From rubble to reading rendezvous

2017-05-02 09:14
Shaheen Ryan and Jeff Paulse stand on the empty site on the corner of Boeschoten and Thornton roads where they plan to build a reading centre for local learners.

Shaheen Ryan and Jeff Paulse stand on the empty site on the corner of Boeschoten and Thornton roads where they plan to build a reading centre for local learners. (Earl Haupt)

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If you have been driving past the vacant portion of land on the corner of Boeschoten and Thornton roads recently, you would have seen the walls have been painted and new lettering shows its intended future.

The remaining pile of rubble is the remnants of a house which was first identified as a problem building in the area and then broken down by neighbouring community members (“Problem house demolished”, People’s Post, 20 November 2012).

“When we have a privately owned property, we speak to the owner to find out what they can do. What is nice is that on the corner of Boeschoten and Thornton roads is an empty plot; you will see a whole lot of grey rubble there. It was a house before and then it became derelict. But then the house was broken down by the community after it was identified as a problem building,” says ward councillor Rashid Adams.

Adams was approached by both the owner of the land, Shaheen Ryan, and former Athlone North Primary School principal Jeff Paulse to transform the land.

After noticing a shift in the learning trend, Paulse, now retired, envisioned a reading room where learners from all grades can gather and sharpen their skills to improve their academic performance.

“The organisation that I started four years ago, Reading and Writing Solutions, was in response to a major problem at schools with reading. How I discovered that was because I am a retired school principal. A lot of people came to my house for help and I found that unusual, because in my time that was not the case where you only passed from Grade 1 to Grade 2 if you could read. These days we work with high school kids,” he says.
Paulse adds that he has rolled out the programme to numerous schools in the area where, with the help of the schools themselves, they identify weaker readers for Paulse and his team of volunteers to work with so they can help improve the learners’ level of reading and comprehension.
The programme has received so much attention that Paulse felt that more could be done if he had a central venue to work from. That is when he asked Ryan if the land could be leased.

“We found that we can only help the kid at the school and because we are all over, there is no contact with the learner afterwards. I then spoke to Ryan to ask that we need a venue, a hub where we can create a culture of reading. The main reason is that we have a hub where we can operate from and where we can create a culture of reading. We do tuition with weak readers and assist them at the school, but there is huge potential. For example, on a Saturday we would offer extra classes for those learners whom we tutor during the week. We have lots of volunteers so far who have been trained – around 500 people at a five-day workshop,” Paulse says.

Ryan was elated that Paulse approached him, so much so that he has started to participate in the NGO’s daily functions.

The two would like to see a structure completed by the end of October. Paulse says that not a lot has to be done for the construction, but that the application for rezoning of the plot is yet to be approved, which has slowed down developments.

“The land is currently zoned as residential and then it is going to be educational. That kind of paperwork can take so long. It is very frustrating to me,” he says.

Paulse adds that although he has numerous volunteers on board to help, the programme welcomes donors as everything being done is privately funded.

Meanwhile, Adams has invited private land owners with vacant land to open themselves up to opportunities such as the one which has been created for Paulse and his organisation.

“It may not always be so easy with the other owners of private land. They may want to hold onto their property. We have to look at our open spaces to determine what we are going to do with them. If we are going to change the face of our community, that is what we are going to look at.

“We have an extremely innovative mayor who has taken the bull by the horns and she is saying that we need to look at our open spaces and see how we can develop them. If it means that we have to develop for housing, then it has to be done. We need to move away from the idea that housing estates or housing developments have to take place far out of the city. We need to bring our people closer to the CBDs, closer to transport. How must people spend 40% of their salary on transport? That is not acceptable,” says Adams.

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