“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.
“To learn better English.”
“Hmm. Why do we need to learn English?” I asked.
A Zulu boy on the front row raised his hand. “To talk to people from other parts of South Africa,” he said. This country has eleven official languages. Several were represented in the class. Without English, that Zulu boy would have trouble communicating with the Tswana girl sitting next to him.
I told them about Litt-World last week and how people from Indonesia, Brazil and Nigeria could communicate because we understood English. “When you know English, you can’t just talk to people in South Africa. You can talk to the whole world!”
I had brought a stack of books, many from their library, to have a contest between the two classes. “Which book would you use to find the meaning of a word?"
"I want to know if the tree growing in the yard of my new house will have fruit. Which book will I use?"
"My neighbor has just found out she has HIV and she wants to know—” They had grabbed the book before I even finished the question.
After class the kids took my camera. (I get the best pictures that way.)