Moving Out from the Library to the Community

The Interact Club at St Andrew’s College for Boys

After the library was renovated in 2017 and renamed the Cawse Library, four Cawse library monitors at St Andrew’s College for Boys, in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape, asked a critical question. Africa Matshingana, Ayomide Israel-Akinbo, Libhongo Mazwana and Jacob Erasmus asked, ‘What do we do now? What about the community we live in?’

They were searching for meaningful partnerships that they and other St Andrew’s boys could form within the Makhanda community.

Their first contact with the Makhanda community came as a result of a request by a teacher from Nombulelo High School asking for help with the renovation of that school’s library. It was because of this initial contact that the learners of St Andrew’s College first became aware of the concept of an ‘Interact Club’, an initiative fostered by local Rotarians.1

Interact Clubs aim to improve the lives of the poorer members of the community, and the three Grade 9 boys took up the challenge of forming an Interact Club at St Andrew’s.

The model used by the boys to start the Nombulelo library renovation project became the signature for all the subsequent community engagement projects and they adopted the motto, ‘Nothing about them without them’.

Nombulelo High School library renovation project just the start

Following a workshop held at Nombulelo High School, the St Andrew’s College Interact Club joined up with Nombulelo Interact Club members every second Sunday when their term dates corresponded. They painted the walls of the school library, cleaned up the shelves, sourced and organised books, asked the community for book donations, organised fundraising initiatives, and socialised together.

The Interact group were able to showcase the Interact Club’s successes when they made a presentation at the South African School Librarians’ Conference held in the Cawse Library in 2019. Together they delivered a paper titled ‘Community Engagement through the Library’ to an audience of just over 100 librarians. The Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) president commended them on their community engagement initiative, and gave the club a donation of R11 000 to fund future projects. This money was used to establish a book club for learners at Nombulelo High School and also to fund a research project to look at the levels of literacy of the learners, recording any subsequent improvements as a result of the reading club.

The club members now regularly contribute book reviews to the Cawse Library website in order to encourage other children to read through sharing content.

Christmas in November and the stationery project

Another Interact initiative was to hold a ‘Wacky Wednesday’ fundraiser which raised over R16 000 towards ‘Christmas in November’ in 2020. This annual initiative aims to assist children of the Makhanda Community by supplying them with appropriate school stationery and giving them with a special treat.

In the third term of 2019, an Interact ‘Civvies’ day raised R3 500 which was used to buy stationery items and tasty treats which were then placed in ‘Santa shoeboxes’2 and delivered to the Eluxolweni Children’s Home in Makhanda, in preparation for the 2020 school year.

In 2020, despite the COVID-19 lockdown, the boys managed the Interact Club through the most difficult term it had faced since its inception, and they implemented the ‘Winter Drive’. This initiative collected over 300 items of clothing from the St Andrew’s College for Boys community which were then taken to Home of Joy Children’s Home where a group of excited children received warm jackets and other winter items.

Classroom libraries and dignity for girls

The Interact Club boys recently established ‘corner classroom libraries’ at Oatlands Preparatory School in Makhanda, in an attempt to encourage children to read.

During term 1 2021, the Interact Club distributed muchneeded stationery packs to 35 learners at another Makhanda school, Mary Waters High School. The Club raised nearly R7 000 for this cause.

One of the most important projects this year has been the ‘Stand for 30 – Sanitary Pad Drive’. Research conducted at Stellenbosch University Law Clinic in the Western Cape revealed that 30% of South African girls miss school when they have their menstrual cycle3 because they do not have access to sanitary pads. As a result of the Interact Club’s hard work, this initiative raised nearly R11 000 with the support of college boys and staff. The money has been used to support 50 matric girls attending Nombulelo High School with a year’s supply of sanitary products, and thus enabling them to attend school regularly.

Project Rise

‘Project Rise’ is the brainchild of the 2021 Interact Club leader, Ayomide Israel-Akinbo. Project Rise is a series of workshops that aims to expose young people to a variety of new skills by listening to talks and demonstrations given by knowledgeable presenters.

The Grade 7s at Oatlands Preparatory School in Makhanda were chosen to be the first participants in this exciting project. During the welcoming session, these students were challenged to think about their futures and what they would like to be when they grow up. This led them to share their dreams of becoming, for example, businesswomen, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs and soccer players.

During the second meeting, this enthusiastic group of Grade 7 pupils was introduced to the topics of debating and public speaking and all the pupils were encouraged to participate in their first debate.

The second meeting also involved designing T-shirts. Pupils learnt that art is a way of expressing one’s inner self and that one actually does not have to be good at art to do this. It is a form of therapy.

John Marshall, a Grade 11 Interact Club member at St Andrews’ College has introduced a tutoring programme. Children from Nombulelo High School will be tutored by St Andrew’s College boys in the Cawse Library. COVID-19 has forced government schools to close intermittently since last year, which has disrupted children’s learning. The students will be tutored in any subjects they are struggling with, but the focus will be on the core subjects of mathematics and English.

Succession plan for the Interact Club

There is a unanimous feeling amongst the Interact Club leaders that the whole of St Andrew’s College for Boys should become involved in the club. Considering this, the present leaders have already started working with the current Grade 11s, many of whom have already come to the fore demonstrating a willingness to charge of the various wellestablished projects and to introduce new projects.

In the future, the Interact Club seeks deeper engagement with community groups in Makhanda. Club members are also keen to promote parallel weekly projects in which boys can get involved. Everyone’s hopeful that Project Rise can be extended to other local schools in Makhanda.

When the current three Interact Club leaders leave St Andrews’ College, they will leave behind a group of boys who are inspired to serve the greater Makhanda community. The foundations of the Interact Club that they have laid will continue to grow from strength to strength. I have no doubt that these Interact trailblazers will be leaders amongst men in the world when they leave the confines of the school grounds.