Little library launches dreams
A Vrygrond librarian widens horizons and fosters hope, writes BEVERLY ROOS-MULLER
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.