Our new Regional Director, Lieke Berghauser Pont, reflects on the recent Youth Day Celebrations at Fountain of Hope.
On Wednesday March 12th, Youth Day was celebrated at the Lubuto Library at Fountain of Hope. I was asked to represent LLP and decided to bring my family along. When we arrived, we saw a large group of children walking cheerfully towards the library. At the entrance of the Library is a large flip chart sheets. Every child that enters the library writes his name in a column. Looking at the familiarity with which this was done, it was clear these children were frequent library visitors.
Inside the library, a group of thirty children were sitting in the talking circle listening attentively to Brenda reading, This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen to the children. A second group of around 25 teens came to the library to listen to the book Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, which focuses on the importance of having goals in life.
After story time, we decided to stay in the library to listen and observe the children. Their eagerness to learn made a big impression on me. At one point, one of the children, who I think was about 6 years old, came to sit next to me. He had a book with him and wanted to read the book with me. The book treated the names of a large variety of amphibian species. The various names seemed to be difficult for the child to properly understand, but his eagerness and determination to learn to read in English language was impressive.
Later, two other children came to sit next to me. One of them could already read English well. He took over my role and helped the other child continue reading. Lubuto Libraries are clearly a place where youth can both learn from and teach each other.
Lubuto library users just performed a play they have been rehearsing for 6 weeks. Today’s play was based on the popular picture book, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. Inspired, some in the audience went into the Reading Room afterwards and started reading the book. They said they liked the story of the play. One of the actors said he enjoyed expressing himself through drama. In this picture, a scene from the early part of the play: A King, seeking a new wife, and his guards.
This week, youth from our two Lubuto Libraries graduated from the mentoring program. They had gone through 12 lessons designed by Dr. Lawrence Mukuka, a Zambian Sociologist, and delivered by trained library staff. The lessons are designed to impart values and empower marginalized youth. This girl, Chimwemwe, was accompanied by her grandmother, who expressed gratitude to Lubuto. She said Chimwemwe has become a good student in class and relates better with her family at home. The grandmother is the primary caregiver in the family and see’s Lubuto’s efforts as helping her and Chimwemwe cope with very difficult realities. For Chimwemwe and her friends, this was a very joyful occasion. One of the few places in life where they are recognized for an accomplishment.
The Government of Zambia recently announced the Grade 9 examination results. Zambia’s education system remains a cut-off point system, meaning students have to achieve a certain score in nation-wide exams at Grade 7 and Grade 9 to progress to Grade 8 and Grade 10 respectively. Those students who achieve this score progress to the next grade while those who don’t either repeat the previous grade or drop out of school. For 2013, more than 60% of those who sat for Grade 9 exams failed, the Minister announced. Almost 200,000 young people have been ejected from the education system and many will not have another chance at education. This is a sad situation in a country where almost 70% of the population is under 25. Zambia has made tremendous strides in improving primary enrollment but is failing to take care of its older children and youth.
Libraries can play a very important role in providing informal education opportunities to this group. The programming in Lubuto Libraries has been developed to provide a space for young people to explore their talents and develop skills. Several youth have discovered their talents in art and gone on to exhibit their work in Zambia and abroad. Others are gaining media skills and graphic designing skills that will be transferable to formal work environments. For some youth, Lubuto Libraries are the only place where they can read – growing their knowledge while interacting with peers. From their unique position as public libraries, Lubuto Libraries are meeting the needs of children and youth left out of the school system.
Children at FOHLL discussing Mandela’s life and his love for children.
Today marks the end of seven days national mourning declared for Nelson Mandela in Zambia. Over the past week, Lubuto Libraries have been places where children came to reflect on what Mandela meant to them. This was achieved through reading, discussion and drama performances. Many of the children already know about Mandela’s life and his great sacrifice, largely due to things they have read in the libraries or from mentoring sessions where Mandela has come up as an exemplary figure. The children see Mandela as someone who they can look up to as an inspiration. Referring to Mandela’s humble beginnings in Qunu, one child said “we should not forget were we come from and even if we are poor we can achieve our dreams.” They were also deeply affected by the fact that he forgave his captors after twenty-seven years in prison. Commenting on his extraordinary vision, one girl stated “to forgive people who arrested you is hard… he knew what he wanted.” Mandela will be remembered by most of us as the man who reconciled a nation: white and black, and black and black. His singular leadership qualities are a rarity in Africa and, indeed, the world. One child noted his ability to relinquish power at a time when many African leaders clung on to it. But children also recognize that they can take a leaf from Mandela’s book and becoming leaders in whatever they do. They want to use the opportunities they have to rise above their circumstances and help others, like Madiba did.
By Thomas Mukonde
Our libraries are more than places where you find an excellent collection of books. They are also places where children can come to find a way to express themselves in our different programs. Some children come to the library because it is a safe environment. Such is the case of a young girl who I will call Carol. Carol spends lots of time in NLL, looking at books and participating in different programs. After a recent mentoring session, Carol opened up to library staff about having been sexually abused in the past. We were there to hear her story, when her home environment did not provide the love and care she deserved. Yesterday, Carol approached one of our staff members with a deep wound on her forehead. I was in NLL at the time and was told that the wound was a result of physical abuse from her mother. Carol had not been given medical attention for several days and was clearly traumatized. “My mum did this to me,” she said, “she wanted to kill me.” I spoke to her and realized that Carol had an abusive and negligent mother. Since yesterday, Lubuto staff have initiated action to protect the girl. We have worked with her school and the Child Protection Unit of the Zambia Police Service to make the mother accountable, while ensuring that Carol receives very urgent medical care. And since NLL is embedded in the community, we will continue monitoring Carol’s situation.
by Thomas Mukonde.
One of the activities that we do at Lubuto is connect with children living and working on the streets. This week, I joined our outreach team from FOHLL at Lusaka’s Soweto Market and read The Three Little Pigs with children we met at the market. Brenda, one of our Program Facilitators, helped me translate the story into Nyanja. While I speak Nyanja, my native language is Bemba. It was a beautiful experience, reading amid very difficult circumstances. As we read, more and more children joined us, many sniffing “glue,” a common drug on the streets.
Our environment was a far cry from the comfort of a classroom in an elite American elementary school or even a Zambian classroom. A stream of dirty water flowed right by us and various types of trade happened in the open air market. There were stalls with used clothes, restaurants and electronics for sale. Some of the children were themselves parents, living on the streets with their families. There is a whole world on the streets, with their own economy – modes of earning a living – and communities.
But it was almost magical how we were all united in story. It seems we were, for that half hour, shut out from the rest of the world. Many children we meet on the streets are eventually drawn to Lubuto Library Programs. The Fountain of Hope, a local non-profit organization that hosts a Lubuto Library, helps reintegrate the children into society while Lubuto provides a rare opportunity for these children to explore talents they thought they never had, talk to a caring adult or simply come to a quiet place to read a book.
by Thomas Mukonde
About the Author:
Thomas Mukonde recently joined the Lubuto Library Project Zambia Office. Thomas is a native of the Copperbelt town of Kitwe. He grew up there and attended both public and private schools before proceeding to boarding school in the southern part of Zambia. After this, he studied under scholarships in the U.K. and the United States. In the U.S., he graduated with a B.A. in History from Georgetown University. After teaching for a year at a private, elite, school in Washington, D.C., Thomas decided to return home and give back to his community. During the months between returning to Zambia and beginning work with Lubuto, Thomas worked at a primary school that his family runs in Kitwe. Thomas has a deep interest in education and social equity. He is excited to be back in Zambia and working with the Lubuto Library Project in bringing quality library services to its vulnerable children.