I love libraries. Therefore, I love people who love libraries – like the indomitable Angela Tuson who works for ITEC, Institute of Training & Education for Capacity-building a non-profit organization in East London on the east coast of South Africa. This area is called the Transkei and during apartheid was subjected to the government’s appalling “Bantu Education” system for non-whites. Today, most of the people there still live in poverty and struggle with literacy, but there are many signs of hope.
ITEC was founded in 1987 by Gerry Nicholl, a feisty teacher who wanted to help other teachers deal with a painful lack of support and resources in this system. 23 years later, ITEC is still going strong and Angela’s part in it is “a lovely one” as she describes it, hosting a Community Library with a staff of two, and a bunch of volunteers from ages 7 to 80.
The library’s ethos is based on being a resource and lifeline for the community, promoting Lifelong Self-Driven Learning & Environmental Responsibility. Most of the books are used, but there is fiction and non-fiction for every level of reader, the staff and volunteers recycle everything, there’s a garden of indigenous plants, and library policies are all about kindliness and helpfulness.
Patrons can use the library’s PCs and TVs for job hunting, resume writing and news, and little ones often come in after school, so Angela has set up story-telling, reading hours, homework help, and big comfy nap zones. Because many folks can’t read very well, the library also has films, curriculum, stories, radio, internet – and lots of earphones – as well as puzzles, games, chess tables, toys, legos, posters and art stations. It’s a full entertainment center for the community and a place that welcomes everyone. Angela and her co-worker also train others to build libraries in their communities that are child-friendly, no-fines, and have only 3 rules: Quiet, Sharing and Respect.
For teachers in rural schools in the Transkei province who are “ridiculously low on resources” as Angela succinctly puts it, she offers block loans of books, toys, games, posters, puzzles, art and digital equipment, microscopes, lamps, cushions and plants to use in their classrooms for 3-6 months at a time.
When Angela wrote me, she cheerfully admitted that the library is in constant need of funds and routinely faces foreclosure, but said “personally I prefer donations of books to cash.” Spoken like a true librarian!! However, I am sending cash – and she ecstatically let me know that my $100 donation will pay for the volunteers’ travel reimbursements for a whole year. What a great, sunny feeling to be sending library love to Africa on this rainy morning in Atlanta! (I’ll include a donation link tomorrow.)
(For another amazing story about the Transkei, see the post on African Medical Missions, on March 24.)