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Meet the two women restoring and reclaiming Kenya’s dilapidated, colonial-era libraries

Book Bunk, based in 2017 by writer Angela Wachuka and creator Wanjiru Koinange, is a non-profit group working to revive libraries throughout the metropolis by updating every part from the bodily infrastructure to the e book collections. The crew has additionally helped remodel the libraries into areas for occasions that encourage thought and rejoice writing, together with internet hosting the Nairobi Literature Festival.

“We’ve really asked a lot of questions about what libraries are, what they can be, and what’s stopping them from getting to the point where they can fully serve communities,” mentioned Koinange.

The previously dilapidated buildings are haunted by the ghosts of a not-so-distant previous. Kenya, which had been beneath British rule since 1895, was named an official colony in 1920 and remained that manner for greater than 40 years.

McMillan Memorial Library is the metropolis’s oldest library, and Book Bunk’s newest undertaking. Built in 1931, solely White European colonizers had been allowed to enter the area for the subsequent three many years,

Even the identify of the library remembers its historical past. It was commissioned by Lady Lucie McMillan and devoted as a memorial to her husband, British American settler Sir William Northrup McMillan. Past the lions guarding the entrance entrance (positioned there in reference to McMillan’s fascination with lions), the books inside the library additionally function hanging reminders of the occasions.

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

Updating a colonial assortment

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

Wachuka and Koinange, together with 30 interns, labored over a interval of 9 months at the McMillan Memorial Library to catalogue 137,705 books — primarily acquired from British colonizers. They at the moment are combing by the materials to resolve which of them will keep.

“The texts in here don’t reflect who we are but are an important part of understanding how we have been viewed throughout history,” mentioned Wachuka.

The McMillan Library is Book Bunk’s third library restoration undertaking. The crew has already restored Eastlands Library in jap Nairobi and the extra central Kaloleni Library. They at the moment are working to digitize books and archival content material like periodicals that can make entry to historical past a click on away.

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While sorting by the cabinets, they seen a large hole in any respect three libraries: the lack of an Africanist assortment.

“I’m 100% sure that if we had books on the shelves that reflected people’s needs, then we’d have them flying off the shelves,” mentioned Koinange.

The group plans so as to add books by and about Africans, the diaspora, and the Black expertise. The crew additionally publishes books, together with the East African model of Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o’s youngsters’s e book “Sulwe,” out there in English, Swahili, and Luo (a language spoken primarily by the Luo individuals, the fourth-largest ethnic group in Kenya).

A welcoming area to assemble

The surrounding communities use the libraries as workspaces, with about 300 individuals throughout the places accessing them each day, in line with Koinange. Before Book Bunk restored them, Kaloleni and Eastlands had no operating water or workable loos, and McMillan had a barely functioning electrical system, forcing the library to shut when the solar set.

Even earlier than revamping the libraries, Book Bunk spent months surveying native communities to seek out out what companies could be most helpful. People requested Wi-Fi, up to date loos, prolonged opening hours, group areas and enjoyable actions.

Koinange and Wachuka listened. Kaloleni now has a devoted youngsters’s library and at Eastlands, a cool area full of artwork and full with a stage for performances — together with a current set that includes Kenyan singer and songwriter Sanaipei Tande, recorded as a part of the Nairobi Literature Festival.

Book Bunk is presently working to create out of doors areas at the libraries and updating infrastructure, from putting in Wi-Fi to clearing asbestos in the partitions. And whereas there may be nonetheless the lingering feeling that they’re restoring an area that was by no means supposed for them, Koinange believes it is very important stand as much as historical past and go away one thing higher for posterity.

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“I think there’s an erasure that we’re very quick to do as Kenyans when things are painful. That is not useful, because if you erase it, then you kind of forget it, and it happens over and over again,” she mentioned. “(Instead), you stare it in the face and be like, ‘We’re going to make you beautiful again.’ You’re going to find a way to restore not just the building, but what the building means for Kenyans, (and) that is a lot more lasting.”

Briana Duggan contributed to this story.

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