When final-year medical student Rosemary Pitsi was selected to attend the Global Engagement Summit in Illinois, in the United States earlier this year, she had no idea that what she learnt there would escalate her dream of starting a reading project into an exciting and way more ambitious reality.
The week-long summit – which took place in April - was a turning point for Pitsi's project, Book Buddies, which arose out of her passion for reading and her strong desire to share books with people less privileged than herself.
The Global Engagement Summit, organized and sponsored by Northwestern University, brings people together from all over the world who have a social project and exposes them to mentors and resources aimed at growing their projects.
“From my plan to simply redistribute books from more privileged to less privileged people, I redefined my goal to create a community library at the Emmanuel Centre in Khayelitsha," said Pitsi.
“I explained my goal to one of my mentors who then said 'why not start a community library?' It was a light-bulb moment! At first I was apprehensive, but then I thought, why not challenge myself. I underestimated the number of people who want to be involved. The project has grown so much in the two months since I returned. I cannot wait to see how it grows."
Pitsi, who was born in Pretoria, always loved reading. “My friends and I would exchange books which gave us great exposure to a range of books. I wanted to offer that opportunity to more people, so I started working on a project in which I redistributed literary resources to less privileged people."
She heard about the Global Engagement Summit and was accepted in December last year.
“The summit – which hosted people from all over the world, including Sudan, India and the US – was opened by Cheryl Dorsey, CEO of Echoing Green, a non-profit organization that helps grow social projects. Her inspiring speech set the tone for the whole conference. Then we were exposed to a range of phenomenal guest speakers and individuals from big companies, like Google and Facebook on how to expand our projects, pitch campaigns, create brands and formulate teams. We also learnt how to critically assess a community so as to be of best benefit for them.
“They gave us one-on-one sessions on how to improve our projects. It was sophisticated, professional and an amazing experience. The turning point for me was taking my project from being a thought process to being a proactive plan that I'm now seeing through."
Plans for her community library are coming along nicely and Pitsi is also planning reading sessions for children in the Emmanuel Centre and helping access textbooks for high-school learners.
“I was there recently with Professor Jimmy Volmink who is involved with the centre. Through his connections, Mediclinic donated a structure to the centre that they can use to do homework. I am hoping to form the literary component of the enterprise. I spent a few hours reading to the children. I remain in communication with the guardians of the centre to assess how to move the project forward.
Once she completes her medical studies, Pitsi hopes to do her internship at the Khayelitsha District Hospital – where she has done a few medical rotations. “I love the working environment and the community. I've always imagined myself serving a community in the townships. That's where I grew up in my early years. Also, an opportunity to stay in the Western Cape is always good."
Asked about her long-term goals, Pitsi said: “I will look at how to leverage my leadership skills and use them alongside my passion for medicine. I might go into medical management. Whatever I do, my heart will always be dedicated to health care."
* Anyone interested in getting involved in Pitsi's project can contact her on email@example.com.
Photo credit: Wilma Stassen