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Nairobi’s new chapter: these ladies are restoring and reclaiming Kenya’s dilapidated, colonial-era libraries


    Book Bunk, based in 2017 by writer Angela Wacchuka and creator Wanjiru Koinange, is a non-profit group working to revive libraries throughout the town by updating all the pieces from bodily infrastructure to e-book collections. The staff has additionally helped rework libraries into areas for occasions that encourage concepts and have fun writing, together with internet hosting the Nairobi Literature Festival.

    “We’ve really asked a lot of questions about what libraries are, what they might be, and what’s stopping them from reaching the point where they can serve communities as a whole,” Koinange stated.

    Formerly dilapidated buildings are haunted by ghosts from a distant previous. Kenya, which was below British rule since then 1895was designated an official colony in 1920 and remained as such over 40 years,

    The Macmillan Memorial Library is the oldest library within the metropolis, and the most recent venture from the Book Bunk. Built in 1931, solely white European colonists have been allowed to enter area for the subsequent three many years,

    The identify of the library additionally recollects its historical past. It was commissioned by Lady Lucy Macmillan and devoted as a memorial to her husband, British American settler Sir William Northrup Macmillan. With lions guarding the entrance entrance (positioned there in reference to Macmillan’s fascination with lions), the books throughout the library additionally function charming reminders of the time.

    “When you look at the collection, it reflects a certain kind of ideology — a very problematic one,” Wacchuka stated.

    "I think libraries are great equalizers,"  Says Angela Wacchuka, co-founder of Book Bunk.

    Updating the Colonial Collection

    In 2018, Book Bunk established a partnership with the native authorities of Nairobi that permits the staff to steer restoration efforts within the metropolis’s libraries. Book Bunk, which depends on donors and partnerships to fund its initiatives, has a devoted workers of paid and volunteer staff.

    Wachuka and Koenang, together with 30 interns, compiled a catalog of 137,705 books—primarily obtained from British colonists—over a interval of 9 months on the Macmillan Memorial Library. They at the moment are sifting by the fabric to resolve which one will stay.

    “The texts here do not reflect who we are, but are an important part of understanding how we have been viewed throughout history,” Wacchuka stated.

    The Macmillan Library is the Book Bunk’s third library restoration venture. The staff has already restored the Eastland Library and the extra central Kaloleni Library in East Nairobi. They at the moment are working to digitize books and archival materials corresponding to magazines that can make entry to historical past a click on away.

    While sorting by the cabinets, he observed a serious distinction in all three libraries: the dearth of an African assortment.

    “I’m 100% sure that if we had books on shelves that reflected people’s needs, we would see them flying off the shelves,” Koinange stated.

    "(library) A place where you can access everything you need.  It doesn't matter who you are,"  Says Wanjiru Koinange, co-founder of Book Bunk.
    The group plans so as to add books by and about Africans, the diaspora, and black experiences. The staff additionally publishes books, together with an East African model of a kids’s e-book by Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.sulway, accessible in English, Swahili and Luo (a language primarily spoken by the Luo individuals, fourth largest ethnic teams in Kenya).

    a welcoming place to assemble

    According to Koinange, surrounding communities use libraries as workspaces, with about 300 individuals accessing them day by day. Before the Book Bunk restored them, there have been no working water or workable bogs within the Kaloney and Eastlands, and the Macmillans had a barely-functioning electrical system, forcing the library to shut when the solar went down. .

    Even earlier than revamping libraries, Book Bunk spent months surveying native communities to search out out which companies could be most helpful. People requested Wi-Fi, up to date bogs, prolonged opening hours, neighborhood areas and enjoyable actions.

    Koinangay and Wacchuka listened. Kaloleni now has a devoted kids’s library and, within the Eastlands, a cool area crammed with artwork and full with a stage for performances – together with a current set that includes the Kenyan singer and songwriter Sanaipe Tande, recorded as a part of the Nairobi Literature Festival.

    The Book Bunk is at the moment engaged on creating out of doors area in libraries and updating infrastructure, from putting in Wi-Fi to cleansing up the asbestos within the partitions. And whereas there’s nonetheless a sense that they’re restoring a spot that was by no means supposed for them, Koenange believes in standing as much as historical past and leaving one thing higher for posterity. is vital.

    “I think we as Kenyans are too quick to do this when things are painful. It’s not useful, because if you erase it, you forget it, and it happens again and again.” Happens,” she said. “(Instead), you stare it within the face and turn out to be like, ‘We’re going to make you stunning once more.’ You are going to discover a strategy to not solely restore the constructing, however what the constructing means to the Kenyan individuals, (and) that’s way more sustainable.”

    Brianna Duggan contributed to this story.



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