Shipping Mobile Libraries to South Africa!
October 2009, at Harumi Terminal in Tokyo.
On the parking lot on this clear autumn day is a row of small buses. On each is the name of a library, some from as far north as Hokkaido and others from as far south as Kyushu. These buses are mobile libraries donated by cities, towns and villages nationwide that will make the 7,800-nautical-mile journey to South Africa.
NPO SAPESI-Japan (South Africa Primary Education Support Initiative) had approached MOL four months earlier, in June 2009, about a possible role in shipping retired mobile libraries from Japan to the Republic of South Africa. There, the vehicles would support a plan promoted by the South African Ministry of Education to boost literacy in the country. According to SAPESI-Japan, the Japanese partner for SAPESI, an NPO active in South Africa, "primary school enrollment in South Africa is just under 90%. However, there is a large gap in infrastructure between urban and suburban areas, with the opportunity to read books especially limited in remote areas and slums. To ensure that educational opportunities are more evenly distributed across South Africa's nine provinces, SAPESI devised a project that will see 100 library vehicles sent from Japan over a six-year span." It was with this description that SAPESI-Japan asked MOL for its cooperation in reducing ocean transportation fees to enable this effort.
Around the same time, excitement was building as South Africa prepared to host the FIFA World Cup for the first time on African soil. A MOL expatriate in South Africa joined SAPESI and Education Ministry staff to travel around in mobile libraries to various elementary schools. Already, 21 library vehicles were being operated by the ministry and other entities. MOL had been involved in the shipment of these vehicles from Japan, too, from 1995 to 2008, through cooperation with another NGO, Together with Africa and Asia Association. Wherever the vehicles went, they were warmly received by students and teachers alike. The expatriate would later write in the in-house bulletin, "I'm honored to have taken part in a social contribution activity where the impact is so clear, and the meaning so profound."
Leveraging the Reach of MOL's Car Carrier Service to Major Ports Around the World- Ships departing Japan for Africa are usually filled to capacity with cars, particularly from Japanese automakers. These ships typically depart twice monthly, and make port at Durban, South Africa. Library vehicles at the end of their useful lives in Japan would likely end up being considered useful only as scrap for recycle. But by delivering these same vehicles to South Africa, they can serve once again as mobile libraries, bringing the joy of reading to a host of new children and playing a vital role in developing the future of South African society. The key first step making it all possible is transporting these vehicles across the vast Indian Ocean expanse that separates the two nations. MOL thus decided to offer its cooperation in the field of ocean transport to this ambitious project by SAPESI-Japan.
After the departure ceremony at Harumi Terminal, 12 library vehicles were loaded onto MOL car carriers at the Port of Yokohama for transport during fiscal 2009. Following arrival in South Africa, the vehicles were loaded with books and have now begun life anew by traveling around schools in four provinces.
In December 2010, the same members who took part in this work were present at the departure ceremony for fiscal 2010 sponsored by SAPESI-Japan. In attendance with MOL were Sony Corporation, which gave a tremendous donation of books, the Society for Promotion of Japanese Diplomacy, responsible for collecting and overhauling the library vehicles, and the International Cooperation Bureau of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which provided assistance for the project. The ceremony, which was also part of events to commemorate 100 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and South Africa, was attended by Gert J. Grobler, the Ambassador of South Africa to Japan who also attended in 2009, as well as by a visiting delegation from the South African Parliament in Japan at the time. The celebration was a grand sendoff for the 12 vehicles that will be shipped during fiscal 2010.
The commemorative event, "100th: South Africa-Japan Towards the Next 100 Years," celebrates 100 years since the establishment of Japan's embassy in Capetown. But MOL's own relationship with South Africa goes back just as far. In 1908, the Kasato Maru, laden with the first Japanese emigrants to Brazil, made port mid-journey in South Africa. Every subsequent emigrant ship that stopped in South Africa only reinforced the bond between the two countries.
MOL is committed to contributing to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals as one of the principles guiding its social contribution activities. As such, MOL will continue to cooperate with the SAPESI-Japan project, itself a contributor to one of the stated development goals, universal primary education. What's more, trained librarians onboard the mobile libraries also offer instruction and advice to teachers on how to select books and methods for utilizing them in the classroom. In this sense, these vehicles not only provide children with opportunities to interact with a variety of books, but help to improve the skill level of teachers as well.
Shipping Mobile Libraries to South Africa! - Our sincerest hope with this project, and the cooperation MOL offers for it, is that it will assist in delivering the scholastic aptitude that will support South Africa's future. At the same time, we hope that these efforts will help build stronger bonds between Japan and South Africa; bonds that will last for another hundred years.
(Photos in the Republic of South Africa courtesy of SAPESI-Japan)