On living, loving and learning

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On Curious Cat, it comes up often for people to ask me either about loving myself or about my productivity. I understand that I am asked a lot about my productivity because I share a lot on social media about my work and its progress. It’s interesting that the perception is that I am so methodical and diligent. You know, every now and then, I actually wanna tweet: “Oh my god, where can I buy some focus because it’s lit!” but I don’t because my social network includes people with whom I have some kind of deadline at any given time. So, there are some things that I don’t share with as much ease as the next person, that’s all.

Another thing is that I do share about my disappointments, although minimally. I allude to being up all night and crying over drafts and things not going my way but I’m never going to sit there and be self-deprecating on social media. I don’t like to give light and energy and oxygen to those parts because I would rather use as much as I can on the good. When my work isn’t going as well as I would like: I leave it alone. I rest, I go to my favourite restaurants, I pick up a book to read or my colouring book, I build a puzzle or I watch television. I stop and process that I need to get battle-ready for this next thing and maybe I’m not in the mood today or the next two days but eventually, I will get back to it and give it my all. So, that is the ebb and flow of my self-love. I am always giving myself room to feel and do what feels necessary in that moment. If today isn’t the day to get it right then perhaps tomorrow will be.

I also think it’s interesting that self-love and productivity are the things I get asked about often because for me, they are the same thing. It’s important for me to always put my humanity to its best use and my work in Anthropology and with children is exactly that. My work is a testament to loving myself. Doing my work, all the work, is how I love myself. Me being productive, me being creative – it’s all the source giving back to the source. I suppose I am fortunate that my work happens to be exactly what I came to do on this planet. Some people have also asked me: “when or how did you learn to love yourself?” and my answer is usually the same about how all I have in this world is myself and so it follows that I should treat myself with an abundance of goodness. But the question kept tugging at me. I kept thinking: “Is my answer incomplete? Is there something that even I’m missing?” Eventually, I got up and went to my bookshelf, thinking.

I stood there thinking and then it came to me. When I was in Grade 8, an incredible human being and also my English teacher, Byron Sherman would play us these VHS tapes of lectures by Dr Leo Buscaglia. He was in the field of education for special needs children and eventually began lecturing and teaching more widely about how to give love and be love in the classroom as a teacher and obviously as a human being. I used to watch those tapes and cry because I was always so moved by this man with his immense love for people and his determination to give the best of himself to the world. That really resonated with me because I think I wanted that for myself as well. The next year, Mr Sherman gave me Living, Loving & Learning (1982), a book of his lectures. I read that book and then the next year, Mr Sherman gave me Personhood (1978) by him as well but that’s always been the more difficult one so I actually need to return to it soon. Due to the off chance of being on Curious Cat and receiving all sorts of wild and wonderful questions, I’m now reading the first one again. So, thank you. Here is a passage that resonated with me today because I realise that I have carried this teaching with me since I was 14 years old – this is how I see myself and the world.

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Back then, this planted the seed because I was always in search, in pursuit of how to love myself better. I knew that it was important but I was not able to discern what exactly the best and healthiest way of doing that was for me. I was a teenager so that makes sense. I suppose that’s one of the things that pushed me to write because with writing, you’re externalising. So, what you’re looking for but can’t quite find may end up on the page right in front of you. Through this entire creative journey of constantly putting myself on paper and reading myself back to myself as well as listening and reading all of the creative people that I love, I’ve been able to be in constant critical conversation with myself about who I am and who I want to be. I’ve grown to realise that I am all at once that person, developing and growing along my spectrum of possibility. Over the years, I have developed a kind of repertoire for loving myself and it is simply doing the work: eating well, writing the thing, responding to the email, jogging and most importantly, putting myself out of the reach of certain people – even people that I actually want very much to be within reach of. Discipline, right? It’s always been front of mind for most of my life but in terms of feeling like I am actually getting it right, it feels quite recent.

This is as recent as my book coming out. I’ve realised that its important for me to be critically reflective about what I put into the world so that I feel good about it being representative of who I am. This extends to all aspects of my life and especially to how I treat myself. The only thing I have control over is myself, how I react, how I move and what I create. So, I am vehemently committed to trying my damnedest every day. That is a loving act. I will wake up every morning and I will try. In that day, I will get distracted and lose sight of the mission and that’s fine because the next day, I will wake up again and I will try. That is the rhythm in my head.

I believe wholeheartedly that I am always starting again and so I don’t believe in failure. There are goals that I want to accomplish but not having attained those things is not failure – that is me resting, or getting distracted but the very next day, I wake up and I try again. This is why I am finding so much joy in life and why I am always willing to celebrate everything I do – because I know how much of me it takes to do it and I am proud of it all the same. I am affirming of myself and so, so generous because I know the exact kind of softness that I need. I never count myself out, even when life is painful. I feel and rest through the difficult parts until I am ready. This breath, these lungs, this brain – as long as I am here, so is my ability to try and be glad in it, no matter how long it takes. I am not any kind of self-love expert but I am an expert on loving myself, in this body, in this life. That’s all I have. I am determined to be damn good at it and even when I become distracted, I will wake up the next day and start again. So, I am sharing with you, these books by a brilliant teacher from the brilliant teacher who shared them with me. Through writing this, I realise how blessed I was to be placed in that English class all those years ago. Thank you. I hope these books help.

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Thank you, Mr Sherman for being generous with your time and heart in helping me to truly become visible to myself.

I love my work.

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Sandton, South Africa – February 1, 2019: Nal’ibali, a South African reading initiative attempts to break their previously set World Record, by reaching 1.5 Million children on World Read Aloud Day. Children from across South Africa took part in various events in schools and libraries. The main event, saw hundreds of children reading with author and activist, Lebohang Masango, who gave a multilingual reading at the Sandton Library in Johannesburg, South Africa. Picture: DANIEL BORN for NAL’IBALI

This past Friday, 1 February 2019, I had the honour of performing the best part of my duty as Nali’Bali’s World Read Aloud Day ambassador. I read to 200 children at the Sandton Library – I think that’s my biggest group yet! It was also my first time reading in isiZulu in public and I let the audience know. I shared with them that even though this is my first time, I am going to try my very best and that is how we all get better at reading and learning – it is always important to try. And so I tried and I did well and we were all in the moment together, reading and playing and clapping and laughing. Honestly, I am grateful for each and every opportunity to do this work. I love that even when I am nervous, it all melts away as I get into the telling of the story and together with the children, we all reflect and imagine and dream and learn something new. Here is an eNCA interview I had about the importance of reading aloud:

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Photographed by Daniel Born

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Thank you to the Nali’Bali team, what an honour and pleasure to work with you all!

#WorldReadAloudDay: I’m this year’s ambassador!

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1 Feb 2019 – World Read Aloud Day

The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book and the person reading.

There is huge potential in South Africa to turn our literacy crisis around so that reading becomes a powerful tool, to tackle inequality and poverty.  As Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.’  While education may be the most powerful weapon, reading aloud and storytelling are integral building blocks in learning.

This is why NGO, Nal’ibali, focusses on reading-for enjoyment. Nal’ibali is built on the simple logic that a well-established culture of reading can be the tipping point for education in South Africa.  Part of this ongoing drive to encourage South Africans to read is Nal’ibali’s World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) initiative.

Call to action

As the biggest literacy drive in the country, WRAD seeks to draw attention to the importance of reading aloud to children in their mother tongue. Every year, thousands of South Africans join in the celebration. They are doing it for their children, their language and their futures. This year Nal’ibali is asking those who are already readers to not only read the story commissioned for WRAD 2019 with their children on the day, but to reach out to their networks and encourage others do the same and be part of the South Africa’s literacy solution.

World Read Aloud Day is being celebrated on Friday, 1 February 2019.

A new story is born

Jade Jacobsohn, Nali’bali’s Managing Director, says, ‘Every year we commission a brand-new story and translate it into all 11 official SA languages. Then we encourage adults and caregivers across the country, to join us in reading it aloud to children on WRAD. This year’s story, ‘Where Are You?’  is written by Ann Walton, a well known South African author and illustrator of children’s books.

‘The story can be downloaded from our website from Monday, 21 January. We’d like to encourage South Africans to register that they will be reading aloud and to share pictures of their reading sessions online.’

Why read aloud?

Most of the teaching that happens in a child’s early years is oral.  Being able to recognise and understand a wide pool of words, better equips them to learn and succeed in the classroom.

The reading of a story out loud not only shows children the value of books but starts discussions, builds bonds between the reader and the audience and motivates children to learn to read and enjoy books beyond their current reading ability,’ says Jacobson.

Remember to tell us you’re reading

‘Last year, with the help of our network partners and the public, we managed to read to over a million children,’ says Jacobsohn. ‘In 2019, our aim is to beat that record and reach 1.5 million!’ In order to monitor the success of WRAD, Nal’ibali asks that all participants log their reading activities on its website: https://nalibali.org/WRAD-2019 

So what’s happening on WRAD?

Apart from promoting the ‘Where Are You?’ story on digital and social media platforms, Nal’ibali’s network of partners, schools project – Story Powered Schools, Literacy Mentors and FUNda Leader volunteers will be reading the story aloud at reading clubs and community centres across the country.  With the support of the Department of Basic of Education, thousands of school children and educators will be joining the celebration too.

A special event will be held on the morning of the 1st February 2019, at the inspirational Sandton Library, with 200 children from Soweto and Alexandra. The event will be attended by this year’s campaign ambassador, children’s author and social activist, Lebohang Masango and is supported by the Department of Education and its Read to Lead campaign.

Masango will give a special multilingual reading of ‘Where Are You?’ and engage the attending children and adults about the importance of reading aloud. She says, ‘Reading to your children is important because the benefits will follow them for their entire life. Not only is it great for bonding but you are also expanding their vocabulary, their knowledge, their imaginations, their ability to focus and confidently articulate their ideas out loud. Reading is truly the gift that keeps on giving!’

Copies of her own book, ‘Mpumi’s Magic Beads’, will be given to each child to further encourage them to keep reading.

Community walk

During the week of 21 January, a Nal’ibali mascot and volunteers with take to the streets within various communities to promote WRAD while handing out story cards.

If you would like to join the Nal’ibali’s World Read Aloud Day:

  1. Visit www.nalibali.org or www.nalibali.mobi to download the official story in any of the languages.
  2. Pledge the number of children you will be reading to.
  3. Share pictures of read-aloud sessions on the Nal’ibali’s Facebook and Twitter platforms: @NalibaliSA, or use the hashtag #WRADChallenge2019 on the day.

 

For more information about the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, free children’s stories in a range of SA languages, tips on reading and writing with children, details on how to set up a reading club or to request training, visit www.nalibali.org, www.nalibali.mobi, or find them on Facebook and Twitter: nalibaliSA.

New Book Alert: The Great Cake Contest

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The Great Cake Contest is a sweet little story about a little boy who loves cake and tries to bake the best cake for the contest, but he and all his friends have the same ideas! You can read more about it and download it for free: here.

Last year on 27 October 2018, I had the honour of being invited by Book Dash to contribute to the amazing work that they do for children’s literacy by volunteering my time to create a brand new storybook. It’s one of the coolest things I have ever done!

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Book Dash organised us into 9 teams, each with a writer (me), illustrator (Nompumelelo Mduli), designer (Amanda van der Walt) and an editor (Anna Stroud). We spent a good 12 hours creating this lovely piece of work. It was so much fun. I really admire the efficiency of the organisers – they knew exactly how long each page and illustration should take in order for us to all be on time.

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Photographed by Aisha O’Reilly

I got to meet new people who are all passionate about children’s literacy, like Aisha and we had a conversation about the importance of books and representation for little readers.

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I’m grateful that I continue to be able to live a life in which I use my mind, body and spirit in collaboration with others and contribute good things to the world. I hope you enjoy our story! And just like that, I am the author of two children’s books! My first one is this piece of my heart: Mpumi’s Magic Beads.

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Thank you, Book Dash for inviting me to be part of your brilliant work!