YES Programs



YES Alumni Grant: Back to School Book Drive

Group photo of the two YES alumni with the scholars who came to view their new library on the reveal day

By Boikemelo Morake (YES 2017-2018, South Africa, placed by ACES in Redding, CA)

It is a sad reality that 82% of South African fourth-grade students struggle to read for comprehension, and many first- grade students do not even know the alphabet. After 29 years of democracy in South Africa, this cannot be the legacy of our forefathers, nor what the late Nelson Mandela sacrificed his life for.

Two YES alumni setting up the library before the reveal to the community

I’m Boikemelo, and inspired by Mandela’s words: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” I decided to apply for a YES Alumni Grant. My exchange year in the U.S. ignited a flame for changemaking in my home country. A bonding moment with my host brother became the inspiration for my mission to make change through education. While reading the children’s book Captain Underpants to my five-year-old host brother, I saw the importance of nurturing a love of reading within children.

With fellow alumni Khumo Mmara and Devine Chepape and three non-alumni volunteers, we initiated a book and school supply drive, which fueled the launch of the Botlokwa Library.. The establishment of this library was a step towards ensuring that young scholars’ reading comprehension improves and that students develop a love of reading in a disadvantaged areas like Botlokwa.

With funding from the grant, the charity drive ran for one month, ending on January 23, 2024 in the cities of Johannesburg and Botlokwa. Running the charity drive in two provinces ensured that sufficient donations were collected to launch a fully functional library. This approach proved to be a success, and we received an overwhelming number of book donations, including novels, children’s books, educational books, and study guides. AFS-Interculture South Africa volunteer Naledi Masipa donated space in her counselling center for the library, which is located near Rasema Secondary School and Mabeba Primary School, making it a central community asset.

Children sitting on small tables with books and crafting materials in front of them two facilitators bending over their tables one with YES logo shirt and the shelves of the library with resources on th

On January 27, Botlokwa Library opened to the community. Principals and students from neighboring schools came to explore the library. The greatest excitement came from the parents of local students, who were overwhelmed and amazed that our young project team could make such a huge difference in their community. One parent remarked, “Thank you so much for choosing to assist our community. It is amazing to see young ladies making an impact in our community. This will surely inspire our children to become changemakers.”

Group of children proudly holding and showcasing colourful art on paper

Our project’s impact would have not been possible without the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the YES Alumni Grants program, AFS-Interculture South Africa, and all the donors, who made sure that as South African’s we live up to the words of the late Nelson Mandela. Botlokwa Library is proof that, through education, one can develop the skills to activate positive change in the world.