Getting kids to be mad over books

Literacy activist and actress Mpumy Ndlovu.
Literacy activist and actress Mpumy Ndlovu.

I was born and bred in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal. It is the fourth-largest township in SA and the only one with its own car registration plate: NUZ.

Young people in Umlazi have been kept together through a shared love for the performing arts, reading, storytelling and belief in the power of these practices to uplift their community.

Life in Umlazi is not easy. A high rate of Aids-related deaths has led to many child-headed homes. These children often drop out of school and search for jobs to support themselves and their siblings.

I strongly believe a child's place is in the playground, where they can play, explore and enjoy their childhood. I advocate for the "your child is my child" notion, which calls us to hold each other accountable and become one big family working together to raise all our children.

In 2009, young people in Umlazi set up a nonprofit organisation that focuses on the performing arts and is dedicated to local children.

We started a project - Dlala Mntwana (Zulu for "play, dear child") - where children get to do what they do best: play. They also, often for the first time, experience a theatre performance aimed at sparking their imagination and curiosity.

With the support of the local library, we have signed up many children for library cards to encourage them to read. I know this helped me in my own childhood. I have also learnt that some members of our project are offering afternoon homework classes, helping with health-related issues and providing food parcels.

It saddens me to hear elders say: "What can you do for a child from a shack?"

Every child should be allowed to dream because there is always potential for those dreams to come true, especially with community support.

I believe that young people understand this. We must empower them through literacy and enable them to imagine a better future through stories and storytelling. It is for these reasons that I'm excited to be a part of the Nal'ibali campaign's FUNda Leader network - an initiative that supports young people like my friends and I in Umlazi to nurture a love for reading among children in our community.

There is a maskandi song by Shwi Nomtekhala, which when translated into English goes: "Rise nations for if we die, who will look after our children and who will take care of them?"

Mpumy Ndlovu is a storyteller and actress committed to changing children's lives through theatre and literacy. She is using her passion and profile to champion Nal'ibali's FUNda Leader volunteer network and encourage young people to join the campaign and help children fall in love with books and reading in their home languages.

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