HISTORY OF READ
A HISTORY BORN FROM ‘THE STRUGGLE’
The historical Soweto student uprising of 1976 included a demand for reading and library facilities – a call that eventually led, in 1979, to the formation of Read Educational Trust as a small, voluntary committee in Soweto. This necessity resonated throughout the country and five years later READ had spread to almost all of the then provinces, except for Northern Transvaal and North West.
In the beginning, READ’s administration operated from a bell tower room at St John’s College from where the organisation launched its fundraising activities with a splendid lunch arranged and handled by the ladies’ entertainment committee and sponsored by Shell. At this function, R150 000 was raised to provide a small collection of reference books for all 50 high school libraries in Soweto.
The World Book Company added a donation comprising a set of World Books for every school library and 50 sets of Child Craft for primary schools. Training of teachers was implemented by volunteers during school holidays.
Working and being involved with READ has never been dull with the organisation always adopting a highly pragmatic approach to particular situations. Memorable happenings include meeting in shebeens at dusk on the edge of the townships with activists who came out of hiding for discussions.
In the Eastern Cape, when the schools were burning, READ set up study centres in old buildings near the townships where high school pupils and university students could come to study. Resource provision was structured to meet the specific study needs of students and young unemployed people who received practical training to manage the centres. These centres were crowded daily with students studying eagerly on their own.
On one occasion, the teacher-librarian of a high school in Port Elizabeth received warning that the school would be burnt that night. She called the sponsoring company, AECI, and together they managed to save all the book stock. Once the schools settled down, the books were returned and the library was reopened.
In the 1980’s, negotiating one’s way in the townships to get through stone barricades set up by students was sometimes frightening. But when students understood READ’s mission, the organisation was usually warmly welcomed and even assisted.
READ’s philosophy from the beginning has been to provide teachers with high quality resources and training them in their use. This includes working on a daily basis with teachers in their classrooms. It remains so to this day.
Careful book selection from a full range of publishers is a key element/factor in ensuring the relevance of the material, with a high priority being given to the interest levels of particular age groups. This is important to ensure successful reading experiences early on in the learners’ schooling.