Terence Crowster, a development worker in South Africa, has been helping disadvantaged youth in the crime-ridden Cape Town neighborhood of Scottsville for years. He helped develop anti-bullying and leadership programs at various high schools in the community. In 2017, he solicited donations and second-hand books and created new libraries he built out of repurposed shipping containers. These were dubbed the Hot-Spot Libraries because the location of the first one is at the border of an area fought over by two rival gangs.
It’s aim is to be a helpful resource to youth in the area and it has transformed the neighborhood.
Despite the dangerous postal code, the library has flourished, becoming as much a safe space as an academic one. The neighborhood residents, once torn apart by drug abuse and gang violence, have found an escape from the harsh realities of daily life and now explore different worlds in the pages of thousands of donated second-hand books.
In its first year, its membership grew to 750 young people. Its shelves are now stocked with more than 2,000 books, and educational programming is offered six days a week. Last July, Crowster opened an additional branch in the adjoining Scottsdene neighborhood, with future branches and libraries-on-wheels planned for elsewhere in Cape Town. While the libraries’ presence hasn’t stopped all the violence, it has given many youth, who typically join gangs as young as 12 years old, a source of knowledge about the world outside their neighborhoods.
“The power of reading is that it increases your understanding of who you are and where you come from” says Sabelo Ngxola, a former gangster and Crowster’s partner on the new library project. “It opens up your imagination.” During his gang days, Ngxola was shot on four separate occasions and stabbed twice before turning his life around, largely, he says, thanks to books. Once the library opens, he’ll be responsible for managing the place when Crowster isn’t around.
Crowster said he hopes the libraries will help improve the worrying trend of children with very low reading comprehension. While visiting schools he witnessed a high rate of kids that could recognize words but not effectively understand the meaning. “I have a lot of leadership, soft skills and anti-bullying programs at the schools. So the initiative basically started … when I saw most 7th, 8th, and 9th grade kids are actually illiterate” he said. A requirement of the library is reviewing each book afterwards to show if the kids are actually understanding the books they’ve read. Crowster hopes to continue building the libraries in hard hit low income neighborhoods to give impoverished youth a