Even though it is “winter” in the southern hemisphere, most children in Malawi are on “holiday” for two months. They don’t call it summer holiday or winter holiday, just “holiday” but it’s the longest break of the year when one school year ends (early June) and a new one begins (beginning of September). Perhaps it’s a hold over from the days of being a British colony since its not true of schools in South Africa from my experience visiting there.
So at the beginning of June I picked up Rabina’s son from the bus station,who was returning home from boarding school for the break, I asked him what he would do with his time off. “Watch TV, especially cartoons!” was the reply. The “teacher” in me was scandalized–that will never do! Then I remembered hearing there was a national library in Lilongwe. I made a visit. Checked out the Children’s reading room. Found out how to get library cards. Then made an offer to Rabina’s three school age children to pick them up each Wednesday and take them to the library to get books. They were thrilled! They had never been to a library, much less their own National Library.
For the past few weeks I drive out to their area to pick them all up. It’s about a mile down a narrow dirt road to their house. It’s an adventure for me to dodge the bike riders, people walking to the main road going to work, children playing running between the houses and vender’s stalls, the potholes and the occasional chicken. The children are all ready when I get there, eager now to return their books and find new ones. We drive about 15 minutes to get to the library.
Pirani (13) goes straight to the junior non-fiction section. Eliza (10) usually looks among the fiction books in the English section. Daniel (7) opens different interesting covers to see if the book has more pictures than words. William ( 8 mos.) coos, giggles, smiles and determines how long his siblings can look before getting so loud we have to “check out”. There are books both in English and Chichewa, but since they are all donated books there are far more English ones. They even have some “big books”. To my surprise I found one of my kindergarten favorites ‘Hop to the Top’, part of a Scholastic Books donation most likely.
When I come back each week for our return visit, I ask them to tell me something they learned from their books or about the story they read. The beauty and wonder has been their enthusiasm for learning and their awe at the new things they are discovering in books. It is so refreshing! We have just three more Wednesdays before we leave Malawi and they go back to school–good timing all around. Hopefully, it has kept their brains more engaged, improved their reading skills and increased their appetites for learning. For me it has been a real pleasure and a joy to facilitate their learning and get to know them as they are such a sweet, loving family who truly exemplify “the warm heart of Africa”.