World AIDS Day was established by the World Health Organization in 1988 to raise awareness of a disease that has devastated generations worldwide. Every December 1, as we observe this solemn day, it’s hard not to be completely overwhelmed by the staggering statistics: 1.8 million deaths from AIDS in 2009; 2.5 million children worldwide infected with AIDS, and 30 child deaths from AIDS every hour. Of those infected by the disease, nine of every 10 live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
And while the numbers are daunting, one little hero is making a big difference to children in South Africa whose lives have been shattered by this ravaging epidemic. Her name is Thandi, and though she doesn’t have the notoriety or spell-casting powers of Harry Potter, her story is very powerful and has brought hope and comfort to some of the millions children who are ill or have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Thandi is the heroine of a series of books produced by Catherine Groenewald and Room to Read’s Local Language Publishing program in South Africa. Thandi made her debut in I Could be Anywhere, written by Groenewald in 2004 after working with her friend, Sarah Oosthuizen, to establish a women’s sewing collective for an impoverished community in South Africa. The local women learned sewing skills by making ragdolls, named Nosipho dolls, from scraps of material. It was here Groenewald and Oosthuizen met Gogo, a grandmother who was the sole bread winner for a large family in a community ravaged by HIV/AIDS, TB, poverty, illiteracy, teenage pregnancies and alcohol abuse. Groenewald remembers, “Forming a friendship with her, and seeing her daily life, the children around her and her personal struggles, made me want to tell her story.”
In I Could Be Anywhere, Thandi, an orphan who has lost both of her parents to AIDS, moves in with her grandmother, Gogo, and together they make a doll named Nosipho from the scraps of Thandi’s deceased parents’ clothing. Through Nosipho, Thandi finds comfort and healing, and the two become inseparable. The second Thandi book, Nosipho Comes to Stay, written by Oosthuizen and illustrated by Groenewald, was published by Room to Read in 2007, translated into 11 South African languages, and distributed to Room to Read libraries throughout South Africa.
Groenewald later produced three more books in the Nosipho series, two of which are Room to Read publications: Jingle-jingle in My Pocket, published in 2009, and The Big Secret, to be published by the end of 2010.
In addition to having the books about Thandi in our libraries, Room to Read South Africa partnered with two local non-profit organizations, ABC Stories and Siphosenkosi, to have the books and handmade dolls distributed to orphanages and children’s clinics throughout the country. Groenewald notes, “While speaking to a doctor, who works for Kidz Positive, an HIV/AIDS Clinic in Kayalitsha, Cape Town, I was struck by the huge burden HIV-positive children bear. They feel they must keep their status secret for fear of family scorn, reprisals and rejection by a sometimes uncompassionate community. The Clinic Sisters and counselors comfort and counsel these children - hopefully with the doll (as a tangible comfort) and book (gentle education about the truth) these children feel heard and less burdened.”
We all anxiously await the day we can close the book on the tragedy of AIDS, but until that day, we’re honored to be part of an effort bringing some comfort to children coping with extreme loss and sadness.
Visit our website to learn more about our Local Language Publishing program.