How far would you walk for something you believed in? No, I mean literally, how far would you go?

Would you fly across the world? Would you walk to the ends of the earth? Would you go as far as the distance took you? What if the elements were against you, would you still brave it out and go for it?

Well, what if you were a woman of 43 years and you had to walk for 3 hours to get to your destination? “If the end is worth it,” I hear you say.

Well, what if you didn’t know what the journey guaranteed and you were riding only on the word of your most trusted ally?

Six women in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape braved it out and walked long distances for their belief. All they had to hang on to was the word of the village Chief and a hope that whatever he was calling them for, it was bound to be fruitful. Against their husbands’ hard words of disapproval, their neighbours’ ridicule and the 28oC blazing country sun; these women went in search of a better tomorrow.

Angela Biden (DG Murray Trust) and the Chief of Jinqi, Dumalisile

I went to Jingqi not knowing what to expect. And what I found rendered me speechless and left me feeling odd. I went to give a two-day reading and writing workshop to an unknown audience. I went in armed with information, ready to teach but came out a student. I learnt more from the people of Jingqi Village than they learned from me.

The chief had heard that the people from DG Murray Trust were coming and they wanted to talk education. The chief, being a learned man, knew that education for his people meant empowerment and that meant a better way of living for the community. So he called his right hand and told him to mobilise the community so they could hear the wonderful plans brought to them by the people from Cape Town.

DG Murray Trust, being a big hound that they are, had called on their little people, FunDza Literacy Trust, to host this most honourable event. I, being the freshest of the fishes in the FunDza pond, I felt most unworthy but proved most suited for the task.

We were staying an hour’s drive away from the village and had to travel on the harsh, dirt roads of the Eastern Cape to get to the village. There is only one high school and it only has three Grades, 10, 11 and 12. There are 7 primary schools and they are at an extreme distances from one another in the surrounding villages. The schools have no suitable facilities, no computers, so internet access is a privilege only a few experience via their cell phones. And the library at the school is in a bad shape.

On the first day I spoke to the kids and they were hungry for information. They said they do not read because the books are of the dinosaur age and they find nothing relevant in them. There is no access to the library as there is only one teacher responsible for it and she keeps the library locked because she is mostly in class.

Dumalisile Comprehensive

So you can just imagine their ecstasy when I came with a box full of books. Not just any books, young, funky, relevant, teenage novels. Not only are these books written in simple English, but they address issues that most teenagers find themselves challenged by. The teenage characters are so easy to relate to.

Excited Readers

One learner even said, “I know exactly what Themba felt like because it was the same thing with me when I arrived at Dumalisile at the beginning of the year.” He was referring to a character in our latest novel, “From Boys To Men” and he could see how the character made the choices he did because of the situation he was in.

One of the volunteers, a 38-year old mother of three, said once she had started reading, she couldn’t stop. Then before she knew it she was writing and fountains of words were flooding out from her little bosom to the paper that lay empty and clean before her only two hours before she had started reading.

Another volunteer, a woman of 48 said she could identify with Mphumeleli, a character in our first volume of Big Ups!, an anthology of short stories from our mobi site. She said she could see herself as a young girl, growing poor and having to rely on the village’s help to eat from day to day.

Zimkhitha (FunDza Literacy Trust) and the volunteer group

I have never seen such excitement, such passion and such love for reading than what I saw on the faces of the people of that small village. If the love of reading could transform a community then who am I to deny it the help?

Since my trip I had tried to express my experience with the Jingqi community but I couldn’t get past the first line. I am a writer by profession, or at least I aspire to be, but I can’t seem to find a single word to express my gratitude; especially those that give us funding and make it possible for us to produce these books.

It’s been a few days now and I still don’t have the words. I mean, how do you tell people that they are making a huge difference in the lives of people who would otherwise have no hope, without fogging up your eyes? How do you stand in front of people and tell them to keep on pushing without being chocked by a huge lump in your throat?

To the wise Chief Dumalisile, his family, and the entire village of Jingqi, you make me want to be a better person. To the 15 volunteers who will run reading clubs in the different villages, I will reach greater heights because of you. To the whole FunDza team…tears, tears. To all our Funders, don’t ever stop supporting a good cause no matter how small.

I left the village a new person, with a new found passion for growing communities of readers. I just need to stop crying first.

by Zimkhitha Mlanzeli