Our Reading Spaces

These days my favorite reading space is on my front porch, in a fading white wicker chair, tucked in the corner. I think a mama bird is building a nest in the eaves of the porch. I try not to disrupt her early morning ritual on Saturday and Sunday, when I come out to read, and to listen to all of those songbirds singing songs of sunrise.

The two gold variegated Leyland Cypress trees flanking the entryway are running out of room to grow; but they look beautiful at Christmas time. And I like the way the two giants (Kibo and Mawenzi) dwarf the space, reaching beyond limits to a world of unlimited sunshine and red clay.

As a child, one of my favorite reading spaces was under one of the three large windows in our living-cum-dining room in the home that doubled as Paa Ya Paa Art Gallery.

Imagine what it looked like before the fire...

I also thoroughly enjoyed laying outside on a blanket under one of the many Jacaranda trees. I did not visit the Nairobi Public library much back then, as my high school library housed all of the reading materials I needed. And having an author for a mother meant that my brother and I were often treated to trips to her favorite bookshop in town; to this day my favorite scent is the fresh smell of a new book!

Our reading spaces are important, and some of us have a huge variety of options to choose from. More importantly, we do not suffer from book famine. However, there are millions of children in poor rural communities all over the world, whose parents are forced to prioritize other necessities above education.

To some extent I agree with Dambisa Moyo and her provocative argument on Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa "...African countries repay debt at the expense of African education and health care...," says Moyo. And we have all heard Nelson Mandela's famous quote: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

I have a friend who is committed to making a difference. Irene Mbari-Kirika is Founder and Executive Director of Our Reading Spaces, a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to provide welcoming and comfortable spaces for children and adults to pursue reading activities in rural Kenya.

"I realize that time may have moved on, but for so many people the economic conditions of twenty years ago are the same." (Mbari-Kirika)

Our Reading Spaces is currently in the fundraising and construction phase for their inaugural project -- the Kairi Library/Community Center in Thika District of rural Kenya. The building will be located in the heart of Kairi village, within 400 metres of the village center and within walking distance of several area schools. It will be designed to accommodate 200 people, and will be outfitted with electrical power and sanitary facilities.

I am excited to share that Barnes & Noble nationwide has teamed up with Our Reading Spaces for a book fair fundraiser running from April 27 through May 3, 2009. Click here for the Barnes & Noble voucher for use during this time; a percentage of proceeds will be donated to Our Reading Spaces beneficiary schools in Kenya:

Thika School for The Blind Primary
Thika School for The Blind Secondary
Rachel Dep's Childrens Orphanage in Thika (34 children)
Thika General Hospital - Children's Wing
Kairi Village Mobile Library Service (circulating books among 6 schools)

In addition, if you are in the Atlanta area, there are special activities planned around the fund raiser.

Saturday May 2, 2009
Swahili Story Time - 11:00 a.m.
Kenyan Traditional Dancers - 1:30 p.m.
Barnes & Noble, BUCKHEAD
2900 Peachtree Road NE, Suite 310, Atlanta, GA 30305

Kenyan Traditional Dancers - 3:00 p.m.
Barnes & Noble, CAMP CREEK
3685 Market Place Blvd, East Point, GA 30344

Here is a wonderful opportunity to purchase a book and contribute to the promotion of literacy in rural populations of Kenya.

Asanteni sana.

Mama Shujaa


  1. What a great initiative! Thanks for sharing...

    Winks & Smiles,

  2. Mama, thank for alerting us to this hugely worthwhile and important project. I'll put a link to Our Reading Spaces on my blog immediately.

    I love, love your reading space!

  3. What a wonderful, worthwhile endeavor to be a part of!

    I loved reading about your reading spaces...one of my favorites was in our last home where we had a hammock. I really wish we had large trees here that so I could hang up another hammock. :)

  4. I’ve been reading on our deck – you are lucky to have front porch. That’s the one thing I miss about my old house. I think blogs are a bit like front porches where all the world stops by to chat. That’s great to hear that B&N is supporting a good cause.

  5. Hi Mama. A worthy course indeed. I'll link Our Reading Spaces in my next post.

    Reading under a jacaranda tree was awesome! There were so many back home we'd just take a mkeka/jamvi (Large hand-woven mat), lay it among the purple petals and voila! We used the space to read, do our hair, take naps, it was even a dining room sometimes especially for lunches and afternoon teas. I still do that every time I go home. I complete my chores early so that I can spend afternoons under the tree. Cuteness.

  6. @Wifey: Thanks and welcome to my blog.

    @Tessa: Thank you so much for placing the link on your blog. It looks great!

    @Angie: Oh my goodness, I love hammocks!

    @Sarah: You say "Blogs are like front porches..." I LOVE THAT idea!

    @Shiko-Msa: Thanks for linking ORS and for the reminder of all the wonderful uses of our mighty jacaranda trees!!! Yaani makes me miss home with such pangs of agony.

  7. Thank you for informing us about Our Reading Spaces. This is a great cause. On another note, I can't believe those birds are still nesting in that corner each spring.LOL You must make them feel quite at home.:-)

  8. Dambisa's got it right. I read an interview with her in The Guardian newspaper and made so much sense. But as it usually happens, her attitude has triggered off an angry response from the holier-than-thou brigade. Many thanks for such a beautiful post. Education, you're right, that's the key and I am a firm believer of that mantra.

    Greetings from London.

  9. WOW.. Nice blog you've got yourself.. Thanks for stopping by mine... Have added yours to my RSS reader....

  10. @ACIL: Thanks and yes nothing like the truth finally to shake up the complicit silence!

  11. @Danny: Thank You for stopping by and for hooking into my vein.

  12. I was recently tutoring English to a poor student with immigrant parents, and she said it was hard for her to do the homework I assigned her because she didn't have a desk in her room. When I asked about her kitchen table she said her 5 brothers tended to be a distraction. . . that struck me because I recall that my parents always had a place for their children to work and read. A place to read should be as natural as a child having his own pair of shoes.

    Thank you for this post and informing us about an important initiative.

  13. This a wonderful initiative, thanks for sharing


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