Contributed by Jennifer Hoyer
Can you imagine going to school with no textbooks? Can you imagine doing a research assignment with no library?
Would you ever dream of writing a government English exam without having seen a copy of the curriculum’s required reading?
Staff and students hang out in the library at Vulindlela, the Keiskamma Trust’s resource centre in Hamburg, South Africa.
For students in Hamburg, South Africa, (check the map!) the unimaginable isn’t such a stretch from reality. By partnering with the Keiskamma Trust, a community development organization that promotes holistic health and education in Hamburg, Librarians Without Borders (LWB) has helped put books on shelves in a community library.
In a place like Hamburg, a book on a shelf provides more than a good story or the answers for an assignment. Hamburg is located in the Eastern Cape, historically one of the most mismanaged and corrupt provinces in South Africa. It isn’t uncommon for school textbooks and workbooks to sit in government warehouses while students go without. It isn’t uncommon for schools in rural villages to have no library or computer lab.
When a student has never seen an encyclopedia, chances of completing a research project are slim. When a school has no copies of the set book for a high school English exam, chances of passing the exam – and proceeding to the next grade – are almost non-existent. In situations like this, a book is more than a story, a key to a larger world, or a recipe for a passing grade. Books become essential tools for passing high school, for being the first in the family to access post-secondary education, and for getting a job that seemed completely beyond the reach of rural Africa.
The primary focus of the education program at the Keiskamma Trust is providing support for youth, especially orphans and vulnerable children. The current priority is the establishment of a youth centre with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) facilities and a library to be used by youth and community members. The local high school has no computers and no library, so the Keiskamma Trust has set up a resource centre on a nearby property. By providing information resources and ICT accessibility, the resource centre hopes to improve high school pass rates as well as provide greater opportunity for graduates to attend post-secondary education and connect with broader economic opportunities.
Staff members Matshezi and Nokuphumla check out some of the new reference texts.
The centre acquired computers by donation, and a small library collection was set up. Unfortunately, the collection is largely unsuitable for the research needs of high school students or the interests of young adult readers. High speed internet has opened new opportunities for the community to access information at the computer lab, the high cost of use in rural areas makes it prohibitive for most people.
Donations from both LWB International and the LWB Ottawa Student Committee have kickstarted the purchase of current reference resources for the resource centre library collection. Staff are excited to now have copies of high school English required reading texts, as well as study guides and supplementary resources.
The library has become a popular hangout, as the resources centre is a hive of community activity: computer classes, chess club, movie night and life skills workshops are only a few activities on the calendar. It’s exciting to know that, for students in rural South Africa, a few new books on the library shelves can mean a better grade on an exam, the opportunity to graduate from high school, and the chance to do more in life than you ever thought possible.
Students Mihle (Gr. 11) and Mkhululi (Gr. 10) are happy to see some of their class study materials in the library.