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Bring Book Mobiles to the Desert

Bring Book Mobiles to the Desert

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Updated on Mar 6, 2009

Think it’s hard to get your kid to the library? Just think if there was no library. This Christmas, give your child a glimpse into the lives of other children learning to read, halfway around the world: tell her about the Camel Bookmobile.

When most people hear the word “bookmobile”, they think of a big rainbow colored bus wheezing down the street, or a hopped up van stacked full with library books. This one is a little different. First, of course, there’s the camels. Then, there’s the fact that the library operates in the desolated Northeastern Province of Kenya, near the border with Somalia.

Weird, granted. But true. Although it’s the subject of popular novel The Camel Bookmobile, this is not some writer’s fantasy. The Camel-borne library does in fact exist. It’s based out of the town of Garissa and extends as far as the town of Wajir, over 150 miles away. Started in 1996 with just 3 camels by a librarian named Mr. Farah, the mobile library now boasts 12. The camels travel to four settlements per day, four days per week, to groups of semi-nomadic people living in one of the country’s most isolated regions.

In this corner of Kenya, where famine and drought are regular companions, the camels bring not just books, but hope. Mostly written in English or Swahili (the two official languages of Kenya) the books range from children’s picture books, to novels, to nonfiction books that run the gamut—from history to astronomy. The books are spread out on mats under an acadia tree and everyone has the chance to choose what they’d like to read.

Why tell your kids about a library thousands of miles away? Well, for one, it makes for a pretty interesting story. But more importantly, because in this time of fresh-baked goodies and trees stacked high with presents, it’s important for kids to realize that they’re lucky—not just for the good fortune to be born in a place full of opportunity, but also for some of the things they probably take for granted, like books. Your reluctant reader may not thrill to the idea of a Winter Break assignment, but at least he has the opportunity to read and books to help him.

So, for those looking for something to peak a child’s interest while school is out of session, think of sending a package to Kenya.

Your kids can pack up a box of gently used books and send one halfway across the world for $37, if they use the US Post Office’s flat rate box. Librarian Mr. Farah says the library patrons get particularly excited when there’s a personal inscription in the books, because it helps them feel connected to places they can scarcely imagine. Ask your child to write something personal in each of the books they choose—for example, why they like the book or which character speaks to them. If they’ve been to a place mentioned in the text, have them write a few sentences about it.

And if you’ve got a teen, he or she might want to check out the book, from author Masha Hamilton. Where to get it? I’m thinking a trip to the library might be in order… no camel required.

For more information about the Camel Bookmobile, check out the Camel Book Drive

But first, start things off by giving your kids a glimpse into Kenya itself, by checking out Wikipedia's Kenya entry, or the BBC Kenya country profile.

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