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The winners of the African Publishing Innovation Fund each gave inspiring addresses at the Publishers Conference ahead of the Sharjah International Book Fair.

The Zimbabwean poet Chirikure Chirkure talked about how the funds had enabled him and his team to renovate a shop in a remote rural part of the country.  “It will become a library,” he said.  “First we have had to put in water and electricity.  Some of the children are fascinated to see the electric lights going in.”

That fascinating will only grow when they see the books and computers that will follow.  “We have eight boxes of books on their way from the UK and we are speaking to Book Aid about receiving more.”

Alison Tweed, CEO of the latter UK-based non-profit, talked about the fund had enabled them to open a library in three containers in Zanzibar.  “It opened in September this year and now we have given them a grant to buy locally published books.  The library is already being used by local community groups and lots of people say that it has given the idea to try something similar in their own location.”

Catherine Uwimana, who works in book development for Save the Children International, talked about rural communities in Rwanda.  “Some of these children are seeing books and computers for the first time.  Children love this.  And we’ve worked with local radio to broadcast audio books too.”

Sharjah’s Bodour al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association and the driving force behind the African Publishing Innovation Fund, congratulated all the winners and praised their “leadership and innovation”.  She then asked what comes next?

Chirikure said he hoped to establish a trust to look after similar library projects in Zimbabwe, while Tweed talked about Book Aid’s Storybox project which is emphasising the joy of reading and sees books from UK publishers “but also books from local publishers” being sent to local communities “to encourage the habit of reading”.

And in words that showed just how basic the needs in some African communities are, she added: “We will continue with our solar lamps project too – without light, no one can read at all.”