Garage becomes reading nook for residents

‘Jazztown’ businessman sets up facility to benefit his community

Bruce Koopman of Uitenhage converted his garage into a library for children and adults in his community. He also offers internet facilities to assist students.
Bruce Koopman of Uitenhage converted his garage into a library for children and adults in his community. He also offers internet facilities to assist students.
Image: WERNER HILLS

It was a no-brainer for a Uitenhage businessman to convert his garage into a library — providing a much-needed service to a community that is 5km away from the nearest one.

The facility with its more than 1,000 books, internet access and printing service is the pride and joy of Bruce Koopman, 46,  who was born and bred in the suburb popularly known as Jazztown.

He proudly shared that a resident who was a medical student also made use of his garage-library.

Where did everything start?

In 2010, the Gerald Smith community in Uitenhage held a prayer gathering because the increasing decay of the suburb was a great concern. I started a Facebook group for our residents where we could discuss how to improve things in the area

“In 2010, the Gerald Smith community in Uitenhage held a prayer gathering because the increasing decay of the suburb was a great concern,” he said.

“I started a Facebook group for our residents where we could discuss how to improve things in the area.”

Fast-forward to 2020 and he has a few community projects running from his home in Lukie Street; feeding people and providing the library facility.

Koopman and his wife, Kenmyrthia, feed about 50 people daily with either a hot meal or soup.

In addition, they provide on average 30 children with porridge before they go to school.

This project is called the Kenmyrthia Porridge Project.

“The feeding scheme started when we started cleaning up the area,” he said.

“Many people came to assist in the cleaning project but were hungry.

“It started small with us funding it, and as time went by, many people came on board and donated food and ingredients we needed to feed the hungry.

“We call them our angels.

“On the other hand, the Kenmyrthia Porridge Project started about three years ago when I heard one morning how my daughter picked and chose which type of porridge she wanted.

I became sad because while she had a choice, many other children did not have anything to eat before going to school

“I became sad because while she had a choice, many other children did not have anything to eat before going to school.”

They served 80 children with porridge on the first morning of the project.

However, with the strict Covid-19 regulations, they could not feed the children or the less-privileged pupils.

With the easing of regulations, they have started to hand out porridge again.

The library project was partly made possible by the Afrikaans Taal en Kultuurvereniging (ATKV).

The ATKV plays a supporting role and donates books to his library.

“My first project when I got involved with the ATKV in 2011 was the establishment of a library in Tiryville, but the community took over its management,” Koopman said.

“Two years later I realised it was a blessing in disguise, because bringing it to my house meant that we could keep an eye on it.

“We have English, Afrikaans and Xhosa books in the library.

“I can see the difference it makes to the residents and how reading changes their worldview.”

On average, 30 residents use the facility daily.

He said the library was very popular among the adults in the community, and it seemed as if they had already read all the books in the library.

His biggest dream is to have a fully-fledged community centre that will house all the services he and others provide under one roof.

“I have applied to the municipality for the open land close to my house to build a community centre, but have not received feedback.

In retrospect, the centre would be appreciated more if the community built it themselves

“In retrospect, the centre would be appreciated more if the community built it themselves.

“What happens if the community gets upset with the government?

“The first they will do is to burn and vandalise government property.”

His aim with everything he does is to inspire and help people realise their dreams.

“We have a younger generation without ambition.

“I want them to realise that they cannot be successful without working hard.

“However, my hope is that we can work together to stop the decay and restore Jazztown to its former glory.

“There should be no personal gain for us except to be proud of where we raised and live,” Koopman said.


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