Category

Places

Category

Kamaliza Reads Library collects books by Black Women writers for people to read. Meet Rwanda’s first all-black women library.

You are going to find all kinds of books by Black women authors at the Kamaliza Reads Libray in Kigali, Rwanda. Named after a great female Rwandan female writer, some of the collections include books by Helen Oyeyemi, Toni Morrison and Nnedi Okorafor.

Sistah Circle Collective, a group of passionate women running it, describes the library as “radical, love and revolution.” They speak more about it, boldly.

What is the story behind the name, Kamaliza Reads?

SCC The library is named after an iconic Rwandan woman artist, the late Annonciata Mutamuriza (stage name Kamaliza).

Kamaliza is vital to the story of Rwanda, Rwandan women, and Rwandan art. As a woman who has helped us memorialize, materialize Rwanda’s liberation history through oral history, I think she challenges what we portray today as “theory”, which oftentimes silences or erases the important ways we document lives as Africans.

A number of things: what the library stands for, the choice of name, the books, and having this as a women-managed space are all correlated. There is some thought put into this.   

We wanted the name to match the politics of the library and be rooted in communal understandings of liberation. 

We also wanted the name to be a continuation of what we hope the library is doing- highlighting Black women and their work and lastly a name that challenges Western ways of knowing and producing knowledge.

Photo courtesy: Kamaliza Reads

Kamaliza’s voice echoes in the library in what ways?

SCC She reminds us that there are multiple ways of organizing, knowing, and creating knowledge. She reminds us how important African ways of knowing, rooted in Oral histories are valid and necessary.

That work produced through art- song, dance, painting, proverbs, stories, etc. are theory and deserve a space that doesn’t analyze them through the lens of whiteness.

She reminds us that when we go back to this (or works produced by us), we will always hear from our ancestors that we have always been here. And that’s the main take away from the name and this space- that we, Black women; cis, trans, queer folks, non-binary and GNC- we have always been here. 

What gap does Kamaliza Reads meant to fill?

SCC When growing up, some of us were avid readers, picking up any book, a comic, a novel, instructions on a box, anything. However, one thing we all have in common is that we didn’t relate too much to the stories we were reading. 

It’s only years later that picking up Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s or Yaa Gyasi’s book showed us we have always been reading other people’s stories. 

Photo courtesy: Kamaliza Reads

It is highly significant to read stories written for us, to see ourselves in book characters.

SCC Yes. There is a strong sense of confidence, love, peace, and relief that one feels when represented. Up until now, there are a few libraries in Rwanda, some of them not being easily accessible to all. 

These libraries do not have enough black women authored books. That was our motivation. For black girls to grow up reading about people that look like them, that talk like them, that feel like them and that live like them. For black women experiences to be documented and not left in translation like our ancestors’.

For black women’s works and stories to never be forgotten and/or erased. This is what primarily motivated us to set up an All Black Women Library and essentially make it easily accessible to all.

We just knew for the revolution to happen and be sustained, we had to have more people educated or politically aware. And there is no point at all in gatekeeping these resources.

Part of this work is to make sure we all understand the various issues at hand, how they are created, that is their histories, how they are maintained, and so on.

This is a powerful vision, how was that experience of bringing it to life?

SCC The initiative was dreamed of during the summer of 2019. 

Dreaming of a labor of love like this is work in itself. Putting it into words and then the action is another. It took time to fund-raise, we made a whole campaign for that via gofundme to get the first books we ever used. We fund-raised on socials and also during our free awareness events. 

Everything we do is community given. We made sure to communicate the vision of the library and encouraged folks to donate if they felt this was a project, they felt was necessary. We opened Kamaliza Reads in January actually—it’s funny a lot of people think it was launched in October. We just had to close down because of COVID-19 and then re-opened in a new location after spaces were allowed to reopen. 

Photo courtesy: Kamaliza Reads

How does the library operate, for instance in the collection of the books?

SCC The library operates on a community grassroots fund-raising way. Everything we have is donated by the community and those who support our community. 

The library space is donated by a Black woman and the books are donated or the money is. The time of the curators and volunteers is also donated. We wanted to make sure we could expand so we developed a way that borrowing would be accessible to most/ if not all. 

There is a sliding scale fee for borrowing a book (students and working folk friendly) and an option for a monthly subscription. You can also pay for (donate) someone else’s subscription to help flatten the curve. We recognize that even though the fee is low, it doesn’t mean everyone can afford it so we still want to be vigilant about that. 

The most someone can borrow a book for is a month (renewals are upon agreement). Again, we want to recognize that the library is run by young Black girls donating their time and are passionate and learning about feminist politics and all this is made possible through them.

What was the process like in collecting books?

SCC We made our book wish list available and made a book suggestion drive too so the books we planned to buy were displayed and if you wanted to donate some, you could. The money we got, we bought the books and shipped them to Rwanda with the help of friends and comrades of the collective. 

Another way we were able to get funds to buy books is through other community organizations fundraising for us. That support, to this day, melts our hearts. We also had collective members across the globe who were able to receive donations via shipment also easily. 

One thing for sure we wish was different and would make everything easier was if shipping wasn’t such a struggle. Sometimes, shipping a book costs 10 times the amount you buy it. So, when you think about it, it becomes such a loss. It’s for this reason we usually just do two shipments throughout the year. It helps us save on shipment and buy more books. 

Photo courtesy: Kamaliza Reads

What many more books do you have on the shelves? 

SCC Some books include Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Chimamanda Ngozi, Buchi Emecheta, Ifi Amadiume and Oyeronke Oyewumi collections. 

We have poetry books ranging from Nayirrah Waheed to Upile Chisala, from June Jordan and Ntozake Shange to Sonia Sanchez, from Ijeoma Umebinyuo to Koleka Putuma, and so forth. 

We are also particularly keen on providing space for Rwandan women writers like Sylvie and Yvonne Mukasonga as well as Celine Uwineza. We are also thrilled to be able to offer Ni Nyampinga magazines for folks to read through as they are written for young Black Rwandan girls sharing a lot about the culture and the life they go through.

We have classics like “Sister Killjoy”, “I know why the Caged Bird Sings” and “So Long a Letter” by pioneering Black African women who we consider having paved the way for us today and work by Sylvia Tamale that continues to guide us in Black African feminism.

Why are these collections crucial at this time?

SCC They offer theory in various ways and offer us a way to start things about intersections between race, gender, class, colonialism, and sexuality among other things. We hope by doing this we can communicate that Black women everywhere have been theorizing- the songs, the books, the art- all of it is how we make sense of and name our experiences and that is important because it reminds us that we have always been here and we still are. 

We also want to start the conversation about global Black solidarity that is rooted in understanding first the political experiences of other Black women and then moving towards tangible support. Blackness and womanhood are plurals and we must construct and discuss it as such.

How has the community’s experience been when interacting with the library?

SCC When we opened in January, we were joined by so many wonderful people and we put on a panel discussion and an art performance.

We were amazingly surprised by how the community received it, wanted to be part of this moment and the love they intentionally poured onto the library. Not only did they support us when we launched but the community continues to show up. With our re-opening, we are thrilled that still and even more people are happy about it. Offering to donate books as well as stopping by the library to borrow some. It’s been a tremendous experience so far. And we’re hoping it only gets better from here as well.

What more books specifically do you wish to have at the library?

SCC We want to add more books about LGBTQIA folks in Africa by Black women and on disability. We want to add books that offer tools to start thinking critically on socio-economic class and class struggle.

We want to add more books in French and Swahili written by Black women through the feminist lens. Not everyone in Rwanda speaks English, you know. 

We would love to add more books about Haiti, Brazil, and Colombia as spaces that offer a lot of knowledge on race and gender and the history of the African. We want to be able to have developed genres; a section for young Black children (3-12 years).

It is important and we want books speaking to music as a space for knowledge production- speaking to Gakondo, reggaetón, jazz, blues, and so on, and locating women in them. We were only able to start with about 130-150 books, so we have so much room to expand. We want all the books.

What is your vision for Kamaliza Reads?

SCC We hope that we can grow Kamaliza Reads to where it becomes an integral part of our community. We hope schools in Kigali can use it as a resource for their students both high school and university students. Where students can use the books in the library to inform their projects and research. We are especially hoping that the library can grow and have at least branches outside of Kigali. 

Taking this project outside Kigali and maybe into schools in other provinces can allow for us to start having these discussions in spaces that are different and most in need and even train each other to grow this fire.

We hope we’ll continue to bridge the gap between Black women in Rwanda and the diaspora- that we will continue to bring the authors of these books to life and here in Rwanda. We, as Rwandan Black feminists and scholars and organizers have a lot to offer and we want to hear from Black women elsewhere too. 

Lastly, we hope it will also inspire Black Rwandan women to write because best believe it, we will always have a place for you on the shelf and will encourage the community to read what you have to say. And maybe expand to other countries like Kenya and Uganda, why not.

Kaloleni in Nairobi has a rich cultural, political and sports history. It is a place where Tom Mboya lived. A place where Barack Obama Sr. would hang out. Other politicians like Milton Obote, Argwings Kodhek and Jaramogi Oginga addressed people during the fight for independence. It was also where the first parliament of Kenya was situated.

It hosts Kaloleni Social Hall (McMillan Memorial Library). A great heritage site. It was built in the 1940s.

In June, this library was renovated.

The project was facilitated by Book Bunk, led by its co-founders Wanjiru Koinange and Angela Wachuka. Wanjiru is a published author. Her debut novel, “Havoc of Choice”, was released about a month ago and it is available at Text Book Centre. Angela Wachuka is a literary producer. Both women are passionate about rebuilding public libraries. They are currently working on the three McMillan Memorial Libraries, the other two are in Makadara and Banda Street.

Nafsi caught up with Wanjiru a while ago to share more about these projects and what they mean to the community.

The old library. Photo by @kenyan_library for @thebookbunk/ courtesy

How is your personal relationship with libraries?

Wanjiru I used to study in the school library. It was when I went to pursue my masters abroad that made me recognize public spaces can be beautiful. 

I want to spend my life writing books. I have worked in the arts industry all my life. Wachuka is a publisher and is passionate about African children buying African books. We want better for our libraries.

How was the journey like to come to the completion of the Kaloleni library?

Wanjiru It has been a learning process. First it was a discovery for both Wachuka and I that McMillan Memorial has a branch in Kaloleni. We had no clue. It was obviosuly not part of the plan. Then we found out that all the three buildings were neglected. We have been slow and deliberate about renovating them. On March 3 this year, we hired 28 Kaloleni residents to help rebuild this one library. This is only the beginning.

Photo by @kenyan_library for @thebookbunk/ courtesy

The library is appealing. Why was this important?

Wanjiru It is the heart of why we are doing this. As Kenyans, our relationship with public spaces is broken. Public spaces are seen as, for a lack of a better word, ugly. We hoped Kenyans would see that we deserve nice things. Nice things can be found in Kaloleni. We designed this library as if it were in Westlands or London. We wanted the space to be what the community desired for themselves. 

We recycled the furniture. In fact anything we had in the library was cleaned up. The building was paid for from what Wachuka and I raised from our networks. We received support from Duabi Cares, International Publishers Association and National Bank.

What views were you receiving from the Kaloleni community during this process?

Wanjiru When the renovation began, there was a lot of speculation in the air because the place had been targeted by land grabbers before. When the actual construction started, there were concerns whether the land was going to be grabbed. It shows how traumatic land grabbing is in these communities. 

The area chief is such an ally, we do not make any move without involving him. We were able to build trust with the community through him. Many people serving in the government have been getting such a bad rep. I hope to see more people like Chief Jacob. 

The Kaloleni Library is going to remain public. The people will use the space. 

In what ways do you hope the library will impact the community?

Wanjiru We spend a lot of time inviting people to the library to ask them about what they want. The library is going to be used socially. It is not about books only. We can have sessions with tax lawyers, for instance. It is a space where people can access art that can change their economic reality. It is about teaching people money-generating skills. We will use the space for alternative learning, employ gardeners and cleaners and pay them full time. 

What lessons from this are you employing in the Makadara Library renovation?

Wanjiru We are in the final stages of planning. We really want to see libraries as spaces that can solve all of our problems. The approach and template will be the same in all libraries. Makadara is a much bigger library. Fun fact, it is listed as a museum. What we can do is to expand the space to invite more users.  

Refurbished library. Photo by @kenyan_library for @thebookbunk

What kinds of books will be stocked at the libraries?

Wanjiru Mostly books by African writers. We are going to prioritise children’s books in terms of collection. I would like anyone who wants to read African children’s books to find them in the library. We are also going to have other genres of books such as classicals.

We have been thinking a lot about who is using this library. Why are they using it? The Kaloleni library is next to a children’s school. Makadara Library is mostly visited by teens and college students therefore the collection of books is going to reflect that. The main branch along Banda Street is going to be used by everybody thus a diverse collection. 

We are curious as to when the Kaloleni library is going to be opened, all Covid guidelines observed.

Wanjiru I don’t think the library is going to be opened before school reopens. That also gives us more time to do finishing touches.  

Have you ever heard of forest bathing?

Well, we first came across this concept several months ago. Yet when we think about it now, we may have been practicing forest bathing without identifying it as so.

With its origin in Japan, forest bathing or you can also call it Shrinkin Yoku, nature therapy or eco-therapy, simply means immersing oneself in nature. This self-care practice involves letting your senses guide you in your walk in the woods. And as you do this, pay attention to your physical and mental needs. What do you hope to achieve?

Photo courtesy of Caroline Abok

Some of the forest bathing activities can include jogging, reading, walking a dog, bike riding, walking barefoot (also known as grounding), skipping a rope, doing yoga, meditating, journaling, touching the trees and even doing nothing.

Just being surrounded by nature has many benefits. Plants and trees release phyntocides. When inhale the forest’s fresh air, we breathe in these chemicals which end up increasing a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells that prevent diseases and help speed up recovery of illnesses.

The smell of the forest and paying to attention to its surrounding reduces fatigue, blood pressure and production of the stress hormone, cortisol. It improves clarity, focus and sleep. Who wouldn’t want any of these?

Here are some of the places you can visit for a forest bathing experience.

Forests

Karura Forest /photo by Nafsi

The density of trees creates a calming effect. The good thing about forests such as Karura Forest is that it gives us a chance to explore different paths, spots and activities when visiting due to its expansiveness. Therefore if you decide to make this as part of your routine, and studies do show that regular forest bathing has a longer term effect.

Parks

Parks are quiet. You will only hear natural sounds like birds chirping or leaves rustling.

We are therefore excited that parks in Nairobi are being restored. Kenya Forest Service renovated Michuki Park which is going to be opened to the public soon while City Park is currently renovated.

Animal parks are ideal places too.

At home

Photo by GRÆS Magazine on Unsplash

Definitely in our homes too.

You can invite the forest into your home by growing indoor plants. Hanging paintings or photos of trees on your walls can also create that same effect. You can watch videos about forests too.

Discover groves in your neighbourhood too. This makes the natural form of forest bathing more accessible. It can support your visits to the forest or parks.

Have you ever tried forest bathing? Where do you go? Do let us know in the comments below.

Mukuru kwa Reuben area has more than 18 schools but only two of them have almost adequately equipped libraries, Claris Nadini tells us when we visited Mukuru Library last week. This is the reality of the experience of the young people living in the community.

It is for this reason that Claris founded Badili Zone Organization two years ago which aims to ensure that all students from the slums have access to quality education and opportunities. And a year later, she requested for a building from Hope Worldwide Kenya for library use.

The library has grown to become an inviting place for young people with school girls being a good number of those using it. Claris, also an acting librarian, has been teaching seven girls in grade 7 and 8 during this pandemic. This is a huge positive thing especially when unfortunate reports keep coming out of teenage pregnancies. Currently, more than 4,000 school girls have been impregnated in Kenya since schools closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most young girls are occupied with housework now that they are staying at home as well. According to a 2016 report by UNICEF, girls spend 160 million more hours than boys doing household chores everyday. This limits their time to focus on their learning. The library gives these young girls in Mukuru a place to pay more atention on reading and studying.

Mukuru Library located off Mombasa road in Nairobi is a needed facility to the children. Some homes lack space to support learning while several schools use one book for an entire class.

Claris and Boniface Mutunga last week who took us through the library project. The library is divided into three sections. The first two sections have bookshelves and desks. The last section is an open room intended for teacher-student learning.

The library was built on a swamp. It floods whenever it rains. You could tell the stories of some of the tattered books standing on the shelves. It had rained, the rooms were flooded, the books soaked and dried. The rains interferes with the children’s learning too.

As part of their work, late last year, Badili Zone officially launched it where the students access learning materials, get mentored, access sanitary pads, and take part in activities that facilitate their personal growth and development.

The library needs electricity connection, school curriculum books, story books, furniture, computers, and floor renovation.

photo courtesy

While she is aware that how they are going to sustain the space is a concern, Claris, who grew up in Mukuru and understands the struggles of the community, cannot imagine asking the children to pay to access reading materials. That is out of the question. They rely on volunteers, and have been supported by Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, General Motors, and Hope Worldwide Kenya.

Badilisha Zone is run by eight young members, six of whom are university students. Their renovation budget is KSh300,000. Here is the link to the M-Changa account here is the link to the M-changa https://changa.page.link/SU6vw

“If a person or an organization is willing to donate materials such as books and furniture, that would also be helpful. The ultimate goal is to provide a place for the children to read,” said Claris.

The renovation of McMillan Memorial Library’s Kaloleni Branch is complete.

Book Bunk has been working on restoring Kenya’s second oldest library McMillan Memorial Library on Banda Street, Kaloleni and Makadara in Nairobi.

Libraries are seen as signficant public spaces for public art and memory, conservation of heritage materials, information exchange, creative economy, production of knowledge and imagination, cultural leadership and shared experiences.

The modernization and renovation of libraries which includes digital archiving of materials, providing internet access to visitors and equipping libraries with the needed reading materials will also likely attract more people into these spaces which have mostly been occupied by researchers and students.

Book Bunk was established in 2017 by Wanjiru Koinange and Angela Wachuka with the main aim of restoring libraries in Kenya.

The organization engaged the community to share what they want for these spaces. And to execute this, 28 Kaloleni residents were hired for the construction of the library. The team announced on their social pages that they began working on the architectural restoration of the library on March 3.

Book Bunk mentioned that the project was supported by Dubai Cares, International Publishers Association (IPA) and National Bank. 

Here are some of the photos of the restored Kaloleni library. We hope that you pay it a visit.

By @kenyan_library and Book Bunk
By @kenyan_library and Book Bunk
By @kenyan_library and Book Bunk
By @kenyan_library and Book Bunk
By @kenyan_library and Book Bunk