Kaila! News: For the love of books

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. The Vunilagi Book Club held a reading session at Nanuku Settlement in Suva last Saturday. Picture: SUPPLIED

WHAT does love look like?

Sometimes it’s giving up a Saturday to walk around the community inviting young children to a reading group. Sometimes, Love is 11 volunteers, 34 children, a small tin church, and books scattered on the altar.

Sometimes, love begins with a fire-breathing dragon, a girl named Sunday Chutney, and some green eggs and ham.
I would like to thank the 11 volunteers who showed up to the Vunilagi Book Club reading session at Nanuku Settlement in Vatuwaqa on Saturday, May 5.

There are no words suffice to show my gratitude, but I hope that after all the boisterous energy on that day, that you each walked away with a sense of contributing in some way towards the future of the kids and this country.

Your willingness to partake so selflessly reminds me of something that Maya Angelou wrote about to “Be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud”.

You don’t know how you’re touching the lives of these children, but each time you give of yourselves, be assured that not one iota of your time, energy, and love is wasted.

On Saturday May 5, Vunilagi Book Club held a reading session in Nanuku Settlement. At around 10:15am. The church was cleaned and set up with an array of books given locally and from overseas.

Soon after, four of us set out to personally invite the children from around the community. Walking through some of the areas in the hot sun was a timely reminder of the living conditions and situations of the kids, and this, just a stone throw away from our capital city.

Many children were excited when we told their parents or guardians, with some eagerly getting ready despite the 1pm start.

Children turned up in numbers for the Vunilagi Book Club reading session at the Nanuku Settlement in Suva last Saturday. Picture: SUPPLIED

Our volunteers began to arrive after 12pm, with one coming all the way from Ba that morning. Introductions had to be made as four new volunteers joined us, totalling our volunteer number at eleven that afternoon.

Children arrived as early as 12.15pm while I was still organising the volunteers. Our program began at 1pm with a couple of books read before we divided a total of 34 children amongst nine adults.

With little space left in the Nanuku church we spent about 30-40min in reading groups. One child was able to assist in Gina’s group because he was a very good reader, while 12 year old Tagi from Nadonumai settlement assisted Kaliova’s group.

I invited Tagi to the Nanuku reading because it’s important that we begin to involve some of the children and expand their experiences beyond their own communities. In this way their reading and experiences can be nurtured towards leadership skills.

The major challenge we faced on Saturday was the obvious lack of space for 34 children and 13 adults. It was a little harder to maintain concentration as well as noise levels because of the excitement of that many children in a confined space. We also had a few children with special needs attend, which for me was a new and very happy moment.

However, I realise that catering to their needs requires a little more effort and attention, so this will be something that I’ll begin to look into.

I would like to thank each and every one of the volunteers who attended, especially our new members; Dan, Hilda, Kaliova, Nicholas, Tagi, Seka, and Tuseru. Kaliova, thank you especially for taking a four-hour bus ride from Ba to join us. To Akanisi, Roko, Priya, Sangina, Safaira and Gina — your continual support and commitment make the load lighter for me.

Thank you also to the volunteers for helping bring snacks and juice for the kids (and big kids) to enjoy afterwards. It was so great to have some men join us because gender representation in reading and literature is important for our young readers.

It was an exhausting but very fulfilling day with many new young faces attending the book club. I know for my volunteers and I, this continues to be a huge learning experience. We come from different professional and educational backgrounds, but I believe our common will to give back is what makes this work every time. The collaborative essence of Vunilagi is evidence of what can be achieved when we all work together for the betterment of our peoples and communities.

Mariana Waqa. Picture: SUPPLIED

*Mariana Waqa is the founder of Vunilagi Book Club. The club meets every fortnight on Saturdays and readers can check out their Faceboon page, Vunilagi Book Club, to volunteer or ask to have them visit for literary discussions among children.

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