Camel Book Drive

Donate To Kenya’s Mobile Library

The Language Question

The official language of Kenya is English, which means the government and the education is conducted in English. The students I met who wanted to further their education were spending long hours studying nonfiction books in English, as well as reading stories, in order to prepare for their school exams. (You can see a video taken while I was there which shows children sitting in a “classroom” under an acacia learning English rhymes. I also interviewed a number of the younger people in English.) Thus, a good grasp of English is absolutely necessary for furthering your education in Kenya.

The national language is Swahili, which means that is the common language of the marketplace. It can also be heard informally in the school setting.

Then there are a number of tribal languages, including Kikuyu, Luhia, Luo and Kikamba, as well as others spoken by smaller groups. In the region where the camel-borne library operates, many though not all of the library patrons speak Somali.

Donors have the opportunity to contribute books in English (including some on an Amazon wish list written by Kenyan or Somali authors), as well as books in Swahili here or here and in Somali here or here. When I visited last year, the library carried books in English or Swahili. It did not carry any books in Somali, but I have been told that some of our donors sent books in that language. 

For a blog with a good discussion on the language issue, see here. Other discussions on languages in Kenya can be found here and here.

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April 19, 2002 - Posted by | language

4 Comments »

  1. [...] About The Camel-Borne Library Though The Camel Bookmobile (HarperCollins, April 2007, a Booksense pick) is a novel, the camel-borne library actually exists. It operates from Garissa in Kenya’s isolated Northeastern Province near the unstable border with Somalia. Initially launched with three camels on Oct. 14, 1996, the library now uses 12 camels traveling to four settlements per day, four days per week. The camels bring books to a semi-nomadic people who live with drought, famine and chronic poverty. The books are spread out on grass mats beneath an acacia tree, and the library patrons, often barefoot, sometimes joined by goats or donkeys, gather with great excitement to choose their books until the next visit. The books are written in English or Swahili, the two official primary of Kenya. (For more about languages of the region, see here.) [...]

    Pingback by About The Camel-Borne Library « Camel Book Drive | April 19, 2007 | Reply

  2. hi,
    i just read about the camel book drive on Family Circle magazine. i’m so surprised,glad and motivated by your, and that you have taken a big step to help the children who are eager to learn. Keep up with the good work.

    Comment by catherine wanjiru | February 8, 2008 | Reply

  3. I like to talk to Ms. Blair about the type of books going to Kenya. I’m an elementary principal who has started a mobile library in rural Zambia. I’ve built bicyle trailers and I carry books to the villages. We’ve also started a preschool program to teach English to four, five, and six year olds. I would like to know about the books you are sending the students in Kenya.

    Comment by Cam Hurst | February 18, 2008 | Reply

  4. I read about the camel mobile book library and it motivated me to action. I had been thinking about doing something for children in Africa for quite sometime. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Comment by marsha danzy | January 17, 2010 | Reply


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