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Children Find a Place to Read in Africa’s Largest Market

Home > Learn More > Stories & News > Children Find a Place to Read in Africa’s Largest Market
By Alemtsehay Zergaw, ChildFund Ethiopia
Posted on 9/8/2016

In the heart of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is Mercato, Africa’s largest open market. It spans several square miles and employs about 13,000 people.

Rebka, 13, reads a book at the Mercato library in a busy part of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It’s been said that one can get anything in Mercato — from house-cleaning products to automobiles, from clay coffee pots to mattresses. Banks sit next to churches and mosques, with thousands of vendors in between. You’ll also find donkeys throughout the market helping deliver products.

Despite all of this activity, Mercato’s first library was established less than a decade ago.

Libraries, as we know, are the gateways to knowledge, helping children and adults learn new ideas and skills. They’re central to building creative, prosperous and innovative societies. And even though several bookstores thrive there, Mercato was in need of a proper public library.

After witnessing the situation in the area, ChildFund Ethiopia, with the help of a sponsor, constructed a library that has served the children of Mercato since 2008.

It is equipped with many kinds of books in different languages, both local and international, from reference books to stories meant for pleasure reading.

In the eyes of Mercato residents, the library is more than just a place for literacy and education. It’s a place where children are safe after school, a time when they might otherwise be vulnerable to substance abuse and other dangers.

Rebka, a 13-year-old girl who was born and raised inside the Mercato compound, has used the library for the past two years.

We asked her about school and what the library means to her.

“I am a good student,” she says. “I have never cheated on exams, and I do not disturb class and fight at school. I usually participate in the classroom discussions.” Rebka studies about two hours a day after school, usually at the library.

“I used to study at home and occasionally at school, but these days I usually come here [the library] for studying. I love it here because all my friends are here, and there are several kinds of books here. If I get bored with educational books, I go for the fables.”

It was harder to study at home because of distractions, Rebka adds.

“Here, if I am not interested in studying or reading, just watching my friends being busy either studying or doing their homework helps me get my studying mood back.”

Plus, Rebka’s grades have improved, as has her class ranking. Last year, she was ranked 18th out of 50 students.

“This time,” she says, “I hope I will be among the top three.”