Aphiwe Dyobhiso is a bright, friendly student at Mpongo Farm School in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. At 12 years old, the fourth grader—like many of her peers in South Africa—lags behind grade level in reading and writing, but her teachers are quick to point out that her latent literacy skills don’t stop her from participating in school. She enjoys storytelling exercises and works hard to keep up with her classmates.
It was clear right away how much Aphiwe loved the story, and as weeks went by the librarian noticed that she continued to check it out every library period. Despite her difficulty reading, Aphiwe would patiently sit down with the book, going from beginning to end meticulously and learning the words. She also began to recommend the book to her fellow students.
Aphiwe’s teachers and the school’s principal, Ms. Nontando Tata, were surprised at this turn of events, and it was not until learning more about the girl’s background that they understood her fascination with Kutheni Gugu.
As it turned out, Aphiwe’s mother had passed away from AIDS the previous year, leaving her to live in a one-room house with her great-grandmother and three other relatives. The story of Kutheni Gugu has helped her process her family’s tragedy and see that she is not alone in the experience.
Ms. Tata hopes that this newfound interest in reading combined with some extra help this school year will allow Aphiwe to catch up with her peers. Through a new program at the library, “Reading Buddies”, Aphiwe will be paired with an intermediate-level reader in her class that can help her to sound out the words and sentences until she becomes more comfortable reading on her own.
In addition to providing children of families affected by AIDS in South Africa with a relatable story to enjoy, books like Kutheni Gugu are also instrumental in turning the tide against the disease by helping children develop a love of reading and learning. Studies show that a child who finishes primary school is 50% less likely to contract HIV, extending the benefits of a fully-stocked library and well-trained teacher-librarians far beyond the schoolyard gates.