Laundry, Libraries and Literacy. Which is the odd one out?
The answer may depend on where in the world you are reading this.
Khayelitsha is an informal township 30km from Cape Town on the Western Cape Flat. In the 1950s, South Africa’s race-based legislation such as the Group Areas Act and pass laws forced non-white people out of Cape Town’s urban areas and designated them for white people only. Known as “apartheid‘s dumping ground”, Khayelitsha and the surrounding informal settlements on the Cape Flats were made home to non-white people, and continue to be a legacy of the Apartheid government.
Today, 21 years after democracy, Khayelitsha is Cape Town’s biggest township and home to between 300,000 and three million people depending on whom you ask. It’s not part of the usual Cape Town tourist circuit of beautiful beaches, wineries, eateries, and landmarks.
It could be said, it’s deliberately out of sight to be out of mind.
CC 0 By Paula Eskett (Own work)
A day in the life of
If you’re a woman in Khayelitsha, it’s likely you will spend close to nine hours a week hand washing your family’s clothes. Your shack may not have water, which means (statistically) you’ll be walking 200 metres to collect the water for your washing, or you may be lucky enough to share an outside cold water tap with a neighbour. For the women and mothers of the Cape Flats, the onerous task of laundry takes its toll on the amount of quality time able to be spent connecting and teaching their children.
Libromat is born
Image source: Paula Eskett (Own work) [CC BY]
In 2015, the Hult Prize offered $1 million award for young social entrepreneurs tackling some of the world’s biggest problems. The 2015 challenge: to provide self-sustainable education to impoverished urban areas. Five social entrepreneurs from Oxford University with extensive backgrounds in childhood education and inspired by a Cape Town research project focusing onThe impact of dialogic book-sharing training on infant language and attention (interactive book sharing), pooled their talents to apply for the fund.
Their idea for a Libromat was born.
Libromat supporting literacy
Iminathi Educare was the pilot site for the first Libromat in 2015.An inspiring preschool run by the Thokozani Brothers, a grassroots youth development organisation that use the performing arts as an entry point to engage youth in education and positive youth development based in Khayelitsha.
Mhlangabezi Masizana and his wife Lindelwa started the Thokozani Centre in response to the specific problems confronting their community.
“Better to build a child than repair an adult”
Mhlangebezi Masizana — Director, Thokozani Brothers.
Children at the early childhood centre Eminathi Educare [Photo source: Paula Eskett (Own work) [CC BY]
As the morning dawns, parents drop their children off at the early childhood education centre (Iminathi Educare). As the day progresses, families visit the centre to use the laundry services and children’s library, and receive mentorship from the dedicated librarians on site through Libromat. In the afternoon, the centre is used as a homework club run by volunteers from the community; and as evening begins to set the youth choir rehearses. Finally, at night and on weekends, the centre is used for community meetings. 1
The Libromat is a combination of training hub, library and Laundromat, encouraging and teaching parents how to share and enjoy picture books with their children, while using low-cost washing machines to complete the family washing. For many participants, this is a daunting, and often intimidating, prospect as they, themselves, may be unable to read.
For four weeks, Libromat offers courses on book sharing between parents and children. Lessons start with videos clips that teach parents techniques like pointing at and naming key objects, connecting pictures in the books to familiar things, and taking opportunities to talk about feelings and emotions with their child. Then parents practice these techniques and receive immediate feedback from two women in the community trained at a nearby university. 2
Within a few weeks, the programme has shown marked improvements in
- Children’s language
- Children’s concentration
- Children’s social understanding
- Parent’s responsiveness
- Parent’s sensitivity 3
“I am a working mother, so more often than not I am tired. But now, I make time to share something in a book with my daughter every night. There was not much communication before. I see her drawing closer to me.”
Ntomboxolo – Mother, 34
15 Rand roughly equals NZ $1.40 [Image source: Paula Eskett (Own work) [CC BY]
Although they were not the overall winner, a $200,000 donation enabled them to bring their inspired idea to life to contribute to improving the literacy outcomes of young people in the Cape Flats.
Uthando is the Zulu word for Love
CC0 Public Domain Ben Kerckx https://pixabay.com/en/users/Ben_Kerckx-69781/
I had the incredible opportunity to discover the Libromat and Imanthi Educare because I took part in a Philanthropic Cultural Tour with Uthando. James Fernie and Xolani Maseko run Uthando South Africa, together they work with committed locals. Through their not-for-profit work, which includes an enormous number of grassroot projects, they are truly changing lives. It is difficult to write about this inspiring organisation without emotions beginning to flow.
My half day tour to Khayelitsha was a truly life changing experience.
While writing this blog post, New Zealand’s housing crisis, Auckland in particular, has been very much in our news. In June, John Campbell’s CheckPoint’s programme featured an interview with eleven-year-old-T.A. Her story, and that of her family reached into hearts and minds of New Zealanders across the country. The family of eight had been living in their van since February. When asked what she wanted most in the world, T.A replied “A library” She said the hardest thing in her life was “not being able to read”. With eight people living in their van “ they’re all up in my face. There’s no light either, I can’t waste the (van) battery, so I can’t read”.
It’s hard to comprehend that in 2016, children in New Zealand and Khayelitisha have more in common than we would like.
Literacy’s SuperHero Cape
CC0 Public Domain Prawny https://pixabay.com/en/users/Prawny-162579/
There is abundant research citing evidence that proves beyond any doubt that literacy and being literate changes lives.
LIANZA’s recent GoodE literacy event hosted Miranda McKearney in New Zealand. British social justice entrepreneur, reading advocate, founder of The Reading Agency who recently set up The Empathy Lab, Miranda’s message (underpinned by research) is — literacy and being literate changes lives.
- “Cognitive development is massively sped up with reading for pleasure”
- “Kids who read for pleasure and do lots of it, the research shows that’s more important for life progress than parents level of education or their socio-economic background.”
- “If you have a difficult or disadvantaged start but you love reading, you have a huge chance to bust of that difficult start”
- “Reading for pleasure has a proven poverty busting dimension”
Miranda’s powerful Radio New Zealand interview also talks about reading and empathy.
OECD research shows reading for pleasure is the single most important indicator of a child’s future success. Proficiency in reading is crucial for individuals to make sense of the world they live in and to continue learning throughout their lives.
– Pisa in Focus 4
Literacy’s importance is not restricted to childhood; it plays a vital role in our adult world too:
- communicating online
- collaborating online
- transactions with government
- e-commerce, and more.
If you can’t read in the 21st century, you’re seriously disadvantaged.
Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st C will need to read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. They will need literacy to cope with the flood of information they will find everywhere they turn. They will need literacy to feed their imaginations, so they can create the world of the future. In a complex, and sometimes dangerous world, the ability to read can be crucial.
International Reading Association, (Moore et al, 1999, p3 as cited by Clark & Rumbold, 2006).
We have the evidence that proves reading and being literate changes lives. But, for many, poverty, access to libraries, books, and resources continues to be an unfair barrier. Decision makers, holders of the public pursue, designers, and those privileged and trusted with making the decisions that will determine the existence — or not, to Library services of the future, you have a great responsibility.
The shoes you may walk in, and lives you lead may not be those of the children and communities you are making decisions for and about. At the end of the day, you hold the ultimate power to make the decisions that will continue to impact on those children, families, and communities.
A rebuilt school designed without a school library, or a public library closed down, removes from that school and community all the potential a cultural, social, and academic hub offers. These decisions, often presented as the result of a tight fiscal policy, say as much about decision-makers’ lack of insight, understanding, awareness, and potential that 21st century libraries offer the people they are employed to service.
Those leaders owe communities the promise that they will acknowledge, try to understand, and walk in their shoes as you make decisions about services and spaces that you yourself may never use, but for people like T.A in Auckland and Ntomboxolo in Khayelitsha, they change lives.
“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate “need” for “stuff.” A mall—the shops—are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. But a library is where the wealthy’s taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary, instead. A satisfying reversal. A balancing of the power. 5 “
– Caitlin Moran
- Rinse, Spin, Read To Kids: It’s A Mashup Of Laundromat and Library – NPR
- Libromat frees women from laundry to read with their families – Inhabitat
- Libromat: A New Approach to Early Childhood Development – Ayiba Magazine
- LIANZA Libraries in Aotearoa 2016
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