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The restoration of two libraries in Nairobi – the Kaloleni and Makadara (Eastlands) libraries – is now complete, thanks to help from Sharjah UNESCO World Book Capital 2019 and the African Publishing Innovation Fund – the partnership between the International Publishers Association and UAE-based philanthropic body Dubai Cares. Extensive renovation and building work has taken place at each library, transforming the buildings into book-filled community spaces.

Kaloleni library occupies an iconic building that played a special role in the shaping of Kenya’s history, politics and identity. The Social Hall was where the results of Kenya’s first parliamentary elections were announced and there is a famous photograph of former president Jomo Kenyatta leaping into the air outside the building.

The restorations have been overseen by Book Bunk, the body established by Kenyan publisher Angela Wachuka and Kenyan writer Wanjiru Koinange.

Local children play on the field outside the Kaloleni building and Book Bunk was keen that the library would build on its position in the community.  There are now numerous events for children, from talks by writers to film screenings and discussion groups for mothers.

Sharjah’s Sheikha Bodour, the president of the International Publishers Association and founder and CEO of Kalimat publishers, visited the Eastlands library earlier this year. Book Bunk says: “Sharjah is our most valued partner.  As part of the legacy of World Book Capital Sharjah wanted to support something that speaks to the aims of what World Book Capitals do and the love of reading they inspire, as well as also opening up spaces for people to enjoy the love of words and literature”.

In May 2019 the IPA) and Dubai Cares agreed to work together to support literacy, book access, indigenous publishing, and library restoration in Africa.  Their work includes a project called Exposing Hope which is building a facility at the sprawling Kakuma refugee settlement in northern Kenya. Kakuma was created in 1992 to take in the so-called Lost Boys of South Sudan and refugees from Ethiopia and Somalia fleeing conflict at home. It is now one of the largest refugee camps in the world, with a population over 191,000 from 19 different countries, including thousands of school-age children.

On the work that has taken place in Nairobi, Book Bunk says: “Shukran to the people of Sharjah for this tremendous support towards the restoration of Nairobi’s libraries.”