The Director of the South African Primary Education Support Initiative (SAPESI), Tadashi Hasunuma, once had tea with Nelson Mandela, who told him that education was the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
This inspired him to join the non-profit organisation, established by South African and Japanese businesses to help improve the quality of primary school education in this country.
SAPESI Japan was formed in Tokyo soon after to raise funds in Japan for mobile libraries and the collection of children’s books to stock the libraries.
As a result of this initiative, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has received its first shipment of 230 000 books from Japan.
The books were handed over at the Food Lover’s Market courtyard in Heerengracht Street on Friday November 9.
Mr Hasunuma said the best way for children to learn languages is to read.
“The challenge is that many children don’t have access to books or libraries.”
Being the former managing director of Sony Hong Kong and Sony South Africa, Mr Hasunuma had the idea of importing buses from Japan to repurpose as libraries when he realised how many children, especially in rural areas, didn’t have access to books.
Today, there are seven mobile library buses in the Western Cape, servicing the rural areas.
Children are able to visit the mobile library, take books home and return them two weeks later, free of charge.
Sony had also helped collect books for the mobile libraries and the first shipment of 280 000 books came from Hong Kong to South Africa with the help of city centre based company, Ocean Network Express (ONE) last week.
The books will be used to equip the mobile libraries, as well as resource 160 classrooms in the rural areas in the hope of opening reading corners for children.
“In Japan, we only have to learn one language, but in South Africa, children need to learn two languages, so we need to encourage them to read. So we’re taking books to the children, mostly serving areas where they don’t have libraries. To ship the books here was a challenge, so we collaborated with ONE, who shipped the books here for us.
“The Western Cape Education Department is now seeing the impact the book buses have on the children. I hope that this is a sign of Cape Town and Japan helping each other for a long time,” sai Mr Hasunuma.
The MEC for Education, Debbie Schäfer, thanked SAPESI for the donation.
“We all know that literacy is the foundation of learning, and many don’t understand the importance of reading – you can’t even do maths if you can’t read. We believe that no child should go to Grade 4 without having these skills, and there are many children, especially in the rural areas, who cannot read.”
She said since the intervention of the mobile libraries, school principals in the rural areas, including Worcester, Lutzville, Piketberg, the Overberg and Caledon, have reported remarkable effects.
The MEC for Finance, Dr Ivan Meyer, who was also at the handover, said books don’t only touch the brain, but the heart as well.
“The WCED is under an immense amount of pressure but we have had the advantage of getting these books.
“We want children to read – reading makes children smart. We must promote reading every day.”
The managing director of ONE, Hakuba Sun, said he was excited about the first delivery of books from Hong Kong to South Africa. “I had a chance to go on the mobile library. I was very impressed with the children’s smiles, and then I made up my mind that we will offer our full support to the initiative and will continue to do so.”
Apart from the mobile libraries offering books, they also run an upliftment programme for matriculants, hiring them to work on the buses and assisting them with bursaries and thereafter, securing them with employment.
Ms Schafer said as a result of their involvement in the programme, two people have already graduated as librarians, and one is currently studying to be a teacher.
One of the librarians, Vernon Koen, said he applied for the bursary and got to work on the mobile bus while doing his Bachelor’s degree in information science through UNISA.
“Most children in the rural schools don’t have access to books because their parents work on farms and they either cannot afford to buy books, or they don’t have time to take the children to visit the libraries, so we try to breach that gap. The children are very excited about the mobile library. I can’t stay away too long,” he said.