Once a week for about a year and a half, I have been helping at a homework centre that the Seed Fund runs. The homework centre was really a spot under a tree where the kids did their homework (English and Maths) and on Tuesdays I assist seven kids aged 10 to 13. I also have my kids individually read out loud to me. At this stage all of them compete with each other on who will read first and for how long (the more advanced kids like to read the longest). It was not always like this, at first there was a lot of coaxing and pleading. On a beautiful sunny day, it is really pleasant sitting outside and reading to each other, but unfortunately when it rains lessons are cancelled. Writing in the rain is not ideal.
There is a shipping container on a hill within walking distance from the community that is used for the purpose of the homework centre, but it ended up being more of a storage site for everything the Seed Fund does. So of course, it was always filled to capacity as they have many programs on the run. It also did not help that the roof leaked for a bit and few of the books that were there got wet. On one of the recent down pours a few volunteers went to the container to save as many things as possible from the deluge. Fortunately, there was a kind soul who fixed the leak, and the container became usable once again. So shortly after that I was there as usual to have a homework class and of course I could not find any of the books and stationery that we needed as it all had been moved around and jumbled in the attempt to protect them from the rain. I decided to phone Jess, one of the Seed Fund organisers, and offer my services for organising. I really enjoy sorting, grouping, and putting things into containers. I was also inspired by the new Netflix series, ‘Get Organised with the Home Edit’ that I had binged watch at that time, and I was rearing to get my hands on an organisational project. Jess informed me that they were hoping to turn that cramped and under-utilised space into a library, and they needed someone to run with the project. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.
After consulting with the head of the library committee and discussed what plans she had, I got started. Even though this container was meant to become a library, I also wanted to make sure it could be used to do homework, so that there would be no more cancellations when it rained. This meant hauling everything out and sorting through what needed to stay and go, including existing books that were damaged beyond repair. I also, placed puzzle pieces into Ziplock bags and threw away the old broken boxes, to help on storage space. This one action made six black bin bags disappear into one large plastic storage container. Stationery was organised into two litre milk containers and this also saved a bit of space.
The new library layout is simple enough. The allocation of space to what activities were being done naturally became divided into two and the door became the centre line. What I was intentional about was the placement of one of the bookcases. I wanted it to be placed right in front of the door so that all the English dictionaries and Maths reference books can be seen immediately. Another intentional decision was to make sure the space is as flexible as possible. In fact, everything in the space is unfixed. This also meant that the library seating needed to be robust, washable, movable, and inexpensive. Seating that meets these requirements is of course comfy cushions on the floor and pouffes.
For the moment, the container is not connected to an electrical source, hopefully this will be sorted out in the near future. Therefore, a major concern was the existing grey interior, which literally made the space dull and dreary. I knew that by painting the ceiling and the walls a high gloss enamel white, some light coming in through the windows could be magnified. Of course, kids being kids, they would make the clean white walls dirty and old quickly. So, the idea to paint the bottom half a dark blue was in an effort to hide the dirt, and to bring in some colour.
As with any project for non-profits, the manual labour and hard work is all relied upon volunteers. On a Friday and Saturday, I had some volunteers come and store the books and then paint the primer and two coats of paint on the ceiling and walls, and on a Sunday one of the community members painted the final coat. The existing timber bookcase was sanded and varnished by one of the Abenzi woodworkers. Abenzi is an off shoot program of the Seed Fund that teaches unemployed members of the community skills to empower them to start business of their own, and to sell products through the Abenzi online shop. They all did such a great job and it really could not have been done without them.
The first Tuesday after the completion of the library, I had my homework group lesson in the container. The excitement of the kids was on the level of hysterical. Of course, the first thing that was done with all the pillows was to make a fort, and I encouraged it. As that is exactly what I had hoped for, a space that sparks their imagination and to make their own. There are still a few things that need to be done which are depending on donations but overall, the library is a success and one that I am proud to be a part of.
If you would like to donate to the Seed Fund for their future projects, you can contact them here: https://theseedfund.co.za/shop/
If you have a NPO that is in need of interior design help, give me a call.