Book Fair Launches Learning Havens

children experiment with a Discovery Box at the book fair's new reading and learning room in Monwabisi Park

Last week, Lwando October (15), of Monwabisi  Park in Khayelitsha, needed pictures for a school project. He had to dash across a dangerously busy road, then walk for half an hour to the public library in Harare, because there is no library in the informal settlement where he lives.He arrived home safely, to his father Michael October’s relief, but was exhausted by the time he completed his work.

Michael October told his son’s story at the Cape Town Book Fair’s launch of the new reading and learning (L&R) room in Monwabisi Park.  Two other R&L rooms were launched on the same day, one in Mfuleni and the other in the forecourt of the Khayelitsha train station. The rooms are equipped with books and learning materials such as educational games.

“This reading and learning room is going to be a great benefit to Lwando and to my other three children in their education,” October said. “We’ve also got a terrible problem with crime and with child abuse in our community. These reading and learning rooms are going to give children a safe place in the afternoons.

“And there are children around here who don’t go to school, because their parents are unemployed. This will be a place for them to learn.”

The R&L rooms are a project of the Cape Town Book Fair and its partner organisations, in a bid to help tackle the country’s appalling literacy rates.  To give some indication of the need, a study by the UCT Children’s Institute last year found that two-thirds of junior school learners nationally were functionally illiterate and innumerate.

The Cape Town Book Fair ran from Saturday 31 July to Monday 2 August at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Its R&L rooms are one element of a literacy project that aims to “take the fair to people areas of Cape Town whose residents can’t attend,” said CTBF Director Claudia Kaiser.

The CTBF launched the R&L rooms together with the Literacy Campaign of the Frankfurt Book Fair, a part owner of the CTBF. The project had been workshopped and developed in partnership with community organisations Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading, and Women for Peace.

There will be special workshops and activities for children at the reading and learning rooms, which also have “Discovery Boxes”, donated by Siemens. These contain all the equipment needed to conduct scientific experiments.

Renowned authors and performers will give readings and performances at the R&L rooms. These include Poet Laureate of Birmingham Dreadlock Alien; local poet, performer and writer Diane Ferris; children’s author Jill Morsland, and Santos coach Boebie Solomons.

The CTBF and its partners will continue to upgrade and resource the R&L rooms with more books and education materials throughout the year, and even plan to employ teachers to work in the R&L rooms, said Karin Plötz of the Frankfurt  Book Campaign’s Literacy Campaign.

Women for Peace director Margaret Gwegwe said that about 250 children come to the organisation’s Nobuntu Centre every afternoon, for sport and educational activities. “A teacher from the local high school told me that every year, when she meets the new Grade 8 learners, she is deeply shocked that her Grade 8 students can hardly read and write,” she said. “This teacher is so keen on our new reading and learning room that she has volunteered to work there.

“I’m really very excited about the education opportunities this project brings.”

(AT the launch of the Mfuleni R&L room, Karin Plötz of the Frankfurt  Book Campaign’s Literacy Campaign, announced the launch of the writing competition “Football moments – short stories from the townships” . The deadline for submissions is 31 January 2011, and the winner will be announced at the CTBF next year. Entries can be submitted at the R&L rooms.

Awards will be given to the best short stories from six different groups: children aged 6-10, children aged 10-14 and young people aged 14-18, and adult men and women. In tandem with the writing contest, there will be “How to write a short story” workshops in the “Reading and Learning Rooms”. )

* To find out more, log on to www.capetownbookfair.com

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