The Untimely Passing of a Hero: Benes Maluleke, STL Librarian

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,

Denise

Founder & Director

Sharing to Learn

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Benes and his son, Junior, at the STL Makuleke Community Library


Preschool Children at the Makuleke Community Library

Young children enjoy coming to the Makuleke Library to play with our educational games and toys!


New Toys, New Books, New Friends: Bringing together children from Long Island, NY & Makuleke Village, SA

A Kindergarten student at Sousa Elementary School, in Long Island, New York, cradles a doll from Makuleke Village, made out of recycled bags.  In January, children at Sousa learned about life and culture in the village through the toys that the children in the community make and use.  The children at Sousa also learned about Sharing to Learn’s library building initiatives for the impoverished community and wanted to share their favorite class books with children in the village.  We brought their favorite picture book selects, as well as their class-made books introducing themselves to their new friends, our little community library in March.

New Books at the Makuleke Library, thanks to Kindergarten friends at Sousa Elementary School (Long, Island, New York)


Beverly Hills goes to Makuleke Village!

We have recently had the pleasure of connecting the students of Mr. Weiss & Ms. Cryer’s Grade 5 classes of Beverly Vista Elementary School, in Beverly Hills, California, with the children of Makuleke Village.  In February, the students in California learned about the life and culture of children in Makuleke Village.  They also learned of the little community library that Sharing to Learn founded in 2009, and they wanted to contribute to the book collection.  Both classes decided to create their own ‘All About Me’ big books, sharing their own cultures with the children in the village, as well as class-made books on Cities Around The World.  We had the honor of presenting these books to the Makuleke Library earlier this month.  The children of Makuleke were so happy to meet new friends, to learn about life in California, and to once again be connected to children around the globe.

Makuleke Community Library, April, 2012


sweet ayliana

As the library at Polo Grounds Community Center in Harlem unfolds, I am realizing more and more how creating a library is not only creating a culture of reading, but it is also creating a culture of love, trust and deep support.  Each day, I enlist the help of the children of the community.  They come in small groups, or on their own, and help me sort through new books, group them into sets, label them and set them on the shelves of their emerging community library.  They own the process of creating their own reading environment, they respect it, they love it.  All the while, while labeling and sorting, the children share their lives with me and I treasure this time so greatly – the thoughts and insights of children – what could be more wise or pure?  Ayliana, my sweet friend pictured below, stayed with me for an hour and a half yesterday, diligently working, happily sharing, sitting with me, side by side.  As we worked, we shared our dreams with one another.  We talked about things that make us happy, things that inspire us, our hopes and sometimes our fears.  I learned she is a fabulous dancer, she loves her family, she is an amazing artist, she prefers love to shouting.  We became great friends in the ninety minutes we spent together and realized how many things we have in common.  Regardless of age, our dreams and interests are the same.  Not only did Ayliana help to prepare her own community library, she also helped remind me once more the importance of listening to a child, of being a friend.

The exciting work unfolding at the Polo Grounds is a collaboration with the amazing organization, LitWorld: www.litworld.org


Remsy

Yesterday, while working on the LitWorld Initiative (www.litworld.org) to set up a community library for the  Polo Grounds Community Center in Harlem, I had the great pleasure of having some great help from Remsy.  He had volunteered to come down from his after-school class and help me prepare new books.  He was the only one that wanted to come and help and I was so lucky that it was he who wanted to be there with me.  Quiet at first, and serious about doing his work, he quickly warmed up to me and my quirky comments on everything about life.  I considered myself so very lucky to not only have much needed help in preparing the books, but also to have the opportunity to get to know this child and have him share his life with me.  I asked Remsy for his opinion on our book order selection for adolescents.  Did he think other boys would like to read books about sports, mysteries or scary stories?  Did he think that it was a good idea to have books in Spanish at our library?  What kinds of books did he most like to read?  Why?  He told me he loves to write stories; he likes writing the stories about his own life.  I told him I would love to read them. Over the course of an hour, Remsy shared his thoughts and ideas with me and worked very hard to help me.  He took the time to be with me and he reminded me again and again of the importance in spending one-on-one time with a child, letting them know that their thoughts are important, that they themselves are important.


Friends & Books

The children at the Polo Grounds Community Center in Harlem, New York, begin to immerse themselves in the endless joy of a good book.  We are helping LitWorld set up a little library for this community.  Its been an empowering experience for all. This photo represents why we do what we do, why we fight for all children (and adults) to have access to books and education.  This photo represents the sheer excitement, and the deep bonding effect, which can come from the simple act of reading.

For more information on the wonderful organization, LitWorld, please visit their website: www.litworld.org


The Little Library at Red Rose School, Kibera, Kenya

The name Red Rose brings to mind a blossom, a burst of color, a fragrant symbol of beauty and life.   And the little Red Rose School is all of the above.  It represents love,  tender fragility, opportunity and most importantly, hope.  To find a bright red rose amidst the dusty, ramshackle streets of Kibera, the sprawling slums of Nairobi, is truly a reward.  The happy children at this school beam with pride, they marvel at the gift of learning.  They take nothing for granted and are incredibly thankful for the little that that have.  Wearing their bright red uniforms, the girls and boys at this small school, made out of scraps of metal and tin, are all roses and I felt honored to surround myself in their warmth during my stay in Kibera.

Our trip to Red Rose School was multi-purposed.  I was fortunate to travel to Kenya with the amazing New York -based npo, LitWorld (www.litworld.org) – an organization that works with different communities around the world to promote global literacy.  We worked with LitWorld’s empowering Girls Club, we popped into classes and taught children, we shared new books with children and teachers, we also shared ideas, laughter and smiles, too.  A special LitWorld initiative was to set up the Red Rose School’s first library.  Shelves were made by local craftsman in Kibera, children helped us sort through new books.  They helped us label them and organize each and every single one of them.  With lots of help, we were able to achieve the incredible task of setting up the little library in just two little days.  These photos are small symbols of the treasure that the library represents to this glorious community of children and educators.

“We want the library to be nice and to have many storybooks so that many people may read them and understand English.  For me, I want to read the storybooks so that I can reach for my dreams.  My dream is to become a journalist and my dream is very great and it must come true.  If we have a library with many books, we will always be happy and achieve our dreams.” – Emelda, age 12

Children perusing new books, while helping us group them into sets and label them.

The sweet pleasure of a good read.

Proudly standing in front of her new library.


Play at the Makuleke Community Library

Play plays an integral role in the way that children learn.  On Fridays, children on Makuleke come to our little library to access our educational games and toys.  Children work together, learn together and teach one another.  Play!


red rose school library – kibera, kenya

We’re so happy to collaborate with the wonderful organization, LitWorld, to promote global literacy and help give children the access to quality books and a space and place to read them.  We’ve arrived to Kenya late last night and in less than a day we have established the beginnings of a little school library.  The children of the school have helped us in all facets of establishing the library, from preparing the designated room, to sorting books and labeling them.  We’re nearly finished – thanks to lots of help from others.  We believe that all children, on all corners of the globe, deserve access to a quality education.  Don’t you?