“Books are an investment in a child’s life” – a Q&A with award-winning edu-designer and social activist Paul Talliard
Nal’ibali column published in: Sunday World (25/02/2018), Daily Dispatch (26/02/2018), Herald (01/03/2018)
By Carla Lever
Hands of Honour is project that trains unemployed people to build furniture, like your beautiful mobile classroom units that encourage children to read and learn more in schools. How did you get the idea for starting Hands of Honour?
Actually, rather like our classroom furniture, the idea “unfolded” in front of my eyes. Hands of Honour started as a support group run by me for young and adult men who found it difficult to return to mainstream society after making wrong choices in life. In my case, my fondness for crack cocaine cost me my job as a fireman, as well as my loved ones and home. One day someone told me of some artificial Christmas trees that a large retail chain wanted to dump. Together with some friends at our soup kitchen we collected, fixed and sold the tree. We made R8000 rather quickly and were hooked!
But then I then had a brainwave. The soup kitchen was held in two dilapidated classrooms at the local primary school. I used R4000 of the money and we gave the classrooms a makeover. We sent photos of the makeover to folk in the retail chain, and the rest is history. Our donations of unwanted goods became bigger and better and our makeover projects became bolder…but the real makeover was happening with the men. In the seven years we’ve been doing this, dozens of men have come through our program, never to return to the soup kitchen or drugs and crime again.
What adaptable features make the Angel Classroom design so special and useful for practical classroom activities?
There are so many! The Angel Classroom on Wheels not only has books, but has educational toys installed that were chosen by early education expert. It has a secret fold out bench that doubles as a work-desk. It’s mobile and in one swift move it transforms into a puppet theatre, complete with puppets! The front section is chalkboard. The rear is a painting easel complete with canvass, paint and brushes as well as fold-out activity boards. It’s basically a mobile storytelling and learning unit.
You build many beautiful upcycled designs with Hands of Honour. What made you realise that there was a very specific need for classroom tools?
We donated one of the first units to one of a local township school. When we arrived, I got the shock of my life – the class we visited only had six “readers” for over thirty children. One of the little boys, a skinny lad of about six, had a huge black eye. When I asked him what happened to him, he just hugged me. This experience drove me to do some more research and what I discovered was downright sad. This is now my life’s mission, that with our Angel Classroom on Wheels, and with other likeminded people, we will transform these children into the next generation of leaders and problem solvers.
What personal feedback have you had from teachers and young learners?
So far, we have built and delivered 88 Angel Classrooms and have received great feedback. Teachers are full of praise, while it is always a moment of joy when a unit is folded one to reveal the delights and adventures inside.
In 2014, you won the Spark ‘Changemaker of the Year’ award and it’s easy to see why. Can you tell us a little about the social and community impact that you’ve found particularly heartwarming?
For a start, many really good men don’t spend their days in soup kitchens anymore. I’m glad I had the chance to speak hope into people’s lives, although actually it’s them who have given me hope to carry on. One guy stands out in particular: a member of the notorious 26 prison gang who once lived in a car. Nowadays he travels the country as a Safety Officer for a rigging company. Well done!
Why is access to books for children so important and how can we all help?
Of all the resources we put into the Angel Classrooms, we find books to be the one of the most expensive. We have many good people who send us books, but we would love more! They are an investment in a child’s life, but we as a country also reap responsible, capable citizens at the end of the day.
How can people support building these classroom resources?
We’d like to invite anyone to sponsor a unit. The social impact is huge – children will have a better chance of succeeding academically and more jobs will be created for people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to support themselves. Take a look at our website www.handsofhonour.co.za or contact me if you would like to assist in any way at email@example.com.
Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success! For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign, or to access children’s stories in a range of South African languages, visit: www.nalibali.org
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