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Senegalese thirsty to learn find an oasis in a simple library

In a nation of 40 percent literacy and great poverty, students read novels in lunch-break installments at this struggling civic institution.

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(From the Dec. 2, 2008 Christian Science Monitor)

Fatima Ndoye has just finished “L’enfant noir,” a novel based on the childhood of Guinean author Camara Laye.

She could hardly put it down – except that she hardly had the chance to pick it up, either.

She has been reading it in borrowed snatches of time when she races across the street from her school to the Pikine Library during her lunch break.

This crude library – a 15-by-65 foot room in a concrete cultural center – is a treasure trove for the 14-year-old, who says she tries to read a novel a week here during hour-long visits.

The daughter of a construction worker who earns $10 a day, she can’t afford the $2 library card nor the two passport-sized photos required to get one, so she reads the books in installments, a little every day.

Fatima, her blue school vest covering jeans and T-shirt, knows every corner of the library: She walks to a shelf that’s three-quarters full and tells a visitor, “these are the novels.” The shelf below, she says, are books about business.

She wanders a few more steps, and indicates the children’s section, picking up a picture book and rifling through the pages.

“When I was little,” she muses, “I liked these books. But now I’m bigger and I’ve changed. Because you progress. You progress all the time. I’m 14 now, and I read much bigger books.”

• • •

This bustling – even crowded – lending library, cobbled together with hope, donations, and volunteerism, is evidence of how strong demand is for more libraries in Senegal, which, as one of the world’s poorest countries, has a 40 percent literacy rate.

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