Saturday, August 16, 2008

Drops in a Bucket

As I look back over the past three years spent in South Africa, part of me feels like a failure. I have contributed very little to solving the overwhelming problem of AIDS or meeting the needs of the millions of orphans it has left behind. Have I accomplished anything?

Three years ago I went to Africa with the plan of writing for children affected by HIV/AIDS. One book ( Beads and Braids ) has been published by a South African publisher. Two stories are being published by a Kenyan publisher, who has also accepted a third for a future anthology.

I hoped to train Africans who worked with children affected by AIDS to write stories for them. That hasn’t worked out so well. Those who work directly with the children are too busy to write. They are seldom readers, and as Sindiwe Magona says, “You can’t infect someone with a disease you don’t have.” I have taught three workshops in Kenya that were enthusiastically received. Participants were educated Africans, many of them teachers, with a passion for books and for children. At least one story (and possibly more) will eventually see publication. These stories have not been specifically about HIV, but I am pleased to have given these writers tools they will be able to use in the future to for Kenyan children.

The first month I was living in South Africa I got an idea for a young adult novel that I have been working on ever since. I had hopes of finishing it before I moved back to the States, but the last readers I gave it to had so many concrete suggestions that it is going to take me a bit longer to get it into shape to submit to a publisher. But it WILL get there. A year ago I wasn’t so confident.

As I have read to the children in Thembisa and Alex townships and attended the Cape Town International Book Fair, I have been constantly on the alert for books for children and young people that deal with the present realities of HIV and AIDS. As a librarian it occurred to me that others working with African children need to know about these books. I have created an on-line list of recommended books for after-school programs for orphans and vulnerable children like the ones I worked with. I called it Lindiwe’s List after the main character in Beads and Braids. Lindiwe’s Little List pulls out books appropriate for reading aloud in township pre-schools. I review more than forty books for children about HIV, many, but not all, of which are recommended on Lindiwe’s List.

This annotated bibliography may be the most significant thing I accomplished in the last three years. I would love to see other people who work with African children joining Goodreads and making their own recommendations or commenting on the books I have reviewed.

The problems associated with AIDS and vulnerable children in Africa will not be solved by my efforts, but I have added my drops to the bucket that others too are working hard to fill.