Our two Lubuto Libraries in Lusaka continue to draw large numbers of children. The libraries complement the formal education system by providing high quality collections and programming to all children, especially vulnerable children. Class sizes in Zambian primary schools are often large, usually with over fifty children per class. This means that many Zambian children have little contact with their teacher. Although primary education in Zambia is now free, uniform costs and other fees make attending school prohibitive for many. Lubuto provides a place where children can find a comfortable, welcoming, environment in which to explore knowledge on their own and to participate in our programming. They also find friendly library staff, who are ready to help them find a book, read to them or simply listen to their concerns.
One of the most popular programs in the libraries is LubutoMentoring. Lubuto developed a series of mentoring topics with a local expert, ensuring that content was culturally and age appropriate. The expert also trained staff in how to effectively conduct a mentoring session. Invariably, children enjoy these mentoring sessions and parents have reported positive behavioural change. Mentoring sessions are built around stories, both traditional and those found in our collections. This is very much like the traditional African way of deliberation. Children respond well to the open discussion format of the sessions and the architecture of the Reading Room, with a talking circle at the center, facilitates the process. Observing mentoring sessions, one is amazed at the freedom children express in sharing their opinions or asking questions. It is probably the only place in their lives where they are seen and heard.
Lubuto provides a place for children to be themselves, something greatly lacking in Zambian society. Because of the breakdown in family structures that has occurred in the wake of the HIV-AIDS epidemic, many children have lost one or both parents. The 2010 Census revealed that 15.8% of Zambian children have lost one or both parents. Many families are strained, leaving children with little parental care or on the streets. But Lubuto changes this. Its staff welcomes all children, particularly those at the fringes of society, giving them hope, a chance to expand their minds and connecting them to their own culture. Lubuto is a model of how a library can serve to enrich the lives of vulnerable children and provide a space for them to realize their right to be children.