In 2009, the United Nations officially declared July 18 as Nelson Mandela Day, which also happens to be Mandela’s birthday. As a birthday present to the man who spent 67 years in politics serving his people, South Africans and others around the world spend 67 minutes on July 18 in service of others. The hope is that their collective efforts will effect positive change in the world.
Here at Room to Read, we are firm believers that small acts of service can have big results, so we asked our team in South Africa’s Eastern Cape how some of the members of their community would be celebrating Mandela Day. What we found were three parents who have taken Mandela’s creed of service to heart, but have gone above and beyond the traditional 67 minutes—volunteering in their local libraries all year long.
Ms. Nomathamsanqa Payiya has been volunteering full-time at Lumanyano Public School since January 2010. She was inspired to take an active role in the library when she learned that her son, although in 7th grade, had not yet learned to read well.
When the principal of her son’s school, Mr. Jongilanga, announced in a parents' meeting that Room to Read had established a library at the school, and that he needed assistance from parents to operate it, she jumped at the chance. For Nomathamsanqa, having a library in her community—an informal settlement with an extremely low literacy rate—is a dream come true.
Even though her son has now moved on to the local secondary school, Nomathamsanqa continues to volunteer Monday through Friday—helping young readers with their homework, reading aloud and making book recommendations to new visitors. She also assists the head librarian with book processing, classification and display of the reading materials.
For Mr. Jongilanga, having such dedicated volunteers is extremely important. Parents like Nomathamsanqa, he says, not only allow the library to run smoothly, but forge a tighter bond between the school and the community. Recently, the parents of the school got together, inspired by their children’s enthusiasm for reading, and asked Mr. Jongilanga to open an Adult Education Center on the premises and start a reading club on weekends.
Having only completed her schooling up to 7th grade, Nomathamsanqa is proud to be helping the children of her community become independent readers and complete their education. She reports that attendance at the library increases everyday, with many children becoming “regulars” who visit on a daily basis.
A few miles away, at Msundulo Primary School, our team met two other adults that are Room to Read library regulars. Mr. Kholisile Nelson Felani is the chairperson of Msundulo School Governing Body. His dream is that his children complete their education, as he never had the opportunity to do so.
As part of the School Governing Body, Kholisile helps to ensure operations run smoothly. He initially participated in the construction of the library building, and since then has volunteered on a weekly basis—stamping library books, updating check-out logs and tidying up the facility.
Kholisile is glad to have a library in town because of his neighborhood’s high rate of illiteracy. He encourages the local children to spend as much time reading as possible, and views the community’s investment in education as an important step in lowering the crime rate.
Among other benefits, he says the library’s inclusion of newspapers and magazines among its materials allows adults in the community to keep abreast of local news and search for employment opportunities.
Ms. Noluthando Kame also volunteers in the Msundulo school library. With two children at the school, she relishes any opportunity to be a part of their education. When the library assistant passed away early this year, Noluthando volunteered to take over without hesitation.
Having completed her own education a few years ago after passing the high school exit exam, Noluthando loves reading, and makes it a point to help slower readers improve by leading spelling games and word puzzles. She has become a mentor in the community for many students, and says she is continually inspired to serve by the dedication her community’s school has shown to providing a quality education for all its students.
Thanks to the commitment of parents like Ms. Payiya, Mr. Felani and Ms. Kame across South Africa, it's clear that Mr. Mandela's legacy of service continues to inspire.
Learn more about our programs in South Africa.