Eunniah Mbabazi is a Kenyan engineer who has a love and passion for reading and writing. She has authored and published three books: Breaking Down (an anthology of short stories), If My Bones Could Speak (A poetry collection), and The Unbirthed Souls (an anthology of short stories).
In this interview, we sat down to talk about her passion for books, and her latest project, a book drive, aimed at stocking different primary schools with storybooks to promote a reading culture among young children.
Q: How did the idea of the book drive come to be?
Eunniah: I have been toying with the idea since I did my first-ever book drive in 2018, for Silala Primary School, still in Kilifi County.
At that time, I was working with The Writers Guild as the Coast Regional Manager, so I got the book drive idea from them.
In total, I collected about 500 books for the drive; the joy those children had in their hearts had never left my mind.
In Early 2021, I decided, instead of a book drive, to start a small book club for children in slums. But the whole thing was marred by too much politics, greed, and some organizers wanting to take too much. So I dropped it altogether.
But something kept nagging at me that I should do something, however small. So I asked around and got suggestions for schools that could benefit from book drives, and here we are.
Q: Why Kilifi again?
Eunniah: Solely because the headteacher was the first to say they welcome the idea. Some headteachers didn't pick up calls, others said it sounded like a scam, others asked for money instead of books, and the rest simply said they would call back, but never did.
Q: How many books have you collected so far?
Eunniah: 107 books so far (the ones I have with me) and pledges of 100 more.
Q: Congratulations! What do you hope to achieve with this project?
Eunniah: My main aim is to let children understand that they can read for leisure. That reading doesn't have to be hard work. That they do not have to wait to get to high school before they are forced to read the set books.
I want them to understand that you shouldn't only read because of exams.
So I hope to get to as many children as possible across the country, especially those who, for one reason or another, may not afford any other books apart from textbooks.
Q: A lot of schools in Kenya need libraries. Do you believe that the education sector has failed in making sure children have enough books?
Eunniah: Oh yes! Every school deserves a library (I am lucky I went to a primary school with a humongous library filled with exciting books).
But again, some of the schools I would like to benefit from this project do not even have latrines or classrooms. So a library is not a priority.
I think our education sector is more focused on exams, and children passing them. You see it in the way everything almost comes to a standstill when national exam results are announced.
The only way the education sector thinks children are reading is through set books.
Q: How often do you read?
Eunniah: I read daily. On a bad month, I read at least two books; one for the book club, and one of my own.
Q: How do you maintain the momentum?
Eunniah: I push myself, a lot. I tell myself that I need to learn as much as possible about people, places, things, times, ideas, and the stories behind them. It is as if I am constantly looking for something which can only be found in books.
I keep buying, reading, and repeating.
But also because sometimes, my dad calls me to ask, "ile kitabu umefika wapi? Nimemaliza and I would like us to discuss."
Q: Apart from uncooperative school heads, what other challenges have you faced?
Eunniah: People think I have figured out everything about my life, that is why I am doing charity.
Some people think I am being funded, and the fundraising is just a sideshow.
But these are small things; my goal is bigger, and better, and will have an everlasting impact
Q: Have you always read with your Dad? Did he influence your love for books?
Eunniah: Not always; there are just specific books we read together when he has time.
He introduced me to reading when I was still very young, say around class 2. He brought home a lot of storybooks, some way above my age, and sat down with me to read (He says I hated TV).
Q: And do you still hate TV?
Eunniah: I can tolerate it; I mostly use mine just for music when I am reading or doing chores.
Sitting down to watch something is still hard.
Q: What lessons are you learning from doing this project?
Eunniah: To always do what the heart wants.
Remember your journey when you reach the top, and have the heart to lower the ladder to others.
To give, however small it may be.
To give without expecting anything in return.
That the most important person who will always believe in your dreams is you.
That not everyone is going to see the sense is the things you do, and that is okay.
Everything will fall in place, eventually.
Everything good will come.
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