Kim Morton, a recent addition to the Room to Read board of directors, just returned from South Africa and Zambia where she was able to witness Room to Read's programs and impact first-hand.
South African writer Dr. Sindiwe Magona thinks African children need more stories about naughty girls and boys that can cook. And she should know! She's been voted Top 100 Best African writers and and Top 10 Best African Women writers. She's written over 100 children's books in all 11 of South Africa's official languages. Dr. Magona believes that if you want children to read, you must write exciting books, wild stories, fables, and mysteries.
Last week, when I sat down to talk with Dr. Magona in Johannesburg, she was intense and focused on the dire situation South African children find themselves in today. Grinding poverty, illiteracy, prevalent HIV/AIDS, and orphaned children are the daily reality. Twenty-eight percent of pregnant women (2007) were living with HIV, perpetuating the cycle of sickness for another generation. But, last week as I toured rural and urban South African schools and visited Room to Read's libraries, I saw real hope amidst these tough circumstances. Children love the refuge of their bright colorful books, they engage in their Room to Read libraries whose shelves hold Xhosa and Setswana stories like Dr. Magona's, and several of our libraries have dedicated librarians with time built into the curriculum to visit the library, be read to, play word games and even check a book out to take home. Think of the pride a child feels taking home a book and reading to an illiterate parent or grandparent.
Dr. Magona points out that in several different African languages, the word for a person who cannot read is "blind". "We can make a breakthrough!" she promises. "Right now our South Aftrican children are crawling while the rest of the world runs! If we make books interesting for kids, and we write them in their mother tongue, children will develop a love and a habit of reading." Room to Read agrees, and is fortunate to collaborate with Dr. Magona's vast expertise in children's literacy. She serves on Room to Read's Book Selection Committee, she helps to train aspiring young writers in South Africa, and she has served as a Judge for Room to Read's writing competitions which often receive hundreds of submissions in all South Africa's official languages. The winners of the competition are published by Room to Read and are then placed in Room to Read's libraries across South Africa so young children can read exciting books about their own cultures in their own languages.
"We are all born with our hands tightly fisted, " says Dr. Magona. "That is where the Maker, the Universe places the talents we come bearing to the world. And it is only by using these talents that we can leave the world a better place than we found it. So do your bit. Sing if you must; Write if you must; but do your bit to make the world a better place."
To learn more about our programs in South Africa, click here.
To learn more about our Local Language Publishing program, click here.