Last weekend, our CAS group consisting of 19 pupils were involved in the renovating of the library in the local village school, Sekolah Kebangsaan Sungai Melayu. In the planning stage, this involved long discussions about what the renovation would include and we decided to not only re-decorate the library itself but also replace their books as the majority were very out-dated and worn out. We also wanted to create a system to organise the lending of their books and educate the school pupil librarians on how to sustain it. Before we carried out the actual renovation, we held many meetings in which we discussed our strategy of what we were going to do with the library and how we were going to do it. We had meetings on how to arrange the books and what system we would use to categorise each book. We had meetings on what colour the library should be re-painted and how to decorate the space.
Our goal was to encourage students to read more by creating a more comfortable reading environment for them. In the beginning, some members of the group weren’t certain of what their roles in the group were but this evolved over time and by the end, we formed an efficient group which worked very well together. It was very important, however, to remain flexible in our roles so that one could help with the most pressing priority. For example, when the painting needed to be completed by a certain time, some from different divisions of the team came and helped to ensure we would finish on time.
Once we had planned as much as we could and gathered all the books that we could get, we went to the primary school and began our refurbishment. It took three days to get the work completed and we were split into two major groups when we were there. One group was in charge of the physical room of the library and was split again into smaller groups that were given specific tasks such as painting the walls; cleaning the light fixtures; sweeping the floors and shelves; removing dirt and grime from the walls; and so on. The second group was in charge of the books. Specifically, they separated English and Malay books; removed books that were obtained from the book drive that were too advanced or not appropriate for primary school children; placed library cards in each book to be borrowed by the pupils, and so on. It was a very hectic first day for the book group as we had to categorise the books that we brought and books that the school still had from their library. When going through the books from the library of the school, we noticed many of them were quite old (some of the books were from the 1970s). When we asked the teachers of the school if they wanted us to throw away the old and damaged books, they said they did not want us to as the library would look quite empty without them. So, while not a lot was fully completed on the first day, we made quite a good start.
During the second day, the painting of the library was completed and the book group was nearing completion in placing the library cards in the books as well as categorising them according to whether they were fiction, non-fiction and reference. We managed to work in a similar manner to that of an assembly line when it came to the books as there were many of them and we needed to get them done as fast as possible, so that we could help with the library itself.
It was on the third day that things kicked into a higher gear. There was a lot that needed to be done still and it was the last day. We managed to get all the decorations on the door finished pretty quickly as well as the decorations in the library itself, which looked fantastic. We got all the shelves, tables and chairs inside with enough time to spare so that we could get all the books in and still have time to make changes to the layout as well as add extra decorations to the library. When we were completely finished with the library, we took a step back and admired our work. We were astounded by how much we had managed to get done within three days and even though we were completely exhausted by the three days’ work we had done, we felt proud of what we had achieved and hoped that the teachers and students would appreciate the library as well.
Many challenges were faced during this process. It proved a challenge to find books as we had hoped to receive books through donations from parents and although we did receive English books, we had no Malay books and a mix of the two languages was necessary. Our group was also very large so it was quite hard to get everyone involved. We dealt with this by splitting the group into three ‘departments’, one focusing on the books, another on the fundraising and the last on design. However, then communication between the groups proved quite difficult. Once we finally finished planning, the actual renovation was also a challenge: as the school calendar was so busy, it was almost impossible to find a date when few people in the group had other activities or commitments.
This experience has really taught us how important it is to make sure that in a team all the individuals play to their strengths. Some were incredibly talented at doing origami which was perfect for the pinboard; while the DT students were extremely useful in the many DIY aspects of the project such as wiring and replacing locks. Group members who could speak Malay were instrumental in enabling us to communicate with the pupils of the school and their teachers.
In the end, we managed to complete the project to a standard with which we were very happy. The activity was demanding but also extremely rewarding. The school where the renovations occurred is incredibly close to our school which not only made it very convenient to get there but also allowed us also to have the sense of giving back to our local community in a meaningful and also lasting way.
We hope that the project will be sustained and enhanced upon by the next CAS group in the Lower Sixth next year.
We would like to thank Ms A and Miss McCaffrey for helping us throughout the process.
Isabelle Ferenczi & Kavinraj Ravichandran