Soweto Library for Literacy

Mme Dimpho Hani School, Doornkop, Soweto, South Africa

In 2020, we created our first Library for Literacy in Doorknop, Soweto, an impoverished settlement outside of Johannesburg, established by homeless people in 1990. The community lives in extreme poverty (most people live in tin shacks without access to basic sanitation facilities), and youth unemployment is more than 50%. The school supports a large population of orphaned children living in child-headed families.

Mme Dimpho Hani School sits on land previously used as a dump site. The founder, Nthabiseng Hlongwane, built classrooms of wood and corrugated iron. More than 30 years later, she is still the principal and remains illiterate. Much of the teaching is through memorization, relying on activities such as chorusing for literacy learning.

In New York City, we collected more than 1,500 books from schools, library sales, and lemonade stands (exchanging books for lemonade and brownies).

We transported the books in suitcases to South Africa and then loaded them into our rental car.

We shelved all 1,500 learning-to-read and early-reader picture books and read to the kids.