I'd like to tell you about Blessing.* Blessing arrived at Fountain of Hope a couple of months ago. He said that he was 15 years old but he doesn't look more than 12 or 13, and we think he may not know how old he is. The only language he can speak is Nyanja, which is very unusual in Zambia, and he has obviously suffered a lot of trauma. When Blessing arrived, he did not understand how to behave in social situations, and had trouble communicating and learning the daily routine. I wondered whether he might have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Despite his problems, he soon identified the library as a place where he felt comfortable - so much so that it is very difficult to get him to leave when it is time to go to school! During the time that Blessing has been at Fountain of Hope, he has developed hugely. The staff and other resident boys have worked with him to teach him about things which we may consider to be basic, but about which he had no idea - e.g. personal hygiene - and he has become a regular fixture in the library (although he has learnt that he has to wash before he can come in! I even learnt to say "go and wash" in Nyanja so that I could nag him...).
Blessing is a big fan of the OLPC laptops, to the extent that as soon as he spots me arriving in the morning he will run to me and ask for them, and is starting to use a wide variety of programmes. Importantly, he is learning to share and take turns. He is very keen on helping me to lock up the library at lunchtime and pack everything away safely, and through this he is learning about responsibility. He is also learning to enjoy books for the first time. His favourite is the "Wild Animals" book, and he enjoys pointing to the animals and telling me their names (we are each trying to learn names of the animals in the other's language). In fact, if he has had an argument with one of the other boys, looking at 'Blessing's Book' is a good way to calm him down. He is starting to bring me books that he has picked from the shelf and ask me to read with him, and because his English is not very good, we use the pictures to help tell the story. He takes part in both the Mentoring and Drama programmes and is becoming a popular member of the group.
I am very proud of the way that Blessing has developed since I first met him, and of the contribution that the Lubuto Library at Fountain of Hope has made to his progress.
* name changed to ensure anonymity