To our friends and supporters,
It is with great sadness that I write these words. This morning I awoke to the news that our dear friend and colleague, Benes Maluleke, librarian extraordinaire and project coordinator for Sharing to Learn in Makuleke village, passed away from a stroke at the young age of 41. He leaves behind his lovely wife Linneth, his son Junior, age 6, and his newborn baby boy – just three days old.
Benes was a shining light in my life, always smiling, sharing his joy, always eager and willing to help. He was also a light in the lives of everyone that he came across. My own life is better and richer because I have had the great fortune of having him for a friend. To be without him is to feel loss. The children of Makuleke village will also most certainly feel his loss. Benes believed in opportunity, he believed in hard work, he believed in making dreams come true for himself, and most especially for others. He and his colleague and best friend Attorney were two of the only people within the village that spent every single day working with and for the children of their community because they believe deeply in creating opportunities for them. Benes and Attorney are Sharing to Learn; they are my own heroes, without the two of them, our humble little organization would never have grown to what it is today. They have taught me what it means to believe in a dream, how to work towards it, and how personal sacrifice leads to a beautiful reward for many (in the beginning stages of Sharing to Learn, Benes worked with a small stipend of just $60 a month; he believed in the power of giving and sharing and helping others).
One of the greatest experiences that I shared with him was during the LIASA National Library Conference in 2011. Benes I were presenting to an entire room filled with government officials, librarians, and teachers. We were speaking about Sharing to Learn’s work in Makuleke and how we were bringing opportunity directly to the children by creating libraries and sharing books and technology. When Benes spoke to this large crowd, everyone listened, some people even cried afterwards as they were so touched and inspired by his commitment and accomplishments. I was so proud of him and I was happy to see how others were also so proud to be beside him. He trembled when he came down from the stage, fueled with adrenaline and hardly believing that he had the platform to share his work in our small village with the entire country. His eloquent and concise speech helped put Sharing to Learn on the map as he spoke of our accomplishments: “Before the introduction of STL, in the community Children and students afterschool they just walked on the street doing nothing. So with the establishment of the library for the first time ever it brought change in the lives of many people in the community. Children and adults have found motivation and self-confidence for the first time in their lives, they have access to books, toys, games and technology by way of laptops and iPads – for the first time in their lives – which is a part of community development. It did bring change to the community. Now children flock to the library everyday to read books and we assist them in readings, where we have seen a big change in their lives.” He ended his talk with this powerful plea: “We hope one day our South African government will look at rural areas and build more libraries for the benefit of our children and everyone in the community.” And with that, the audience cheered and my heart smiled.
To get to and from that LIASA conference in East London, Benes and I needed to take an airplane and he was so excited, it was his first time to fly. He preferred to take a bus down to meet me in Joburg, so that we could fly together, he was scared to fly alone. He giggled as he entered the plane and took his seat next to the window. Throughout the entirety of the flight, Benes sat with his face pressed against the oval window, staring out of it like a small child seeing something new and wondrous for the first time. The sun was setting, coloring the sky with magical hues of pinks and yellows. He could see the world from up above, while floating through the clouds. He sat quietly and soaked it all in, I sat beside him and lived this precious moment through him. This is how Benes sees the world now, from up above, somewhere in those rainbow colored clouds, where he looks down at us all, with his big smile and contagious laughter. Benes will always be with us, in the deepest parts of our hearts.
Our little organization is in mourning right now, along with the entire village. I mourn for myself, but mostly for everyone else that he left behind, especially his family. He was lucky enough to meet his newborn baby just two days before passing away. I am thinking forward with his family in mind and will be setting up a fund for his beloved children: Junior and Blessing, which will help the family with food and other essentials. If you can spare even a few dollars, please consider sharing with his family. You can make a donation on-line via PayPal (mention Benes in the note). It is our hope that others will be inspired by Benes and his legacy.
Thank you all for your support.
With love, sadness and hope,
Founder & Director
Sharing to Learn
Benes and his son, Junior, at the STL Makuleke Community Library