Mandela Day Libraries Encourage a Love of Reading, Education

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela once said. Students at Refentse Primary School in Limpopo, South Africa recently expanded their education by participating in GIA’s Junior Gemologist program. Photo by GIA
ship•ping con•tain•er
noun \ˈSHipiNG kən-ˈtā-nər\
: a large metal, corrugated box used to transport goods by ship, airplane, train or truck

noun \ˈlī- brer-ē\
: a place with a selection of books, magazines and other reading or resource materials available to borrow

The objects of these definitions may seem unrelated, but for several non-profit organizations in South Africa, shipping containers are a great solution to house school libraries where there were none before. 

GIA recently collaborated with the Mandela Day Libraries project to sponsor two container libraries for nearly 1,100 students at the Moime and Refentse primary schools in rural Limpopo, South Africa.

The Mandela Day Libraries project is dedicated to bridging the gap in literacy and reading proficiency in schools throughout South Africa by recycling and retrofitting shipping containers with new flooring, insulation, electricity and bookshelves to create libraries. Breadline Africa, a nongovernmental organization and internationally registered South African-based charity, is the main partner of the program.

The new libraries are funded by the GIA endowment, which supports education and scholarship programs, and hold nearly 2,500 educational books, many of which were donated by GIA staff.

“We’re thrilled to bring these libraries to the students of the Moime and Refentse primary schools and hope they further ignite their interest in education,” said Bev Hori, GIA’s chief learning officer and vice president of education.

Bev Hori (left), GIA's chief learning officer and vice president of education, and Alta Brown Steenkamp, Vodacom Change the World Volunteer at The Nelson Mandela Foundation, work to promote literacy through the Mandela Day Libraries project. Photo by GIA
The two GIA-sponsored libraries were unveiled Feb. 19 and 20 with opening ceremonies that included local government representatives, teachers and tribal authorities. GIA also hosted 20 pupils in its Junior Gemologist program during the events. The program offers students the opportunity to discover the world of gemology through hands-on, practical training.

Moime and Refentse primary schools mark the installment of the 36th and 37th Mandela Day library since the program’s inception in 2011. The project also trains librarians to manage the facilities and inspire a love of reading among the students.

“The students have the motivation and potential to improve the state of the world they experience,” Hori said. “Education is the key to helping them realize their visions of a better life for themselves and their communities.” 


Kristin A. Aldridge, a writer at GIA, is a graduate of GIA’s Pearls and Accredited Jewelry Professional programs.