Imagine during science, social studies or religious education lessons, and the only textbook available is the one held by the teacher. Imagine that if you did not copy the notes, the teacher wrote on the board, you will have nothing to revise while waiting for the exams. Now imagine during the English lesson, you have to stretch your neck to get a glimpse of the story being read out loud in the class since the available textbooks are being shared among three and six students. It’s during recess, and you can’t go out to play with your friends because you want to copy the mathematics questions your teacher asked to be submitted first thing in the morning. You imagine that there is plenty of time because you the bell just rang for the 11. 00 am recess. Not quite. There are about six books in that class to be shared among the 40 pupils, and if you are not careful, someone might rip off the page as the struggle for the fittest continues.
I don’t have to imagine it because this was my life growing up. My name is Wanjiku Francis, and I went to a rural primary school, where we had no libraries and limited access to textbooks, let alone the internet.
The government assisted in getting the school constructed and well-wishers, old students of the institution, donated water tanks, and did some renovations that gave the school a modern touch. The parents were tasked with the responsibility of providing books, and considering the level of poverty in Ukambani, the struggle could only allow most to buy their children notebooks and hope that “rich” parents have at least bought some textbooks for their children.
In a classroom of 30-45 students, I found myself sharing my textbooks with more than 20 other students since my parents always made sure that I had books for the three compulsory subjects, English, Kiswahili, and Mathematics.
We could not get textbooks for the other lessons, and it did not matter as we would be told that the teacher will teach us everything, so don’t miss a single lesson. Storybooks were a myth, and I recall reading some articles on the daily nation newspaper that were published every Saturday. My dad knew how much enjoyed it, and he made an effort to collect copies of the Saturday newspapers whenever the articles were published. I could file them and imagine it’s a storybook, my library.
When I joined high school, I was excited to find an actual library. I volunteered to serve the rest of the students, work to organize the library in addition to the usual morning chores so that I could get the chance to read more while enjoying access to the best maths and science books. The experience was terrific and it is not different from what my friends have gone through, but I can say I was privileged as some of my friends were not so lucky. Here are some of their stories