COVID-19: Camel Libraries Save Children from Forced Labour

ADDIS ABEBA – A camel library is giving children out of school in some of Ethiopia’s most remote villages a unique opportunity to continue reading and learning, despite COVID-19 school closures, according to a charity organization.

Save the Children first began the camel library in 2010.

The program includes 21 camels, which are traditionally used by communities in the Somali region to transport goods across the hot lowland areas.

Camels can carry up to 200 storybooks at a time in wooden boxes strapped to their backs. The project currently reaches over 22,000 children in 33 villages.

Across Ethiopia, over 26 million children are out of school due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

By continuing its camel library outreach program, Save the Children is making sure children can continue to read and learn while at home.

– ‘Very happy’ Kids –

Mahadiya, 13, is in grade seven in a remote part of the Somali region of eastern Ethiopia. Since COVID-19 forced her school to close in late March, she has been unable to go to class.

“Before the coronavirus, we used to go to school regularly. The school used to provide us with a meal each school day, but now that has stopped. I feel sad and disappointed that I cannot go to school,” said Mahadiya said.

“I am worried it may not open soon. Because of this, I am worried that we could forget some of the things we learned in school and we could fail our exams,” said Mahadiay, whos wants to become an engineer when she grows up.

After schools were closed, she said many children in her community were exposed to child labour and “become herders and some walk into the bush to look for firewood”.

For now, Mahadiya is making use of Save the Children’s mobile camel library, which visits her village every week, to help her keep up with her studies.

“When schools were closed, I was very sad. However, the camel library continued to come to our village and supplied us with storybooks,” Mahadiya continued, “I feel very happy and I am now able to borrow and take home the storybook that I would like to read”.

Books are not the only problem

Mahadiya’s family has also suffered financially during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Their family income used to come from a small shop, but because of increases in the price of goods and a decrease in the number of customers, her family is struggling to make ends meet.

Her family also used to own livestock, but the ongoing drought in the region meant that most of the animals needed to be sold.

“It has been nearly three months since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was recorded in Ethiopia. The virus poses particular challenges for vulnerable populations living in high density or resource-poor communities, migrants and displaced children,” said Ekin Ogutogullari, Save the Children’s Country Director in Ethiopia.

Save the Children recently conducted a survey in Ethiopia where children told its team about their perceptions and concerns about COVID-19.

They raised concerns around increases in child labour, early marriage, and abuse due to the outbreak and closure of schools.

“On top of this, Ethiopian children and their families are facing floods, desert locusts, cholera, measles, food insecurity, and rising poverty levels,” Ogutogullari said. “The scale of this crisis is huge, but we are determined to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and ensure no child is worse off at the end of this pandemic.”