Our organisation was founded in 2015 with the creation of the Paleng Children’s Centre, a library and play centre. The word paleng was invented by one of our volunteers. It is a combination of the Sesotho word pale (story) and locative suffix -ng, together meaning “place of stories”. Paleng can be found in a tiny house on the premises of the Malealea Secondary School in the village of T’seanku, located in the Malealea valley in rural Lesotho.
Any child is free to attend the library and, from Grade 1, to take books home for as long as they need them. They are also free to sit in the centre and read. The children have access to a range of toys, games, activities, stationery, and craft materials for stimulating play, drawing, and book-making. The age range of the children who attend the Paleng Centre is between 4 and 15 years old. We draw many of our children from the surrounding villages of Moreneng, Sekhutlong, Thoteng, Makhomalong, and Makhoseng too. We have on average 30 to 40 children visiting twice a week, and the library is open throughout the year (barring COVID-19 lockdowns).
Watch this short clip featuring our director, Marion, talking about the Paleng library.
Today we use the Paleng Children’s Centre as a base for our book creation and book distribution in Lesotho. From our small beginnings we now have hubs in Lesotho and South Africa and we are working on expanding our literacy projects to other regions of southern Africa. This includes translating our books into South African languages, creating new stories, and distributing books to rural South African communities.
Our primary objective at Paleng is to support children’s literacy acquisition and to create a culture of reading. With the creation and distribution of our books, we mainly have the rural child in mind. These are the children who have no books at home, and whose interests, cultural context, and language is rarely seriously considered in commercially available books.
The focus of our organisation began with children in rural Lesotho because their reading competency typically trails a long way behind urban Basotho children, and often their counterparts in other African countries too. There are no books in the vast majority of rural Basotho children’s homes, and few relevant, accessible books freely available to these children at school. In terms of sustainable success in literacy acquisition, where does that leave them?
In the rural areas, once children leave Primary school a large number drop out, mostly for financial reasons since this is the point at which fees must be paid for further education. In the rest of their lives there is no compelling reason for children to read. They have not learned from school or from home that reading is fun or illuminating, that reading can enrich one’s life, that reading is useful and non-negotiable in today’s world.
Because as literacy activists we find this situation unacceptable, we have been creating and sharing our own bilingual picture storybooks for young children since 2015. Most other children’s literacy projects are designed around urban children. Our vision is to provide as many southern African rural children as possible with free, mine-to-take-home reading material that is appropriate for their context, their age, their reading level, and their language.
We believe that if you give a child a chance, access to materials, participation in focused activities, and encouragement to spread their literacy wings, they can and will do wonderful things. We hope our books burrow deep into the lives of children, and that they plant little “reading seeds” that will grow throughout the children’s lives and bloom into a love of reading.
Marion Drew and Khothatso Ranoosi founded Paleng together in Lesotho in 2015.
Marion is our director, book author, and illustrator.
She has lived and/or worked in Lesotho for over 10 years.
Khothatso is our Lesotho manager, librarian, community liaison, book author, and translator.
He was born and bred in the Malealea valley in Lesotho.
We also have a group of what we call our Paleng Angels who help with book distribution and other Paleng activities.