nelson mandela day library
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Containers and the Mandela Day Library Project

This article was ghostwritten for Big Box Containers. It is written in British English.

In 2011, Breadline Africa, a non-profit organisation focusing on early childhood development (ECD), in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, launched a simple yet innovative idea to address the lack of learning resources in underprivileged areas.

Using repurposed shipping containers, they set up libraries for poorly resourced schools that would otherwise never have the opportunity to offer their learners access to books. Approximately 80% of schools in South Africa do not have adequately stocked libraries and with only 35% of children in South Africa being able to read by the age of 12, this project is a vital source of information and education in poverty-stricken areas. Breadline Africa has since launched 78 Mandela Day libraries and supplied children with access to over 280 000 books to date.

Since its inception, the container project has grown to incorporate infrastructure for ECD centres in the form of classrooms, sickbays, toilet facilities, kitchens and, of course, libraries. Breadline Africa has delivered 350 containers to 221 projects in underprivileged communities around South Africa with more than 71 000 children benefitting from these repurposed container facilities.

Why these libraries are so important

Of the roughly 1,7 million children in pre-school, 61% are considered to be living below the breadline. With no access to proper buildings, inadequately trained teachers and little or no equipment, these children are at a much higher risk of being victims of crime or disease due to a lack of education related to their health and safety.

Early childhood development, using properly equipped and managed facilities, has been proven to lead to a healthier, more successful and better-educated population in the long-term. ECD improves mental and physical health, reduces risky behaviours and is vitally important for later cognitive and physical development.

For every R1 invested in pre-school education, the country saves R17 in social and educational costs later on1. Under-resourced primary schools are one of the main contributors to learners dropping out, with only 54% completing secondary school. Today, more than 4.7 million South Africans are completely illiterate.

Education is not the only way this project is uplifting communities, even the container conversion process can help by providing jobs and upskilling the local workers. The process for converting a suitable container includes waterproofing, painting, installing windows and doors, and insulation. Some even require the installation of electrical wiring and security gates.

The conversion companies purposefully use workers from the underprivileged areas to transform the containers, training them where necessary and thereby providing them with a useable skill for the future. Breadline Africa has also trained 117 librarians over the course of the project so far.

How you can get involved

Reconditioned shipping containers can be converted for a wide range of purposes in under-privileged communities, including libraries, office and classroom space, storage, ablution blocks, soup kitchens and sheds for gardening projects but the first and most important step when setting up one of these facilities is to source a suitable container that can be repurposed.

Usually, this involves raising funds to buy one, which usually come from corporate donations and fundraising campaigns. Donating a shipping container to the Mandela Day Library Project is an effective way for companies to support these communities and promote literacy as part of their CSI initiatives.

Steel containers are extremely durable and, if well positioned and maintained, can last a lifetime. They are well suited for being repurposed in a number of different ways. If you or your company are interested in purchasing a container for donation, contact us to further discuss your requirements.

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