In 2013, Hyral Matete approached her mum with what she thought was a crazy request.
She wanted to use her living room as a bookstore.
The mum, Monica Auma reluctantly gave in to the request.
Soon, Hyral rearranged the room, creating some space for her small book shelf.
I was passionate about news anchoring, and I wanted to pursue the courseHyral
Today, the living room is more than a bookstore; but a community library supporting at least 300 children from the vulnerable neighbourhood of Manyatta.
When Lake Region Bulletin paid Hyral a visit at her mum’s home near Kosawo Primary School, she had about 30 children aged between three and 16.
“Many of the children are in school currently. So the few who have time are free to come in and begin the program,” she said.
In 2012, Hyral, the first born in a family of six siblings lost her dad.
She had just completed her secondary education, and was looking up to joining the university to undertake a course in mass media.
“I was passionate about news anchoring, and I wanted to pursue the course,” she said.
But dad’s death took her back to the drawing board.
She could nolonger manage to raise the university fees.
The widowed mum advised her to go for an affordable course, pointing to a P1 certificate.
“I then joined Jans Teachers College,” she said.
The lost dream
After completing her course work in 2013, she went for teaching practice, awaiting her final Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) assessment.
But this never materialized, as she lacked funds to finance her Knec registration fees as well as clear her tuition fee arrears.
And that’s how her dream of becoming a teacher ended.
It was during her time at the teaching practice that she developed the interest in setting up a library.
According to Hyral, she witnessed a number of children fail to do their homework due to lack of books.
“Some children could not read simple statements because they had little or no access to books,” she said.
Her biggest worry was those children approaching adolescent stage, who lost confidence, self-esteem, due to ridicule from teachers and fellow pupils due to their slow or inability to read.
“I took the initiative to share with them my personal books, and once in a while putting them together and teaching them how to read when they are out of class,” she said.
While she was doing this, she begun identifying some hidden talents in the children.
“We then begun to combine reading with singing, dancing, modeling, and drama,” she said.
“I discovered the children were becoming more confident, active and with great personality.”
Before long, Hyral’s sessions on teaching practice came to an end. It was time to get back to college.
“Due to lack of fees, I could not get back to college to complete my course. I had to return home to my mum,” she said.
While home, she began noticing some children facing similar challenges like the ones she had during teaching practice.
Some children had to move to their friends’ homes to borrow books, or copy assignments, which was quite inconveniencing.
It was then that I asked my mum to allow me use her living room as a bookstore, and sometimes help the children with homework and reading lessonsHyral
One day she brought together some children, and gave them some books, but they had to use them within her mum’s house.
The children came back another day, and it was soon a common thing.
“It was then that I asked my mum to allow me use her living room as a bookstore, and sometimes help the children with homework and reading lessons,” she said.
Word went round, and more children joined.
To control the children, she traced their homes, and sought permission of their parents to allow the children join her during their free time.
Angels of Sunset
To have a structured way of engagement, she formed a Community Based Organization, ‘Angels of Sunset’ to champion the course.
Today, at least 300 children benefit from her reading initiative.
Since children require combination of activities, she runs an all inclusive program which not only promote the reading culture, but also taps on talent.
“Apart from just reading, I have a team of 16 volunteers with different skills and talents who help the children with various talents such as music, dance, modeling, and public speaking,” she said.
During weekdays, children go there from 4pm, and have enough time and space to do their homework, and read.
Our target were vulnerable children from the neighbourhood who lack space and reading material. But we have received a lot of interest especially with the additional activities that we offer, so we charge some little fees to help with the sustainabilityHyral
During weekends and holidays, they have a whole day to do their homework, with other activities.
“We have managed to send some of our children to fashion shows, and music concerts,” she said.
To ensure sustainability of the project, she has opened doors to children from other parts of Kisumu, who pay some little money to benefit from her initiative.
“Our target were vulnerable children from the neighbourhood who lack space and reading material. But we have received a lot of interest especially with the additional activities that we offer, so we charge some little fees to help with the sustainability,” said Hyral.
She also occasionally organize concerts, in which the children perform, and people pay some entry fee. The money is used to stock the library, and acquire necessary material for training the talents.
Her vision is to have a bigger space and equipment which she can use to accommodate more children.
“Due to space, we limit the number of children coming in at once. But we hope we will one day get a bigger space,” she said.
According to her mum, at first she had not envisioned such a broad idea.
“When she asked for the space, I did not think it would be such a huge thing,” said the mum.
“Hyral is my first born child, and I have known her as a determined girl, with a big vision.”
“I have come to get used to the children, and once in a while when Hyral is away, I am always there to see them get comfortable and do their work,” she adds.
Ms Auma has even allowed her daughter to use her veranda for her activities.
Jane Okello, a resident of Kosawo is one of the beneficiaries of Hyral’s project.
“I enrolled my two children here about three years ago. One of them sat his KCPE last year, and is now in Form One,” she said.
Ms Okello adds that during the Covid-19 break which saw schools shut, Hyral’s place worked magic for her.
“The children spent much of their time here, reading and playing, and I saw some positive change in them,” she said.
Her other kid who joined the program three years ago is currently in Grade Five.
Her testimony is shared by Elizabeth Atieno.
Atieno also had her two children join the project over two and a half years ago.
“One is now in Grade Eight, while the other one is in Grade Five,” she said.
According to Ms Atieno, many residents of Manyatta slums live in small rooms which do not have enough space for their children to study, or play.
Many of them are financially vulnerable, hence cannot afford to buy books for their children, hence have to rely on those provided in school.
“Sometimes the books are only issued to bright children, with those considered to be below average not given first priority,” said Hyral.
Hyral has since cascaded the reading culture through organizing ‘Read Aloud’ concerts, where she visits special schools and spend a couple of hours reading stories to children with visual impairment.