| January 7, 2016

MER Foundation Enabling Digital Reading in South Africa


Across South Africa too many children have never experienced the world through reading. This is because over 80% of students in South Africa do not have a library. The Matthew E. Russell Foundation (MER) is an NGO changing this reality. And one way they’re doing it is through digital libraries with the Worldreader BLUE Box e-reading program.

Mathew E Russell South Africa

Picture of Mathew E. Russell.

Matthew E. Russell was 11 years of age when he first visited South Africa. During this visit, he met children from economically challenged areas of the Eastern Cape. He shared with them his passion for reading and education. Over the next 10 years, he devoted himself to helping the young people of these communities. He planned to one day become a teacher so he could continue to spread his passion for learning with others. MER was founded by Willie and Flossie Russell after their son, Matthew, passed away suddenly in 2011. They were determined to keep Matthew’s legacy alive.

MER first began building libraries in 2012 in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, a rural area where schools, funding, teachers, and resources are scarce. To date, three libraries have been installed and have partnered with Worldreader to run e-reading programs: Mdatya JSS, Stanford SPS, and Zamokuhle JSS. The libraries are in schools where the average class has 75 students. To continue building libraries and digital reading programs, MER works hard to raise funds through art shows, luncheons, 5K/Half Marathons, grants, and individual & team efforts.

The MER Foundation views a library as a seed for community growth and shares our belief that technology is the solution to spreading global literacy: “If we are going to have an impact that truly is transformative, technology and the use of e-readers is the pathway. Placing e-readers in the hands of children is handing them an open door to the rest of the world.  We want the children to be the change agents in their communities.  Change begins with knowledge and the gateway to that knowledge is literacy,” said Willie Russell.

Girls using their new e-readers in class in South Africa

Through Worldreader mobile and e-reading programs, MER has had over 25,000 people reading. “It’s so amazing: they read! It’s easy to teach them how to use e-readers, and they are so fast to learn,” says an MER Project Manager, Ms. Basanda Panda.

MER has a strong vision. The ultimate developmental goal of the Foundation is to support the establishment of libraries in under-funded, urban townships and rural schools in order to increase student literacy levels, improve teaching methods, and build community support for education reform. We look forward to further bringing digital libraries to schools across South Africa with MER so that every child can experience the world through reading.

If you’re interested in helping MER bring our Worldreader e-reader programs to more schools, contact our programs team today.