Container libraries spread the joys of reading

18 July 2011: Mandela Day will see the launch of a campaign to provide 10 libraries, constructed from converted shipping containers, to primary schools across South Africa during 2011.

"That joy (of reading) has been mine all my life, and it is one I wish for all South Africans." - former president Nelson Mandela , 2005

The initiative is the brainchild of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and, through the work of the NGO Breadline Africa and the support of the international shipping company NYK and its Helping Hands Scheme, the project will benefit an estimated 9 500 learners in some of the poorest communities.

It will be the first time these children have access to a fully functioning library in their place of learning.

The libraries will be placed in schools in Tsakane, Wellington, Parys, Highflats, Bisho, Nelspruit, Mafikeng, Bochum and Jan Kempdorp, and at a lifeskills centre in Randburg.

Co-ordinator of Mandela Day for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Frank Meintjies, said the intention was for the libraries to become centres where books are celebrated, stories are told and the joy of reading is discovered.

"Mandela has said his favourite pastime has always been reading. Books open a world of learning for children, and literacy plays a critical role in growing our nation. We`re promoting the concept of libraries not only from the contribution of information in the educational sense, which is important, but also from the sharing and love of reading, storytelling and encouraging children to open their imaginations," said Meintjies.

Cape-based Breadline Africa specialises in renovating disused shipping containers and recycling them for essential community purposes.

"We buy sturdy, water-tight containers at a low cost and transform them into mobile structures which can be used to feed or educate or as clinics in rural areas. Our projects aim to establish a level of self-sustainability within communities," said Tim Smith, who is director of Breadline Africa.

Containers have been used by the NGO to serve as community kitchens for serving food to the needy, daycare centres for children, health clinics, ablution blocks, educare centres, libraries and media centres in schools.

The Mandela Day container library initiative received more than R500 000 from the NYK Helping Hands Scheme for 2011.

Other players in the project include Soul City, which will co-ordinate the participation of schools to contribute; FirstRand, which will help with installing and equipping the Tsakane Primary container library; LegalWise, which will open a library of its own at the Little Legends Centre in Randburg; and SAA, which will provide two libraries in Madiba`s home villages of Mvezo and Qunu in the Eastern Cape, and computers and internet access for all the libraries through co-operation with Cell-C and Hewlett-Packard.

Organisations supplying books for the libraries include Biblionef, the Read Foundation, Maskew Miller Longman and Oxford University Press. Rotary has donated a considerable number of books in the Gauteng area.

Each container costs about R110 000 to convert. Once completed, a 12m container can house up to 3000 books.

Smith called on local and international companies and organisations to donate containers for the library project.

"Given that only about 20% of South Africa`s schools have functioning libraries, the containers will provide a real impetus towards promoting literacy in our primary schools," said Smith.

All libraries will be branded "Mandela Day Library" in honour of the drive.


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