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Learning together in the valley of death

For many years people called Naphuno the Valley of Death. Many people died there. They died from hunger and sickness.

The Naphuno district is near Tzaneen in the northern Transvaal. About 50 thousand people live in the villages of Naphuno. These people have many problems. There are no jobs in Naphuno. There are few schools and hospitals. The people are very poor.

But the people did not wait for some­one to come along and help them. Today they are fighting together for a better future.

First they built a clinic. They built the clinic in Lenyenye. The clinic is called lthuseng. It means help yourselves. Lenyenye is a township near Tzaneen. A brave young doctor helped the people build the clinic. She came to Lenyenye in 1977. Her name is Mamphele Ramphele.

The clinic helps sick people. The clinic also helps people fight diseases. But many people can’t read and write in Naphuno. They never had the chance to go to school. This causes many problems. It’s not easy to learn to fight for a better life when you can’t read and write.

So the people decided to teach them­selves. They know that schools are not the only place to learn these things. They started learning groups. There are about seven people in each group. And more than 300 people are learning to read and write in this way.

The groups are not like school. They don’t have teachers and pupils. All people in the groups are equal. They respect each other. They teach each other. And they learn from each other.

The groups don’t have a school building. They meet in each other’s homes. Sometimes they meet under the trees in the villages.

One person in each group can read and write. This person helps the others to learn to read and write. This person is called a co-ordinator.

Florence Rakomana is a co-ordinator. She told Learn and Teach about the learning groups in Naphuno:

“I am a co-ordinator. But I also learn a lot from the women in my group. They taught me how to cook and to look after my baby. “Most of the learners are women. Women who can’t read and write have big problems. They can’t write to their husbands in town. They can’t fill in forms to get money at the bank. Some­times they must pay other people to fill in these forms for them.

“Now we are learning to do these things ourselves; And we are also learning other things.

“We teach each other how to cook healthy food. We talk about looking after sick children. We learn how to sew. And some groups even learn how to make stoves from mud.

“Few men come to the groups. They say women can’t teach them anything. But we are not teachers. We are equals. We must all learn together.”

The groups also talk about why they have problems. They think of ways to work together to solve these problems. These people no longer call Naphuno the Valley of Death. They are fighting together for a better life.


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