The July winter holidays in Malealea, Lesotho are long and cold and very, very boring for our Paleng children. Paleng library does not have the use of an indoor space in which we can work and play with children, and since it is far too cold on many afternoons to play outside as we usually do, many children stop coming to the library during this time, which is the last thing we want for them.
So this year we decided to hold a story week in the community hall in the next village along from Paleng, kindly loaned to us for the week by the Malealea Development Trust.
We recruit five young people whom we know well, either “veterans” of Paleng library, or from our village, and we work on how to tell a good story, how to deal with arguments, tears, and how to make everyone feel welcome and happy for five whole days!
Monday to Thursday
The children come… and come… and come! Between 150 and 220 children every day. Children of all ages, shapes, and sizes, from all over the valley, and all dressed, as far as they are able, in their “Sunday Best”. The opportunity to wear one’s “town clothes” is eagerly seized.
We read stories to children in groups. A different story every day.
The children love being read to. They come running to their group, and sit in tight little circles as close to the book and the reader as they can get.
We listen, we ask questions, we talk about what happened, we marvel, we are surprised, delightfully scared, delighted! We chew the story over and over. We have so many ideas!
We act the stories out and give some fine performances.
We draw what we think about our story, what we like about it, what we heard.
Lots and LOTS of drawing gets done, it is clear that drawing is by far the most popular activity, after anything to do with a ball, that is.
Keke’s Swing is drawn by the smallest of children.
Some of us complete a partly drawn scenario…
And some of us simply draw what our hearts desire.
We make posters based on what we read, which are put up as reminders on the community hall door.
We make puppets about our story.
We make our own little books for the smaller children, based on Ball.
We play games until we drop!
Footballs, tennis balls, netballs, bats, and racquets are in constant and high demand. We can never have enough.
We dance in the biggest and best competition ever! The dance competition is the highlight, and is taken very seriously. Run by our assistants it has, shall we say, its own unique organisational flavour, and the dancing itself is beautiful.
We eat, of course we eat! Monday to Thursday is liphaphatha, boiled eggs, tomatoes, oranges, and juice. It is relatively nutritious, easy to prepare and serve, and easy to eat with one’s fingers, which means no washing up. The egg shells will go into gardens to keep away snails, and sheep love orange peels.
Friday is different. We have a special meal. We all bring our own skaftini and spoons, and we stand patiently in a queue of 300 others. We eat sampo and boroso with gravy and spices until we almost burst!
And last, but certainly not least, we get a bag to take home with mazimba, stoksweets, pencils, rulers, pens, and… books!
And then, as the sun goes down behind the mountains, it is sadly time to go home.
We hope that this July holiday has been one worth remembering for our children.
We hope it has shown them just how amazing and wonderful books are.
We hope they will go home and talk about what they heard and saw and did, and most of all that they will take their little books and read wherever and whenever they like, to their hearts’ content.
As a story week team we need a long, long rest, but in our last feedback session we all agree that we will happily do it all over again, anytime!
All through the following week, children keep stopping Khothatso and asking him if they can please go to the hall again.
We meet parents whose children attended our story week. Across the board there is appreciation of what we did, delight in the books that went home, and parents who thank us for not only keeping their children busy and happy, but doing “something useful” with them. It is clear that parents understand what and why we are working with their children in this way.
One little boy walks with his friend from Khorong village, 30 minutes away. He finds us clearing up at the hall, and runs over. He tells us that he came to Storybook Party Week for 3 days, but that his father told him to take the family goats to the fields on Thursday and Friday, so he missed getting his books and treats. He says he spent the weekend worrying about how he was going to get his books, so he decided to come and find us to tell us that he really wants them.
We give him his books, and he and Ntate Khothatso get chatting, which is always the case when Khothatso and children meet. He tells us that he is in Grade 6, but he cannot read a single word of one of the English Book Dash books we give him, so Khothatso takes it upon himself to do an impromptu reading session.
He goes through our new Sun, Moon, Rain and Wind book, and shows him how the English is a direct translation of the Sesotho, which he can read. This little boy asks Khothatso if he could please come to school and be his teacher. He loves his books, clutches them close to his chest.
His companions tell us that they are reading their books at home. One of them tells him, “do you know that now we know how to make our own books too!”
This kind of interaction and response to our books is exactly what Paleng is all about.
Thanks to our wonderful team of assistants, transporters, cooks, and children.
Thanks to the MDT for the use of the hall for the week, and the donation of some bags of oranges, mazimba and sweets.
Thanks also to Book Dash for the donated books we gave out alongside our own, and to Ntate Octovious Pheku from the Maseru-based Family Art & Literacy Centre, for his books that the children loved.
And thanks to our funder, Solon, for the funding for this very special Storybook Party Week.