My passion is for school-aged children, but who can resist the little ones with their wide-eyed curiosity and readiness for books and learning?
When I arrived at Tembisa Baptist Church on Wednesday, they lay on the floor in tightly packed rows looking like nothing so much as giant fleece-wrapped enchiladas. Each child was dressed in multiple layers against the Johannesburg winter and rolled in a brightly colored blanket. The floor beneath them was spread with crumbling mats of yellowed foam rubber covered with a blanket of doubtful hygiene. Here and there a canvas shoe stuck out from a bundle. A few heads raised and bright eyes stared at me. Most slept on, oblivious to the chatter of the aids who looked after them. Slowly more and more woke from their nap, and I invited them for a story. How I wish that someone would read to them every day!
Thursday I went to Alexandra Township and met up with a couple acquaintances who live there. They guided me through the twisting streets to three crèches where I read to four classes. The first was a little school I had never visited. We parked on the sidewalk behind an overflowing dust bin and walked down the slope between a couple buildings. The path was dirt and crumbling cement. We rounded a corner into one of those little courtyards where residents share a toilet and the washtub sits against the outside of a house. Inside I found twenty children clean and neatly dressed, sitting in rows on a well-swept carpet. They were very tiny and can’t have been more than a year or so old. We read Our Gran and A Long Way to Baba, and by the end the older ones were responding to the sounds and the little songs. As much as anything I was modeling for the teacher how to use books to interact with the children. The director of the school followed me out to the car and asked if I could help them to get books and learning materials. I was able to direct her to the wonderful program that Exclusive Books Foundation has for supporting local community projects.
Friday I read stories at the Tembisa Public Library, at the request of Poppy, children’s librarian and sister in Christ. I planned to get there early and see if they had anything new I should know about, but the best laid plans… I ended up sitting in a traffic jam for 45 minutes. The only redeeming part is that in South Africa at this time of year the best place to get warm is in the car with the sun coming through the glass. I dashed in late and read the same stories I had read elsewhere this week. It was a fun time with the children, but this one I do primarily to be supportive of Poppy and the library system. After all, I am an ex-librarian.
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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