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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Volunteers host weekly book club for children at Gandhi’s former home

Charles Khora leads children at a Saturday morning book club. PHOTO: DEVIN YINGLING ’22/THE HAWK

Bhambayi, South Africa ––  One Saturday morning in mid-June, Charles Khora gathered a group of children in a circle and had them join hands, just as he does every week. They ran back and forth in alternating directions until someone fell, joining the middle of the circle with a cacophony of laughter. 

“We don’t know what happened at home before coming here,” Khora said. “So what I do every morning is I help them just break the ice, warm up, be excited and help them to ease their mind before we get to the rest of the day.”

Every Saturday morning for four hours, Khora volunteers as a book club facilitator for youth from Bhambayi, an informal settlement in the Inanda district, about 25km (15.5 miles) north of the city of Durban.

Bhambayi envelopes Phoenix Settlement, the home of Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba Gandhi, who lived there during the 21 years they spent in South Africa. 

Now, the 100-acre Phoenix Settlement is a commemorative site, museum and learning center, which hosts a variety of activities and programs that support the local and greater Phoenix community. One of these is a book club that meets weekly on the grounds of Phoenix Settlement. 

Bhambayi, an informal settlement, surrounds Phoenix Settlement, where Mahatma Gandhi lived while in South Africa. PHOTO: THE HAWK

Thulile Ndlela, a founding member of the book club, is employed by Phoenix Settlement Trust, but all of her involvement in the book club is voluntary. Ndlela said she sees the creation of the book club as something beneficial to both the children and the community.

“So many things are happening around the community,” Ndlela said. “We just decided, if we can, to call all of them and put them together and make them do something that’s worth it for their life. Here in Bhambayi there’s nothing helping children. So we decided to open a book club to make them do something that is important.”

Bhambayi is an informal shack settlement in KwaZulu-Natal province with a heavy history of governmental neglect. It was also impacted by floods that devastated Durban and surrounding areas in April, killing more than 400 people and leaving tens of thousands of people without homes. Some displaced women and children from Bhambayi sheltered at Phoenix Settlement in the aftermath of those floods. To Ndlela, the book club is a way to uplift youth who come from this community.

“It’s helping them to learn and focus on the good things, because here, in Bhambayi, there are many bad things around the children,” Ndlela said. “So getting them together and getting them here, it’s keeping them safe.”

On a usual Saturday morning, the volunteers will gather the children into a circle of chairs and begin to read. One book at a time, an older child or a volunteer will read aloud to the group. 

“We get all of them together and read stories for them,” Ndlela said. “We make them read all of these books and really tell them and make them understand what the books are about.”

Volunteers also help the children with English and any other homework they may have. 

Mzwakhe Mbatha, who is employed by the Phoenix Settlement Trust but also volunteers on Saturdays, said he enjoys helping the children with their homework.

“I will say that they enjoy the most when we are assisting them in their homework,” Mbatha said. “You can see when you’re assisting, it’s hard for them.”

One of the children who attends the book club is 13-year-old Mnguni Amukelani. A lot of the books the group reads on Saturdays are about Gandhi and his activism. Many of the children in the book club are familiar with Gandhi and understand what he believed in.

“He liked nonviolence,” Amukelani said. “And he [started] an apartheid revolution.”

Another person upholding Gandhi’s legacy in South Africa is his granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, who grew up at Phoenix Settlement. Gandhi oversees most of the operations at the settlement and said she values the book club as an important aspect of the community and the children’s lives.

Ela Gandhi, an activist and former politician and granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, said the book club at Phoenix Settlement helps vulnerable children from the nearby community. PHOTO: DEVIN YINGLING ’22/THE HAWK

“On a Saturday, [the children] have nothing to do,” Gandhi said. “The community is vulnerable, especially the children, and by keeping them occupied here, it helps the children and it helps the parents leave their children.”

Not only does the book club bring the children of the community together but it aids Gandhi in maintaining her grandfather’s legacy, something she said she feels an obligation to continue.

“I feel that responsibility, not just as his granddaughter, but because of being his granddaughter I was able to learn quicker, and more than other people can,” Gandhi said. “I was right there in the heart of it and I grew up from early childhood learning about these principles so it’s rooted in my psyche. And I see that it’s now my responsibility to grow as many people as I can into this philosophy, because then only can we receive real change.”

Ndlela said she believes that a change can come from their Saturday book club and that the impact on the children will shape their futures.

“It’s really helping us to help those children and to change the thinking of those people here in Bhambayi,” Ndlela said.

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