Lit­tle li­brary launches dreams

A Vry­grond li­brar­ian widens hori­zons and fosters hope, writes BEV­ERLY ROOS-MULLER

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

JUST in­side the en­trance of Vry­grond, a dusty com­mu­nity op­po­site the pris­tine white glow of its smarter Ma­rina da Gama neigh­bour, lies a tiny pri­vate li­brary – the book equiv­a­lent of The Lit­tle En­gine that Could.

One visit to the NGO Vry­grond Com­mu­nity Li­brary is enough to make me – a life­long read­ing nut­ter – con­cede that I’ve met my match. In this sim­ple rented build­ing, a book ac­tivist, El­iz­a­beth Everson, and her small group of helpers make a world of dif­fer­ence to the daily lives and the fu­ture dreams of those who eke out their lives here. Es­pe­cially the chil­dren.

“Come!” she says, grab­bing my el­bow and drag­ging us into the “heart” (as she calls it), the chil­dren’s li­brary, de­cently stocked and shelved, car­pets on the floor, colour­ful pic­tures taped on to the walls. A far cry from its early years in the 1990s, when Everson and her fel­low staff mem­ber, Jane Sylvester, worked out of a con­tainer that leaked in win­ter.

There is a myth about Vry­grond, says Everson – the lo­cal peo­ple be­lieve the ground was left to them by “King Labia” (an ob­vi­ous, though un­cer­tain, ref­er­ence to the Labia fam­ily). Over the years, a char­i­ta­ble trust re­placed the shacks with homes and a school; she thinks some 40 000 peo­ple now live there, many crammed into back­yards.

A for­mer cloth­ing ma­chin­ist who lost her job when the fac­tory closed, Everson was look­ing for a project when she was ap­proached in 1997 to start up a small li­brary. She jumped at the op­por­tu­nity.

She had wanted to be a teacher, “but my par­ents had nine kids – I never fin­ished school”.

“They said to me, ‘We need a li­brar­ian’ and I said, ‘Let’s try it.’

“It was all for­eign to me, I didn’t have a clue. I go around to other li­braries and say we need help. And we need kid­dies books – we started with two boxes.”

Slowly Everson built up her li­brary skills, in­terned at the Muizen­berg Li­brary, and to­day she is a qual­i­fied school li­brar­ian.

It came with a lot of help from oth­ers: Jonathan Schrire of the Vry­grond Com­mu­nity Devel­op­ment Trust opened doors for them; donors pro­vided funds and books (and still do). And food for the hun­gry chil­dren.

In 2006 the Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa recog­nised Vry­grond by giv­ing it the Best Branch Li­brary in the Western Cape award.

Among the most wel­come prac­ti­cal help, says Everson, was Tony and Lill van Ryn­eveldt’s do­na­tion of car­pets, paint and other ne­ces­si­ties – and not least, their time – for the chil­dren’s sec­tion.

“We did the work our­selves, all the paint­ing, ev­ery­thing. I said to (our vol­un­teers) we have to show we ap­pre­ci­ate what peo­ple do for us.”

Though the lit­tle li­brary is for both adults and chil­dren, it is the ju­niors who oc­cupy prime place in “Aun­tie Liz’s” heart. Five-day cour­ses are run af­ter school for chil­dren (over 2 000 so far have at­tended), of­fer­ing read­ing and life skills and hori­zon-widen­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. De­ter­mined to ex­pose lo­cal chil­dren to the wider world, Everson has ar­ranged with lo­cal schools to let her know in ad­vance when a school project comes up. Then she goes to other li­braries to look for ma­te­rial; none of her chil­dren are go­ing to fail a project through lack of re­sources, she says.

“My main thing now is the hol­i­days,” she says, hav­ing or­gan­ised out­ings for lo­cal chil­dren to Artscape, Robben Is­land, the Masque The­atre and this month to the Ta­ble Moun­tain Na­tional Park.

“With most of these kids, if you talk about Wyn­berg, they don’t even know where that is. Their par­ents don’t have R10 for taxis.”

The buses for the De­cem­ber trip are paid for but not the food, she says, a glint in her eye.

“How tall are you,” I ask, look­ing down on to the top of her head.

“Tall enough!” she re­sponds, arms plonked on hips with a grin. She is amazed when I ask about the peren­nial prob­lem of missing li­brary books. “Naw,” she says. “I have a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with ev­ery­one. I say ‘If you don’t bring them back, I’m com­ing for them.’ Peo­ple shout at my gate, ‘Aun­tie Liz! I can’t bring back the books to­mor­row.’ Then I make a plan.”

Van­dal­ism has been a prob­lem, but now that an alarm has been in­stalled, “I can go home very lekker and sleep and say, thank you, Lord. And we also need a few more com­put­ers,” she adds, no op­por­tu­nity missed.

Her hope is that “one day” a “real” li­brary will be built for Vry­grond (at the moment their build­ing is rented, the projects pri­vately funded).

What dif­fer­ence has this lit­tle li­brary made? “This is my vi­sion for the kids,” she replies. “I tell them, if you fin­ish your work and school­ing, we can look for spon­sor­ship for you – and you can be part of that big world, live in nice places and help your par­ents. Dreams hap­pen.”

Vry­grond Com­mu­nity Li­brary is on the corner of Vry­grond Av­enue (op­po­site the Uit­sig en­trance to the Ma­rina) and Trevor Sil­jeur Road, close to the M5. It is open on week­days from 9am to 5pm.

With fur­ther fund­ing it could open on Satur­day morn­ings, to ben­e­fit stu­dents and work­ing res­i­dents. Do­na­tions of all kinds – from books to food and funds – are grate­fully re­ceived.

Lit­tle li­brary, big dreams.

Con­tact de­tails: vry­grondli­brary @vry­grond.org.za, 021 701 3701

EV­ERY­ONE WEL­COME: Jane Sylvester, El­iz­a­beth Everson and vol­un­teer Nelisiwe No­mad­wayi in their li­brary.

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