Immaculate Ajiambo considers books as her favorite companion. She also loves cool music, writing, poetry, and storytelling. She describes herself as an educationist. Her love and passion for books were fueled by her parents who encouraged her to read a lot, and often gave her books as gifts. At twenty-one years of age, Immaculate is already running a reading advocacy group – Thamani Books.
Here we chat with her about growing the reading culture in Kenya and Thamani Books.
Hi Immaculate, do tell us about yourself and how you fell in love with books?
My name is Immaculate Ajiambo. I’m a student of Moi University. Incoming fourth year, pursuing English and Literature.I’m a passionate writer, poet, storyteller and book activist.
I concur with Elizabeth Hardwick in saying that the greatest gift is a passion for reading. I grew up in a family that embraced reading. At a young age of about 6 years, I took reading as a hobby. We would receive colorful storybooks as gifts back then. After completing a book, one was to narrate the story to the rest and at the end, it became a lifestyle. In high school, my love for books grew stronger and I knew that one day I would transmit the reading bug to many others.
In your experience, what are the reasons people have a problem reading and imbibing a reading culture?
Children do not know how to read because they do not have books. Parents who do not read find it hard to buy books for their kids. Many times they blame the economy for being on their necks.
If parents and teachers create a reading environment and lead by example the young ones will find it enjoyable to pick a book, sit down and read from cover to cover.
To note, our education curriculum is exam oriented in that whenever a student reads something out of the syllabus it is seen as a waste of time. It really discourages leisure reading. Furthermore, information infrastructure has not been well invested in. There are few well-maintained libraries in the country.
Unfortunately, reading has been socially excluded from the list of pastime activities. The looks on people’s faces after I confess my undying passion for books tell a lot on how people perceive reading in this age of technology and Internet of things. It goes on that most people claim not have time to read. Yet they are the same people who are always online on the social media pages scrolling for likes and updates.William Styron says that a great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.
When did you start getting restless about the reading culture and how did you think of Thamani?
While in primary school I opened up our house to friends in the neighborhood to come and borrow books that they did not have. It was very interesting reading and discussing from the same book with a friend. Out of ten friends, only three were bookworms. In 2016, I realized that there were pupils in standard seven who found it difficult to read a standard three textbook and a whole sentence in English. That is when I shared the idea with my friends and Thamani Books started as a solution. There must be something my mother knew about books that she sacrificed a lot to buy any titles for me and even allowed me to share with friends. From her kind act, I was fully convinced that books are treasures and that is why we use the name Thamani a Swahili word for Treasure.
What do you hope/plan on achieving with Thamani?
I hope that Thamani Books will be at the front line in creating a healthy reading lifestyle in Kenya and in this way improve the quality of education and reduce the rate of illiteracy. A society with readers is safe because it has thinkers who can analyze, interpret, construct and deconstruct.
What plans do you have for acquiring books and how can other people/organizations be part of it?
We rely on donations from friends and well-wishers. Other people can help us by going to our Facebook page, Thamani Books and making their donations.
Currently, we are running a book drive for Lgoss Primary School in Samburu County on 15th September that will enable us to set up a library for the pupils. According to one of the teachers, the children cannot read and the solution to such sickness is by getting them books which they do not have. This mission is in partnership with Writers Guild Kenya. We call for well-wishers to contribute money and book donations.
In your opinion what role do you think the Government can play in fostering a better reading culture?
In my honest opinion, the Kenyan government has a major role to play in ensuring that we are a reading nation. This is possible if they can formulate a feasible policy that will require every county and school to have a library. In this way, information will be easily accessible to the learners and community at large. Also, by restructuring the education curriculum so that it can accommodate leisure reading.