I started blogging in 2006 to have somewhere to share my experiences reading with orphans and vulnerable children in Tembisa Township. We were living in near-by Kempton Park at the time. (To read some of those early blogs see Lindiwe's Friends.) We have since moved back to the United States. I return to South Africa once or twice a year and always make it a point to get to Tembisa. This has been one of those weeks, wedged between our retreat in George and teaching next week in Kenya.
The after-school program at Tembisa Baptist Church doesn’t have the sponsors that Arebaokeng has. They aren’t even sponsored by the church, which charges rent for the use of their old building and office space in a converted house on the property. But they run a crèche and feed a hundred children a day.
This week I returned to St. Francis Nursery School. I used to read there regularly back in 2006 and 2007. I turned the project over to a colleague when I went to the States for a few months. That colleague has now returned to U.K. so I thought I would stop by to see if anyone would like a story or two.
The children were in the yard when I arrived. As I approached through the garden, Teacher Ruthie burst from the door, squealing like a three-year-old and running to greet me.
“Why do we read?” I asked the combined fifth-grade classes at Rose-Act’s Saturday’s Cool. This supplementary educational program for grades five through twelve serves the desperately poor township of Alexandra, near Johannesburg.
“To learn new things,” a boy said promptly, and I knew this was going to be a fun class.
“To find out about the world,” another said.
I drove right past the Johannesburg College, Alexandra Campus on London Road. The slum of Alex stretched to my right. Warehouses rose along the road to my left. When I was sure I had gone too far, there was nothing to do, but turn around in the crumbling lot of a business and retrace my route through the heavy traffic.
The Arebaokeng community project has a crèche (daycare/pre-school) and an after-school program for children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS. When I lived in South Africa, the children were cared for in an old house. The dining room/classroom was a garage. On cold days the little ones crowded into a tiny bedroom with no furniture. When it rained, the center had to close because the roof leaked so badly there were puddles all over the floor.
"How do you find African books to read to the children?" my Zimbabwean friend asked when she accompanied me to Tembisa Baptist Church to read in their creche. I suspect she had grown up on the same kind of books as Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie, a Nigerian short-story writer I am anxious to read, articulates so well part of why I am concerned with providing African children with books in which they will see themselves and their world. The video will take you a bit longer than you normally spend reading this blog, but it's worth it.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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