South African poet, Bridget Dore summed it up perfectly when she wrote:
“’ You cannot leave Africa,’ Africa said.
‘It is always with you, there inside your head.
Our rivers run in currents in the swirl of your thumbprints;
our drumbeats counting out your pulse;
our coastline the silhouette of your soul.’”
15-year-old New Yorker, Colin Bloom, whose father was born in South Africa, is passionate about our country, and a frequent visitor. On a visit in 2018, he went to a local supermarket and noticed that all of the tinned food had pictures of the product, rather than just the name of the contents. He asked his father why and was shocked to discover that many South Africans are still illiterate and that even the children in schools struggle to read. This led Colin to set up Libraries for Literacy and he innovatively collected 1,500 books to donate to a primary school library in Doornkop, Soweto the following year.
In 2020, Colin returned to South Africa with his family and while on holiday at the Ghost Mountain Inn near Mkuze, was shown Tshaneni Primary School located in a nearby remote rural village. Mkuze is a small town in the north of the KwaZulu Natal province, 350 km from the city of Durban and along the N2 highway, en route to Johannesburg, Eswatini and Mozambique. This area is rich in history and the legend of Intaba Yemikhovu (Ghost Mountain) is mentioned in Rider Haggard’s book, Nada the Lily, in which we wrote: “It is a great and strange mountain. It is haunted also and named the Ghost Mountain, and on top of it is a grey peak rudely shaped like the head of an old woman.”
Tshaneni Primary School has 210 children between the ages of six and 13. Built in the late 19th century by missionaries, the school is very under-resourced, with pit latrines and no running water, and did not have a library or many reading books.
Determined to do something about the situation, Colin returned to the USA and amazingly collected over 3,000 books to bring to South Africa – weighing a staggering 240kg!
He partnered with Room to Read to purchase books in isiZulu and also approached the Ghost Mountain Inn for help. This beautiful hotel has a strong connection and commitment to the local community, which has been formalised through the establishment of a charitable trust – the Ndumu Charitable Foundation.
But there was one important ingredient missing. There was no library to house the books in. With funding provided by Colin and his brother, James, Stefan Zbinden, Chris Green, Ndumu Charitable Foundation (Ghost Mountain Inn) and Libraries for Literacy, Breadline Africa was able to place a 6-metre container library with a covered veranda, shelving, toys and posters – and of course, books … loads and loads of books!
In his speech, Principal Bhekinkosi Myeni said: “A library has always been in my heart and I believe that readers are leaders. It has been a long journey of developing partnerships and I am truly grateful to Ghost Mountain Inn for their ongoing support – and to the other generous donors who made today possible. Reading opens minds and our school has reading programmes and for that I want to thank Jozini Library for their support.”
The librarian from Jozini Library thanked Colin and the donors and explained that it is through amazing acts like this that the children have the opportunity to become future leaders, engineers, scientists and doctors.
Jean Toucher, representing Ghost Mountain Inn, gave a moving speech where she recalled the words of her grandmother, who explained that every drop of water makes a difference as each drop forms a river that eventually flows into the ocean, which is made up of millions of drops of water. Each person who has helped make this library a reality is like a drop of water and made a real difference in the lives of the children of Tshaneni Primary School. She commended Colin for his vision and remarkable fundraising efforts.
Marion Wagner, Director of Breadline Africa, explained how it all started. On 19 August 2021, Colin Bloom contacted Breadline Africa explaining how much he would like to help the school with a library and books. In 2020, he had brought over 1,500 books for a school in Soweto and now he had a bigger dream, to actually have a container library and twice the number of books.
Marion congratulated Colin for being such an inspiration and encouraged the principal and staff to allow the children regular access to the library and not to worry about keeping the books in perfect condition. “It would be fantastic to see muddy handprints in the books and turned down pages, as then we know that the books are being read,” she added.
She thanked all the donors; Ndumu Charitable Foundation – part of the Ghost Mountain Inn, their team Jean, Anne, Ingrid, Gert, and Craig Rutherford – the owner of Ghost Mountain Inn. And especially Colin for his vision and his family: James, Jennifer and Ryan Bloom who supported and carried over 240kg of books – the most that BreadlineAfrica have ever put into a 6-metre library. She also thanked the children for their incredible performances – the readings, songs, recitals and dancing – so much talent was evident.
As part of the opening event, Colin read “The Hungry Caterpillar” in isiZulu – which amazed and impressed everyone, while leaving the children riveted!
His brother, James read “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie”, to equal appreciation.
Marion quoted “a winner is a dreamer who never gives up” that is someone like Colin who showed us what is possible when you have a dream. She added, “once you learn to read, you will forever be free” and closed by saying“may you all never stop dreaming and forever be free.”
Well done, Colin – Africa is definitely in you … and we are all lucky that it is!