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On the way to Mandela Family MuseumNew Jersey volunteers look to make a difference in the lives of South African students

August 4-18, 2007.- Local New Jersey middle school and high school students are seeking to make a difference in South African schools that are without school supplies, heat or textbooks.  

The students spent part of their summer vacation visiting historic locations and schools in South Africa where they distributed over 50,000 books and dozens of boxes of school supplies. The books will be distributed throughout schools and communities (as well as an orphanage) in rural areas outside of Johannesburg, as well as to the Kagiso and Soweto districts in the city.  

The trip was organized during the first two weeks of the August school vacation by The Global Literacy Project, Inc. (GLP), which is carrying out a multi-year project to give South African schools in the area literacy resources. This particular GLP trip came out of the work of Pingry school sophomore Emma Carver and her sister Chloe, along with their friends Christina Vanech and Charlotte Steele. GLP sponsored a booth at an “alternative gift mall” at Christ Church in Summit, New Jersey. Emma and her mother (Anne DeLaney) were volunteering at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) booth during this event. As GLP’s and MADD’s booths were next to one another, Emma and GLP representatives Wendel Thomas, Olubayi Olubayi and Denniston Bonadie ended up talking and exchanging information about their respective programs. Emma was intrigued about the possibility of organizing a small book drive among her family, friends, and schoolmates.

After this serendipitous encounter, Emma took the idea of a book drive to her friends at Pingry School (a private K-12 institution in New Jersey) recruiting her sister Cloe and friend Christina Vanech to assist her. Soon Charlotte Steele, attending another school nearby, was inspired by the goal and what began as a small collection in one school morphed into a multi-school spring semester project that saw their families, friends, classmates and neighbors all working together to collect some 56,000 elementary to high school books. This feat is all the more astonishing when considering the fact that it was accomplished within seven months of encountering GLP. With that success, the students decided that they wanted to see where the books actually ended up in Africa.whitewashing exterior of building

Before picture of Thelma Tate LibraryVolunteering to help create a community learning center was a primary goal of the trip.The Thelma Tate Library and Community Center was established in Witfontein--named after deceased Rutgers Librarian Thelma Tate who was a co-founding board member of GLP, the center will serve as a nucleus for GLP literacy initiatives in that region.

Starting from a storage building sitting unused for several years they were able to create a wonderful space appropriate for community learning.

The 28 volunteers, 12 middle school and high school students along with their parents and three teachers, from a half dozen New Jersey schools were inspired by the level of kinship their South African hosts shared with each other.Family and community were of demonstrable importance as well as the commitment by the adults to see the next generation get the best access to education possible.  Exterior of Thelma Tate Library

opening of libraryUpon first visiting the schools, many of the volunteers felt worried that providing these extra school supplies was not significant because the needs within the education system were so vast and numerous. One elementary school that they visited had no operational heating plant and was so cold its students had to wear their jackets and scarves all day.

Additional school supplies seemed a small drop in the bucket compared with the rest of the obstacles, such as over-crowding; underpaid teachers; a lack of desks and classrooms; and too much sickness and poverty. However, the visitors gradually felt reassured and encouraged by the students and teachers' outlook and belief of what their support can provide for them. Dramatically, a majority of students in one school owned less that two reading books at home and it was with much excitement that each child received 2-3 books all for themselves to take home. Giving out books

New Jersey middle school student Neeraj Shekhar said he felt inspired by the way students responded to him as he was passing out the book gifts.

Jane learning Sout African gamesTrip participants came to realize that for these students, interacting and corresponding with an individual outside of their community, across the world will also provide hope and incentive to work hard toward a better life.

GLP Learning Expeditions are always about a travel experience that takes you beyond a destination's tourist attractions. We aim that our volunteers should discover that in addition to having wildlife and natural beauty, Africa also wears a very human face. Ann D'InnocenzoPart of the learning experience of the trip was the opportunity to sit down with ordinary Africans who struggle, dream, play, work hard and live a different life than the visitor to Africa.

We really had exceptional volunteers with us. Mike Verzi and Chip Carver led a team that worked up 11 p.m. at night for three days in order to rehabilitate the interior of the building. Ann D'Innocenzo, librarian from Pingry Middle School in New Jersey, led another sub-group of volunteers to our project schools where they trained teachers to install the new book collections with an easy to use, color coded shelving system.

Teacher training workshopVolunteers brought books but also they trained teachers on strategies for English as second language learners as well as on how to incorporate reading and reference materials into existing curriculum. Ms. Skyller Walkes, Senior Implementation Consultant at Kaplan K12 Learning Services led the teacher training session with a tremendous response from participants.  

The participating teachers said increasing their capabilities would mean that in turn their students will be motivated to attend classes, learn English and succeed. They said that despite all of the problems, their students have the same aspirations as any other child. It's just that there is a need for resources and encouragement. This demonstratable friendship from their American counterparts will be added motivation for them to overcome any hurdles.

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