Shauna Carey is Room to Read’s Marketing and Communications Associate. In this guest post she shares her experience on a recent visit to Room to Read schools in South Africa.
Nkadimeng Primary school is less than two hours from Pretoria, but its rural setting makes the high-rise buildings and bustling streets of the capital feel a world away. We pull up to the gates just as classes are starting. The schoolyard is a hub of frenzied activity with hundreds of blue and grey uniforms scurrying in all directions.
Our visit included readings, storytelling and songs from students of all ages in the library. It’s a beautiful space, adorned with fully-stocked bookshelves and brightly-colored murals about the importance of education, and the perfect backdrop for the excited group of students who proudly displayed their reading skills for their visitors.
It’s clear that the library has already had an effect on the students’ reading habits, and seeing their unbridled enthusiasm, it was hard to believe that the library had experienced a somewhat slow start.
When Room to Read’s three-year support period began, teachers and administrators participated in the regular training sessions help by our team as planned, but found that with more than 700 students and no full-time librarian, they did not have time to put that training to use. For the first few months, library traffic was low and the resources were not being fully-utilized.
At this point, it was clear that the staff needed help, so they went to the local community in search of volunteers. They found Mouma Mokubjane.
Mouma grew up just 2km away from Nkadimeng, and has lived in the community her whole life. She has two young children now, who attend another school in the district, but when she heard that Nkadimeng was looking for a volunteer librarian, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Getting the library period scheduled for all classes was my big challenge,” says Mouma, whose first order of business was to help teachers and students alike get acquainted with the new resources. In the beginning, she would collect a set of books and bring them to each classroom—helping the teacher see how they could be used to enhance the existing curriculum. “Once they saw how helpful the books were,” she says, “teachers started bringing their classes to the library more and more.”
Now that all classes have regular library periods, Mouma is focused on planning activities that are fun and nurture students’ budding literacy skills. One of her favorites is helping them interpret their favorite local-language books into plays, which they perform for their peers.
For this activity, Mouma focuses on books that cover important social issues in the community, like HIV and AIDS. Approximately 50 percent of Nkadimeng’s students are orphans (largely due to the epidemic’s prevalence in the region), so she chooses stories that discuss prevention and destigmatization. “It teaches the children that they must not be scared of people who have [HIV] because they are just like everyone else, and lets them know about how to take precautions,” she says.
It’s clear that Mouma loves volunteering at Nkadimeng, but I couldn’t help but wonder why she chooses to spend so many hours at one school when her own children attend another. “Literacy is the way we can improve this whole community,” she said without hesitation. “I want to see all the children here succeed.”Learn more about our work in South Africa.