to these communities depends entirely on the generosity of the UK book industry. To get involved or learn more, please contact info@bookaid.org, or call us on 020 7733 3577.

Emma Taylor is head of communications at Book Aid International.

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch London Book Fair Show Daily.

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