Did you know there is a community library opening soon in Phakalane? It’s called the R.E.W.A SEVA Community Library. On a freezing Botswana morning I went to meet and interview the mother and daughter team behind this effort, Tina Handa and Priyanka Handa Ram. Something about being surrounded by books warms the soul. That and being out of the chilly Botswana wind!
Tell me more about why this library is so important to you?
Priyanka: Professionally over the last 8 years I have been trying to run organizations that build literacy in Botswana. I do this through book clubs. That was actually was my first job in Botswana, running book clubs out of Exclusive Books. Literacy development was always something I have wanted to do. It is the one thing that I have never stopped doing. The original group I started with is still running 8 years later. I love it, it’s all about reading for pleasure.
At REWA we had library, it was called the reading room. The idea was that children and parents could come and do a book swop. I never advertised it so it was used mostly by the REWA community. In the end it became quite small because it was no longer the tutoring center which had 150 students but it became Little Einstein’s nursery school which had 30 children. So it wasn’t well used, and we needed the space for expanding the nursery school. We packed up and I had all these books in my garage until my mother said “why don’t we use them?”
And Tina beyond Priyanka’s books what is your inspiration behind the library?
Tina: I read a lot, one day I was thinking what I should do with all these books! I donated a lot but I kept buying more and then having lots again. So I thought let me open a library so people can come and read whenever they want to. When I told Priyanka this she said I also want to do something similar.
I said let’s combine and tell other people to donate. It’s not about making money but I want people to come and read. Especially for children and people who can’t afford books. Luckily this space belongs to me. It was empty, I was just storing things. I got it cleaned and so we can now use it.
Beyond the two of you where are the books from?
Priyanka: They have all been donated and they are all second hand. A lot of them are from REWA, Humpty Dumpty and friends. The adult books are mostly from friends and family.
Tina: Still a lot from my house!
Priyanka: We also have the anticipation of 1000-2000 books coming later this year. They will make a big difference as they will be brand new. It will be amazing to have that many children’s books of mixed ages. That will add value and also increase our footfall too.
How can people get involved?
Tina: We are hoping to put branded boxes out in places where the public can leave books for the library.
Priyanka: In the meantime people can drop off at REWA, Humpty Dumpty and Finishing Touch at the Fairgrounds Shopping Centre. We have already been receiving some wonderful donations.
Tina: We also placed boxes in the big Woolworths stores; Phakalane, Sebele, Riverwalk and Game City.
How do you become a member?
Priyanka: Annual membership is P600. If you don’t want to commit to the year, membership for a month is P100. You get far more value for the year. All profits will go towards re-investing into more books.
You can take two books out at a time; then you return them within a two week period. If you return them early you get another two books then. The reason we are saying two at a time at the moment is because we have a limited selection, but as we grow so will the book limit.
We also have already had members of the public sponsor underprivileged children, 14 memberships in fact. So those children get free access to the library.
Some people have come in and got a membership for themselves and their nanny. That’s important. We want to promote reading across all backgrounds. We really want to promote that people sponsor a child.
Do you have any challenges you can foresee?
Priyanka: Being in Phakalane. It is a good thing and a constraint. We are a charity for the community. We are based here because it means we don’t have to pay rent. If we were in town we would have to charge more to the general public to cover the rental cost. We charge what we do because we want to maintain the books, buy book covers and new books. We are completely non-profit.
What will the future hold?
Priyanka: If the library gets enough foot traffic we want to expand into other rooms in this building. The bigger room would be the library and the other rooms would be spaces for storytelling or to do arts and crafts. Stuff like that. So that is the idea in a few months or a year depending how the footfall goes.
From August we are also hope to have events, like author events. Like a book reading and signing at the library. Special events for children book authors.
Our Librarian is also excited to start a weekly story telling events. We want it to be a place for children.
When is the official opening?
Tina: 23rd of this month.
What time will you be open?
Tina: Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm and Saturday from 9am- 1pm.
I wound up our interview and ventured back into the cold. If a book is a dream you hold in your hands a library is a certainly a dream to be celebrated. I wish them the best of luck. After all there is no faster, firmer friendship than that shared between two people who like the same book.
If you would like to donate books or get in touch with the library. Call them on 315 8061.