Despite raising her family against a backdrop of poverty, Gadija’s mother made sure her children always had access to books. Working as a cleaner at the Westridge Public Library, Gadija and her siblings accompanied her mother to work, and it was this regular exposure to a variety of books and stories that planted a seed of hope in Gadija and opened her up to a world of possibility.
Life wasn’t always easy for Gadija and she left school after completing Grade 10. Returning to the library – her place of safety for so many years, she found employment as a shelf packer but Gadija believed life had more in store for her and she completed her matric four years later.
“It’s not always possible to imagine the future and sometimes we have to move with our hearts, listening to a feeling or an emotion. I didn’t know where I was headed but I knew I wanted to work with children and help them fall in love with books the way I did,” says Gadija.
Gradually Gadija completed her Bachelors in Information Science and eight years later she received her degree.
“By this time, I had left the library and was looking after children of my own. Wanting the best for them, I was on the School Governing Body of their primary school when the principal approached me. He recognised that the children in his school were struggling to read and knew they needed help,” Gadija continues.
Without a clear vision of what her intervention would be, or what she would achieve, Gadija set to work turning literacy around at Sea View Primary. Armed with 30 books, one table and a disused store room, she began a regular reading group. Now, three years later and with the help of literacy organisations such as Nal’ibali, Gadija has a colourful and vibrant library filled with 4 000 books and over 1 000 children who join her for reading club sessions throughout the week and on Saturdays.
“As my reading group grew, so did my vision for it. I wanted a library filled with books, a place where children could enjoy everything it could offer: Reading clubs, storytelling sessions and a quiet reading area.”
And Gadija’s reading programme has had a tremendous effect on the children. Not only has their reading improved, but so too has their connection with books. Now the children see books as valuable commodities which they are excited to read at home, as well as in the library.
“It’s important to me to encourage a love of reading and I see how my presence and use of words is building the social fabric of the school and community. Many children come from troubled homes where they may not receive a lot of praise or support. I try to build the children up as much as possible and carefully select books which help them identify, understand and work through difficult emotions. I try to be creative and bring reading into different activities such as singing – asking the children to sing off printed sheets.”
But, when praised about her own work, Gadija comments: “It happened so slowly over such a long time that it doesn’t feel like a big achievement and still, it’s nothing compared to what I have in mind for them! Every day I am energised and excited about what I can do next to grow a love of literacy in my community.”