Chris Mothupi, Room to Read's Country Director in South Africa, recently attended an awards ceremony organized by the Mpumalanga Department of Education to recognize schools in the province that are demonstrating an outstanding commitment to using their library. The winner of the “Library of the Year” award happened to be a Room to Read library and in today's blog, in honor of South Africa's Freedom Day holiday, Chris shares how the students came prepared with a few words to express how their library has given them the "freedom to learn."
“Room to Read, where were you during that time when we struggled for education?
Where were you during those days when we did not have libraries that brought us liberation?
But we forgive you now because your birth in South Africa brought us knowledge,
Because of you, children from schools are now able to read, write and broaden their knowledge.”
These lines come from a poem that was written and presented by first graders from Malwana Primary School during a ceremony I attended on March 18 in honor of the provincial library week organized by the Mpumalanga Department of Education. The occasion was to recognize schools that have shown significant improvement in the usage of their libraries by students and teachers, and of the 300 primary and secondary schools that participated in the competition, Malwana Primary School stole the show that day as it scooped up the prestigious “Mpumalanga Provincial Library of the Year” award.
Their win and the fact that the children were so inspired by their library as to write a poem about it, swelled me with immense pride. But it was their metaphor of a library as a liberator to knowledge that takes on special significance, because today is South Africa’s Freedom Day holiday. It was on April 27 in 1994 that all South Africans had the opportunity to vote in the country's first post-apartheid democratic election. We celebrate this day because it is a reminder to us of how Nelson Mandela, an icon of liberation for me and many of my countrymen, inspired change and acceptance in an historically divided nation. [See Chris’ guest blog about Nelson Mandela International Day.]
I remember well what Mandela implored on a day that I was honored to hear him speak. He said children must go to school and learn, because how can you have freedom if you do not have education?
Room to Read began working at the Malwana Primary School in 2009 when, in collaboration with Mpumalanga Department of Education and the community of Manyeleti village, we converted one of the school's unused classrooms into a library. Shelves, library desks, tables and books were soon provided and the teachers and the school’s governing body members, along with the principal Mr. Rambele, were also trained by Room to Read on library management and ways to engage students in library activities to enhance their literacy skills. Mr. Rambele and his staff then took it upon themselves to work diligently with the local village chief to mobilize the community and encourage children and parents to visit the library and make use of the resources on regular basis.
Today, the library is fully utilized by students and teachers from the Malwana school and the larger Manyeleti village. During the weekday afternoons and on Saturdays it remains open for neighbouring schools and communities to access. By establishing the library at the this school and in this community, Room to Read has contributed significantly to the villagers’ newfound appreciation of the empowerment that comes with being educated.
But, for me, it is not Room to Read's presence that makes libraries at schools like Malwana Primary School successful. Instead it is what those schools and teachers and students do with the resources, and the community's dedication to supporting them, that will make an everlasting impact on their education. It is an education that is essential to their continued freedom to make informed choices, and I am confident that Room to Read will continue to be a catalyst for change in South Africa by giving children the "freedom to learn." The Malwana Primary School is a testament to that.
To learn more about Room to Read’s work in South Africa, click here.