Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Isikhokelo Primary School

"You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you."
— John Bunyan

We encountered this quotation the other day on a billboard in Cape Town. Well, not exactly, because the billboard left out the word today. You can feel comfortable with the quote missing that key word. It’s much more difficult to deal with today.

In that vein, Betsy and I have spent a good part of the last month working at the Isikhokelo Primary School in Khayelitsha, one of the townships on the fringes of Cape Town. The parts of Khayelitsha seen from the expressways tend to be pretty disreputable despite government efforts to build housing.

The problem is that once a family gets into a nice new house, the relatives migrate in, build shacks in the yard, and bring in their livestock. It’s impossible to get ahead of the problem.

It’s a bit convoluted, but this was our route to Isikhokelo Primary School. Betsy has, for years, been in a state of despair over seeing the tons of fairly new books from our US public schools going into land fills. She volunteers at SCARCE in Glen Ellyn which rescues books and gives them to schools that need them. She carries a suitcase full each time we go to South Africa and gives them to a pre-school for their library. We also worked with an organization in Glen Ellyn, IL, to ship books, along with medical and computer equipment, to a rural school in Ghana where we helped to establish a library and create a computer lab a few years ago.

We’ve tried to find a way to get a container load of the same books into South Africa and failed due to their protectionist taxes. Recently, after complaining about the government policies, a member of Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town suggested that we try the Help2Read organization. Help2Read provides volunteer reading tutors for schools. The volunteers work with individual children on a one-on-one basis. We attended their training session in January and quickly recognized that our skill set was much different than their normal needs.

It turned out that they had been receiving requests from some primary schools for help with libraries. We offered our help through them and they responded with the Isikhokelo opportunity.

With the support of the Principal, Mrs. Qomoyi, library volunteer staff member Lindikhaya and the library committee members we were able to help:
- Setup a bar-code scanner compatible with a PS2-Interface keyboard. The USB-Interface keyboard, purchased with the computer system, was not compatible with the scanner
- Put a software back-up procedure in place
- Train Lindikhaya on the method for making computer generated barcoded labels for the books
- Train Lindikhaya on the method for making computer generated spine labels using Dewey Classification system
- Move the computer station to its administrative position at front of library
- Determine with the Library Committee members the length of the book check out period, how many books could be checked out, how to roll-out school’s library use program, what was to be policy on book fines and lost books, etc.
- Train the 7th grade student team on the process for identifying which bar-code labels go in which books
- Train the 7th grade library student team on how to shelve books and on how to put the barcodes and spine labels on books
- Import the integrated student file for grades 1 through 7, provided by Barbara, into Libwin (Microsoft Access database system) in order to enable the borrowing process
- Facilitate the printing of the learner and teacher bar-code labels by grade and class
- With Lindikhaya, write orientation programs for parents and for students
- Ensure the computer process for taking out books works properly
- Purchase return library book bins and display shelf bins
- Put bar-codes and spine labels on hundreds and hundreds of books
- Install a new printer

Our experience there has been wonderful. The children are like children everywhere. The staff has been warm and welcoming. We continue to learn about the challenges they face on a daily basis. As an example, it was normal to have power outages at about 2pm each day and all computer work would cease.

It turns out that the Western Cape has committed to install over a hundred libraries this year with this same set of books, same software, same computer setup. We ache to be able to help them all in somewhat the same fashion we’ve been able to help at Isikhokelo. We plan to be back in August to continue doing what we can.

We’ve learned to find a way to utilize the skills accumulated over a lifetime. It is incredibly uplifting.

Betsy & Floyd

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