In 2017, Terence Crowster took two shipping containers and created a safe haven for both children and adults looking to escape the gang-ridden streets of Scottsville, South Africa. With the help of donations from Facebook, Crowster built the Hot Spot Library which caters to helping children grow and develop their reading comprehension while also encouraging adults to stay out of the gang lifestyle. The library began with only thirty members during their first year; today, there are over 700 members taking advantage of the Cape Town asylum.
Crowster recently met with NPR to discuss the library’s beginnings: “For most of these kids, poverty, unemployment, the lack of good role models, that’s the norm…And what we wanted to do is to change that norm for them through reading books.” Speaking from his own experience, Crowster often walked thirty minutes to the nearest library to escape his unkind peers. When he noticed that the recent increase in gang violence made the library inaccessible, Hot Spot became a neutral area between rival towns. “[T]he gangsters know that the library…is off-limits,” he states.
While the library, itself, has gone through its own rough patches (robberies of the electronics and gang-related activity happening right outside its gates), it has helped the local literacy rate improve. A literacy advocate, Fadeela Davids explained, “After grade 4 [in Cape Town], if you’re one of the children who slipped through the gaps, it’s likely you’ll never be able to read.” Not only this but those children and adults who do know how to read have low reading comprehension, meaning that they do not fully understand the words they are reading past the ability to recognize and pronounce them.
Crowster’s book review program is doing its part to change that. With each book checked out, the reader must also submit a review to be included in the library’s archives. The variety of reading material ranges from Afrikaan romance to new and popular novels. This system gives the librarians a way to track the improvement of readers while also organizing which books are most popular among the library’s visitors. And the library has become so popular that Crowster is looking to open a second location later this year.
Here’s to the power of reading and changing the world one reader (and book!) at a time!