Meet the inspiration behind Maria’s Libraries! Maria Wafula is a civic leader and farmer in Busia, Kenya. Maria’s tireless work to promote issues of education, women’s empowerment, and above all her work to establish the Busia Community Library, inspired us to start Maria’s Libraries. She remains a constant source of inspiration, passion, and wisdom.
Born in 1950 in Uganda, Maria worked her way through university at Makerere University, East Africa’s premier institution of higher education. Her first post-graduate position was in Arusha, Tanzania where she worked as a secretary in the regional trade body the East African Community. When the EAC dissolved in the 70s (it has in recent years been re-established), Maria married Washington Wafula, an official in the EAC, becoming his third wife. She moved to his home region of Busia, Kenya. At the time, Busia had not been granted municipality status, and indeed was officially called Busia Market. Maria’s husband Washington (or “Mzee”) was a prominent local leader in Busia, and under the stewardship of Mzee and his colleagues, Busia grew to a thriving border town and center for trade for the region. In the late 1980s, the town council underwent a town planning exercise, and with Maria’s strong influence, Mzee and his colleagues allocated 0.5 hectares of land in the town center for a library. The deed to the land was officially given to Kenya National Library Service.
Throughout this period, Maria managed the banana farm, cultivating organic farming techniques that today are promoted nationally. Mzee, having retired from public life, has taken over much of the day to day management of the farm, but Maria still travels around Kenya advising other farmers on best practice techniques and distributing banana samples.
In 2000, Maria and a group of civic leaders from Busia attended a civil society training in Nairobi. This was a time of great political and social change in Kenya. Daniel Arap Moi, Kenya’s leader since 1978, was, in two years, stepping down from office, inspiring a wave of social organizing all across the country. After the training, Maria and the other participants from Busia decided to build on this momentum and founded Family Support Services (FASSCO), dedicated to promoting reading and culture in the Busia region. Maria was designated coordinator of the library which, over a decade earlier, she had been instrumental in securing land for.
Since the founding of FASSCO, Maria’s has worked tirelessly to build local and national support, liaising with politicians, community members and donors. In 2006, the library officially opened its doors in an office in a government building, where the library will continue to operate until the new building is completed. In addition, she is engaged in a variety of other civic activities, including acting as Chairperson of the Women’s Cross-border Trade Association, and running a workshop to teach and promote crafts making among low-income women. All the while, she continues her farming work, which is what primarily funds the operation of the library. In 2010, realizing that the library required more support than her farm could handle, she embarked on an entirely new venture, opening a Cyber Café and crafts shops, the proceeds of which entirely go to the library.
Throughout her many business and civic activities, Maria is full of life, warmth and laughter. When the library is built, Maria has promised her she will slow down a little (we’ll believe it when we see it!), at which point she plans on writing her first novel, with the working title of “The Third Wife.”