The Coastal Star

Pay it Forward: Delray librarian to deliver books to children in Kenya

Children in Kenya will have new books to read, courtesy of a Project Humanity effort. A Delray Beach librarian is one of the volunteers who will deliver the books. Photo provided

By Lucy Lazarony

This summer, Delray Beach librarian Isabella Rowan will help deliver 60,000 donated library books to Kenya.

When she saw the headline on the Project Humanity website — with the words “Build libraries in Africa” — she knew she had to volunteer.

“It just felt like it was meant to be,”  Rowan recalls. “I’ve always been interested in Africa. I found out about Project Humanity in a book that I was reading.”

Faraway journeys are nothing new to Rowan, the educational programs and volunteer manager at Delray Beach Public Library. The only child of a missionary, she had traveled to 11 countries before her 16th birthday.

“I grew up with parents who taught me to not be afraid to touch the world,” Rowan says. “Becoming a librarian was a natural progression for me because I believe it is a calling. And I wholeheartedly believe that books bring light and have the power to transform lives.”

Rowan is the first librarian to volunteer with Project Humanity,  a nonprofit organization out of Key West, whose projects include building libraries and literacy in African nations.

Project Humanity distributes library books to school and community libraries in Africa with help from volunteers like Rowan. The African Library Project, another nonprofit, provides the books.

Rowan is eager to pitch in and do her part in Kenya. 

“I want to utilize my expertise in helping to train librarians,” says Rowan, who has a master’s degree in library and information science from Wayne State University in Detroit. 

She’ll also be doing story times with kids.

The plan is to deliver books to help set up 30 libraries. The books will arrive by sea after a three-month journey.

“The rest of the time will be evaluating potential sites for more libraries,” Rowan says. 

She leaves for Nairobi on June 8 and it will be a busy three weeks, setting up school and community libraries in remote areas of Kenya, training library staff and scouting other places.

The communities where Rowan will deliver the books are without reliable, if any, electricity and running water. Schools have dirt floors, no indoor plumbing and no books. 

To understand the need for books in Kenya, Rowan gave this example: 

“Kenya has a population of 48.46 million people with only 62 registered public libraries.  In Florida with our population of 20.61 million people we have 557 public library branches and 20 mobile library units,” she says.

“Here we have libraries, bookstores, paperbacks for a quarter at neighborhood garage sales and the Little Free Libraries initiative,” Rowan says. “With the abundance of books we have in America, it is very hard for me to comprehend that there are places in the world with no books.”

The Delray Beach Public Library hopes to connect its teen patrons with teens in Kenya.

“We hope to connect our patrons, especially the youth, with their African peers,” says Karen Ronald, executive director of the Delray Beach Public Library. “This is a wonderful opportunity for new friendships and greater understanding of different ways of life.”

Ronald would like to have the Delray Beach Public Library become a sister library to a library in Kenya as a result of Rowan’s visit. 

This is, she says, an opportunity to develop an international partnership with another library in order to promote books, libraries and literacy and build cross-cultural relationships.

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