The spirit of friendship travels far

Cher Jimenez

A contagious love for reading has started to spread across the Kenyan village of Uriri as a six-metre shipping container full of books, school supplies and furniture that was mainly donated by Morwell students arrived in the area.

Retired local teacher Max Sargent, who started the container library project after a volunteer teaching stint at Mercy Primary School in Kenya, said the container arrived in August with more than 13,000 catalogued library books.

Aside from books also on board the container were school supplies, furniture, sports equipment, toiletries and musical instruments.

Mr Sargent told The Express the project “grew to have a life of its own” all started with a photo of a Kenyan student who was reading a newspaper in school.

“In 2017 I came back in Morwell Central Primary and showed the kids this photograph of a kid reading a newspaper rather than stuff that’s relevant to their age group and the lack of books,” he said.

“Because three schools in Morwell had merged at that stage there were a lot of extra books and one of the teachers said to me ‘why not send a container-load of books.’

“It’s amazing how one word of encouragement can set the ball rolling.”

He said Morwell Central Primary School also raised a total of $3700 through business enterprises while teachers and the general community donated close to $15,000 to cover shipping costs.

“Once the kids started [the fundraiser] the ice was broken and then community members added to it,” he said.

Mr Sargent said close to 300 students at Mercy Primary School, many of them orphans, benefited from the project.

He said the students and teachers were all smiles when the container arrived and Mercy Primary School was also considering offering the library to the local community.

The school is on the same site as an orphanage.

Mr Sargent said the school was delighted to receive the container as only two percent of Kenyan schools had a library.

He said the project provided hope to the children as they did not have books to aid in their learning and were simply relying on lessons from teachers’ textbooks.

“The library itself tells this community that somewhere in the world there’s a place called Morwell that cares about them,” he said.

Mr Sargent said the books were a hit with students eager to explore “what’s out there” in the world.

“All they wanted to do was to read them,” he said.

He spoke of one boy who was moving to tertiary school and borrowed a book and read nine chapters all in one day.