Looking for free books?


Visit our library

The Literacy Ledger Reflections, findings, stories and the lowdown

The Impact of Digital Reading in Nairobi, Kenya

June 6, 2019 By

In early May, members of Worldreader’s global boards and invited guests visited Nairobi, Kenya to see first-hand the power of digital reading in underserved communities. All who visited left eager to help Worldreader increase our impact.

Students in Mukuru Benefit from Digital Reading

The Ruben Centre in Mukuru, one of Nairobi’s largest slums, provides wrap-around services to some of the neighborhood’s most vulnerable residents. The Centre includes a school, daycare center, community meeting areas and gardens, a maternal health clinic, and a radio station that reaches 40,000 listeners. Worldreader supports the primary school with e-readers and digital collections of books. Board members and guests had the opportunity to hear from Centre leadership and observe teachers in action as they incorporated digital reading into their lessons.

Margaret Kariuki, an alumna of the Centre who now serves as the public relations manager, shared her story with guests of growing up in Mukuru and how she benefited from the services and education provided at the Centre. Childhood in the slum was full of challenges for a young girl, from threats to her safety to the lack of basic necessities like sanitary napkins. Despite these hardships, Margaret excelled in school, eventually earning sponsorship to the University of Nairobi, where she received her bachelor’s degree. When asked about the Centre’s current students, who share similar childhood experiences, she said they were fortunate to have the “amazing” Worldreader program. She went on to say that “Some of these children are given time for break to go and play, but most of them prefer to go to the library and read on their own; they go and request for the e-readers, and then go through the hundreds of stories.”

The highlight of the visit was seeing Margaret’s words in action – students reading together in the library and classrooms. In a context where paper books are limited, we heard over and over from the students themselves that they loved the variety of books available on the e-readers, the built-in dictionary that allows them to learn new words quickly and easily, and the culturally relevant stories that reflect their own experiences. The joy of reading and learning was palpable at the Ruben Centre. For children who have so little, digital reading not only builds essential literacy skills, it gives them a path to a promising future.

To get a feel for the experience, watch this short video of a Centre storyteller reading to children in the school’s library.

Worldreader’s Impact on Local Publishers

Longhorn Publishing is one of Kenya’s largest publishing houses and a Worldreader partner organization. In speaking with visitors, Evans Rotich, Chief Digital Officer, credited Worldreader with sparking Longhorn’s digital transformation through demand for content and capacity-building support. Over a four-year period, Longhorn has gone from publishing 10 digital titles to 500. He went on to say that thanks to Worldreader’s digital library, readers from around the world now have access to Longhorn’s titles.

Worldreader Convenes the Digital Reading Summit

On 8 May, Worldreader hosted the 2019 Global Digital Reading Summit. Thanks to all who participated, from the esteemed speakers and delegates, to Worldreader’s global board members and generous volunteers, the Summit was a huge success. Nearly 150 invited participants from across sectors in Kenya and around the world filled the conference room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Upper Hill in Nairobi.

The theme of the day was Disruptive Technology. Sustainable Solutions: Digital reading as a cross-sectoral approach to the SDGs. The focus of the presentations, panel discussions, and brain trust sessions was how digital reading and content are key to reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. Joseph Wakaba Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary, Minister of ICT for Kenya and Worldreader CEO David Risher were interviewed by Kenya news teams during the event. Coverage from KBC can be seen here.

The Digital Reading Experience in Kibera

The Summit was followed by the Digital Reading Experience on Thursday hosted by the Laini Saba Primary School, a Worldreader beneficiary. Situated in Kibera, another of Nairobi’s large slums, the school serves 475 pupils, giving priority to poor children from the community and those orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The Digital Reading Experience brought together students from Laini Saba and five other area schools for digital reading demonstrations, speeches, storytelling, and musical performances. You can see local news coverage of the event here.

The day provided an opportunity to witness first-hand the great work these schools are doing in some of the most difficult social conditions imaginable. Students in Kibera typically live with their entire families in one-room shacks, without electricity or running water. These schools provide an oasis of hope in an otherwise harsh environment. Digital reading is a vital component in the classrooms and libraries while also solving significant business challenges. The hundreds of paper books needed to serve all students would be cost-prohibitive and require a lot of space to store. But e-readers, loaded with Worldreader’s curated collections, provide hundreds of books per device that complement course curricula and bring the joy of reading to students.

After classroom visits, the morning came to a festive close as Ghanaian musical artist and Worldreader board member, Okeayame Kwame, performed his original song Read with the students. 

Board members and guests will not soon forget seeing the transformative power of digital reading. To learn more about how you can support Worldreader’s efforts, contact us at development@worldreader.org.

Please visit our gallery to view more photos of the day.