“School finished early today, so some of the kids went home. Sorry zvenyu.” Mrs Dzi said her head bent to one side apologetically. We graciously accepted her apologies though deep down we groaned. Our motto is “no child left behind” and hence every child who missed the reading club was an assault on us and we did not like that.
There were still some children waiting for the reading club. As we marked the register to begin the club, we realized that there was a new grade three girl in attendance. Her name was Chenai and it was her first time in the reading club.Generally, to ensure effectiveness of our work, we preferred to work with one regular group of children for the whole term with new people accepted on the first day. “But iwewe you are not part of the reading club.” One of the older pupils shouted with that look only kids can give, which basically means “you are not welcome here.” She looked down and said nothing. “ehe uyu haasi wemureading club,” another kid shouted.
Chenai raised her head and looked at me with glassy eyes. There was no way I was going to let anything or anyone get that little girl out of the reading club.” You can stay in the reading club if you want to.” I said with a smile. I could see the relief wash over her and her tensed body relaxing. She quickly picked a book titled `Dumbo` and began reading as though nothing had happened.
Children can be bullies and if you have been working with children long enough you will know this. Sometimes they do not realise when they are hurting another person`s feelings, like Chenai. To make matters worse, Chenai was also the youngest girl in the class and had few friends in the club. I tried to imagine if they were openly showing hostility in my presence, what more in my absence? I tried to imagine what Chenai had endured and why she would even bother to endure it by joining the club halfway through the term. Was it really worth it for her?
As the weeks passed, Chenai never missed a reading club and she was always excited to see me. Chenai is hyperactive and actively participates in all activities. She always raises her hand during book discussions where everyone has to share what they read and also identify the lessons and morals they had picked from the story. I was really curious to know her story. It’s always fascinating when a child shows this much enthusiasm and resilience.
After the reading club was done, I asked her to stay behind for a little chat. I asked her why she loved the reading club. She said that she loved reading and had asked her mother to buy her books to read but had been told that her mother had no money. A friend of hers from church who goes to another school had told her about the reading club she could join at school. The friend had also told her about the Spelling Bee and she wanted to win a gold medal for spelling. She decided to find the club at her school and join. The reading club was, for her, the only place she could get access to lots of books that were fun to read.
Chenai ‘s story is a microcosm of the macrocosm. To many children at council schools, the reading club is their only source of story books. The school has no library and the few books that they occasionally have access to in class are textbooks. ZimLibrary is the only library in the town and for Chenai that meant boarding two kombis to get there and another two to get back home. That cost $2, and for a child from the high density suburb of Ruwa, $2 could buy a few pieces of meat, a bundle of vegetables and a scoop of mealie-meal. Weighed against these basic needs, there was no way her mother would give her the money to read books. As such, even Chenai, is not able to access the library, for the free after school reading. The mobile reading clubs that ZimLibrary offers are important to her. It is as she said, `the best part of my day` that she looks forward to each week.