When I was young, I rarely went to a library. My family didn’t go to the town library very much and my school didn’t have a library. My family did value books and there were always books around for my brother and me to read. But I don’t remember visiting a library more than once or twice.
That changed as a young adult. The first time I stepped into a large public library – I know it is trite – but I absolutely felt like a kid in a candy store. And truthfully, I still feel that way. I LOVE libraries. I still look around and think, “Really? I can pick from anything here, and it’s all free!”
Perhaps that’s why I am so thrilled – not happy, not excited, but thrilled – to be creating a library for students at A.V. Bukani Primary School in Addo, South Africa. My husband and I, with lots of help, just sent a shipment of 25,000 donated books to support the education of the wonderful students at the school. We are about to make our third volunteer trip to work with the dedicated teachers there, sharing research-based strategies to increase literacy. We’ve also been working with the families, an integral part of education.
On our first trip to this township school in August 2008, we were shaken by the lack of materials – from students writing with pencil stubs to inadequate workbooks that were basically the only books the students had. My husband used some quality picture books we had brought with us to demonstrate read-alouds. After seeing the students’ eyes light up when he read “Swimmy” by Leo Lionni, one of the teachers grabbed his arm and asked, “Are there more books like this?!” We knew we had to return one day with many, many more books.
The following year as we finished our second visit, Principal Thambo said it is time to build a library. We agreed. Although shipping is expensive, we had been in touch with an old high school friend who said he could help us with discounted shipping. We knew with our many contacts back in the DC area that we could collect hundreds of books for this school. We also knew that, to be used effectively, these books could not just be boxed and shipped. They had to be sorted and labeled. Thus began our journey this year of collecting, organizing and labeling, not hundreds of books, but 25,000 quality children’s books. It was a labor of love for us and the many, many volunteers who worked with us, as well as the donors who helped with shipping expenses. In mid-July, the books began their journey in a shipping container that will be fitted with doors and windows and will become the library itself.
And so my love of libraries has come full circle. In early August, I will watch the shipping container filled with books we packed be trucked into the township and placed on the foundation built by the community. I will watch as community volunteers help unload and open the boxes and boxes of books. And I will watch as the students get to not only look at these wonderful books, but choose books and take them home. And the next day, they can choose another one. Does life get any better than that!
I truly feel like Willy Wonka opening up the candy store to the 1,000 children of this school. They’ll discover Ezra Jack Keats, Eric Carle, Beverly Cleary, Dr. Seuss, and many other wonderful authors and illustrators. And once they taste this delicious stuff, I know they’ll be back for more. In my heart I know these books will change lives for decades to come, and I am so honored to play a part in this. More on our South African blog www.KuglersinSouthAfrica.blogspot.com