Connecticut to Kenya
A two and a half week-long trip to Kenya helped Kymberlee Powe better appreciate the libraries and services most Americans take for granted.
Powe, a student in the Kent State University School of Library and Information Science (SLIS), works full time for the Easton Public Library in Easton, Conn., as the children and teen librarian; she expects to graduate in August 2016 with a Master of Library and Information Science degree. She recently traveled to Kenya with the American Friends of Kenya (AFK) Inc. to help libraries and schools in poor areas.
AFK is a nonprofit organization based in Connecticut that focuses on library and school development and medical care in the poorest areas of Kenya. It has created networks throughout Kenya to evaluate the needs of the libraries and other facilities in their areas.
“One library may be in need of children’s books, another may be in need of engineering books,” Powe said. “The network leader then contacts AFK, and as we collect and pack books to ship, we try to fulfill those needs as best as we can.”
AFK regularly sends shipments of books, library materials, school supplies and medical supplies to schools, libraries, hospitals and clinics. These books and supplies are donated by individuals or purchased with donated funds.
AFK also coordinates trips for teams of librarians, teachers and medical practitioners. The organization is completely volunteer-operated, so anyone who participates in one of these trips must pay for it themselves.
The Trip of a Lifetime
When Powe and the other volunteers visited the libraries in Kenya, they did workshops on book binding, storytelling and general library organization for the library workers there.
“A lot of the trip involved meeting in person with those network leaders and visiting the libraries,” Powe said.
Powe was able to apply what she had learned in her Organization of Information and Public Library classes during her work with the libraries in Kenya.
“We reorganized the children’s section of a library, and I really pulled from what I learned in those classes,” Powe said. “We reorganized the section in such a way that it would be easy for the children to access and understand.”
Powe learned about the trip during the Connecticut Library Association annual meeting last year. After finding out that the trip may be cancelled because they didn’t have enough volunteers, Powe decided to go.
“I was very interested in learning about the library system in another country, but I’ve never had the chance, so I decided to go for it,” Powe said.
Powe explained that Kenya has government-funded libraries and a library system, but there are fees to belong to those libraries and not much funding for books and supplies. Many Kenyans can’t afford public library fees, so they operate community libraries out of people’s houses and backyards.
“Typically they're no bigger than a small bedroom, but the communities thrive on them,” Powe said.
Serving Those in Need
The trip has reinforced Powe’s determination to continue meeting the needs of those who aren’t fortunate enough to have resources like those provided by a library.
“Libraries are important. The institution is so much more vital than people realize,” Powe said.
She explained that people can come to libraries for many different reasons, from using computers and Internet to looking for job opportunities and receiving help formatting a resume.
Powe said her SLIS professors challenge her to think outside the box, and this trip helped her do a lot of creative thinking. Living in America provides many opportunities that Kenyans don’t have, and Powe wants to continue helping Kenyans.
“It’s really going to take me some time to figure out exactly what I can do for the people and the communities I was introduced to during my trip, but I want to do something more,” Powe said.
She also hopes to spread the word about AFK and remind those around her how lucky they are to have everything they do.
“We are always looking for donated books, school supplies, book ends, sports equipment, anything you can think of that may be beneficial for a library or school to send to Kenya,” Powe said. “I just want people to know this organization exists, and it does great work.”