Ripple Reading | South Africa

Humanitarian Distribution Centre of Southern Africa: Literature Initiative

Driven by passion to improve literacy, volunteers at the Humanitarian Distribution Centre for Southern Africa in Bedfordview devote hundreds of hours to sorting and distributing books for their Literature Initiative. Hidden behind the Ekurhuleni Waste Management Department in Van Vuuren Road, Bedfordview this treasure trove is currently undiscoverable on Google maps!

Ripple Reading in collaboration with CAPS Radio was able to deliver 280 ECD books (packed by the above-mentioned volunteers) to establish reading corners at Malaika Orphanage Centre (Mandela Day 2019), as well as, Ikyaha Lothando (Women’s Day 2019).

The Humanitarian Distribution Centre (Rotary International District 9400) receives, sorts and distributes container-loads of second-hand, over-runs and out-of-print books donated and shipped by the Second Wind Foundation in Texas, USA. Under the auspices of Rotary Books for the World, over 6-million books have been distributed since the Literature Initiative was initiated in 2001, when the Centre was housed in cottages at Crown Mines.

Breathing new life for literacy

“Literacy is the only way out of poverty and extreme poverty must be eliminated for the world to find peace in our time”

Destined for destruction, many books which reach their shelf-life in US’ schools and academic institutions head for the shredder or to be discarded in landfill. However, thanks to the intervention of the Second Wind Foundation and Texan – Charlie Clements, in particular, these books have been provided with a new lease of life and can now be used for the creation of libraries and book corners in South Africa and Africa.

2007 saw the Humanitarian Distribution Centre for Southern Africa relocate to its present premises in Van Vuuren Road, Bedfordview.  The past 12 years have seen the expansion of the project – so much so, that the finding of larger premises was imperative… and thanks to the Ekurhuleni Municipality there’s now sufficient storage space (well, at least for the moment).

Here you will discover the shipped containers filled with literary treasures where volunteers devote their time and energy towards unpacking, sorting and handing out the books. Operating hours: 9:30am – 3pm (Tuesdays – Thursdays) & 9:30am – 1pm (Fridays). [The Centre is closed to members of the public on Mondays].


The most exciting facet of the Literature Initiative is that there is no charge levied for the supply of the books or their delivery, providing the destinations are legitimate – schools, libraries, old age homes, correctional institutions and hospitals.

“It’s better if people come and select their own books,” states the administrator whose passion and dedication for the project hasn’t ebbed over the years. “Then, if necessary, they can be boxed and couriered to any of South Africa’s provinces on request. Please note, however, that these books are donations for a specific purpose and MAY NOT BE SOLD!”

[This is an undertaking which has to be signed by the recipient before the books are removed from the Centre.]

Literary adventure

Choosing books is an adventure in itself as the variety of literature is astounding. “Forty percent of the books are brand new,” she adds remembering the early days of having to climb over pallets to find the books needed to fill the orders.

These days, the aisles are filled with shelving (which has also been donated) and books which have been alphabetically arranged according to topic or category. Here you will find school and tertiary textbooks, as well as, classical literature, encyclopedias, art, music and posters for the classroom.

This is a fulltime occupation, not only for the administrator but for many Rotarians who bring order to potential chaos, proving that literacy is key to the sorting process never mind fulfilling their passion to assist South Africans on their path to literacy.

However, it’s not only children who benefit, but adults too as one container is now dedicated solely to catering for older generation interests (fiction and non-fiction).

“We do struggle for hands,” admits the administrator, “especially with respect to filing and unpacking. However, it’s rewarding and we love the project – it’s a chance to forget about the world for a bit.”


The Humanitarian Distribution Centre (an NPO under the auspices of Rotary) is a collaboration by many Rotary Clubs in the District. For further information about the Literacy Initiative or offer your assistance, contact

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