Reading Responses - 2009

Emily Cooper

Rivonia's Children

“This book was extremely touching and well written.  The connections between apartheid South Africa and the Holocaust are very moving for me as a Jewish person.  Throughout the book, I was increasingly proud of the White Jews in South Africa who took a stand against apartheid, at their own risk.  The men and women who worried tirelessly for what they believed in are a true inspiration.”

Our Stories, Our Songs

"I noticed that many of the children did not know how or why their parents or relatives passed away.  This is a striking example of how stigmatized and secret this deadly disease is in this part of the world.  In order to improve the current situation and help to eradicate AIDS, it is necessary that there be an open dialogue among sufferers as well as politicians and those who hold enough power to initate change.  The fact that AIDS was ignored or downplayed in the late 1990's set a tone in South Africa for how it should be dealt with.  The key to change is recognition of a problem."  "These first person accounts were very touching and really opened my eyes to the issue of orphaned children in South Africa."


Wendy Rodriguez


In His Own Words


“He is amazing because he never stopped fighting for what he believed in and eventually became the first black President.  In this book he also speaks about the people that supported him and fought with him to stop apartheid and to bring South Africa together.  He is such an influential figure that after reading this book he has become one of my heroes and one of the people I look up to as an influential mode to do the better good.  I think it is just amazing how this person could achieve so much and put his life on the line for it.  He was willing to die for what he believes in and I do not know how many people could actually do that.”

Our Stories, Our Song

"There is a story in this book which really stuck out to me.  It was the one where a mother took in many different children who did not have homes because their parents had died.  She fed those that did not have enough food.  The interesting thing is that she was poor as well and did not have much to offer, but somehow she found ways to help them.  I thought this woman was amazing and that she did anything to help others.  'This is what life is about:  it is about finding people to love and people to love us.'  I really like this quote because it shows love and unity."

We Are All the Same

"When I started reading this book I saw how different it was from Kaffir Boy.  They had many things that were similar, for example when it was stated, 'A couple of generations of such official madness had effectively separated most nonwhites from any hope of progress or self-improvement whether through education or connections for circumstances or pure luck.'  I felt that this quote was emphasizing that they were no oppportunities for progression which made me jupset.  I  believe that everyone should have the right to make his or her life better, and everyone should be given the opportunity to do so."

Kaffir Boy

"The part of the book that I liked was how the main character, Johannes, struggled to reach the top.  His mother worked hard and made sure all her children went to school.  she wanted to give her children everything she didn't have and she wanted them to become successul.  Although her husband did not help her, she never gave up because she knew that was the best for her children.  I found her motherly love so strong and powerful and I really loved that."

Lizzy Karp

In His Own Words


“What beautiful speeches they are!  His eloquent language and beautiful metaphors are so touching.  I particularly liked reading his speeches concerning the arts in South Africa.  To be honest, I had not really considered the importance of an artistic culture in a country that is so wrought with political and social problems.  However, when speaking about the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, he even mentions the importance of the poets of Ireland, saying that they have helped to make a huge difference in the movement.  I thing that Mandela’s acknowledgment of the importance of the arts is just a small example of his overall abilities to recognize the help everyone has given him and his movement.”


Taylor Strasburger


Kaffir Boy:  Childhood and Responsibility


“In his beautifully written, crushingly vivid autobiography, Mark makes it clear that “childhood” was just one of many things that children like him lost during the apartheid regime.”

We Are All The Same


“But the most moving aspect of the book, and of course the reason it was written, was Nkosi himself.  Nkosi is one of the most accomplished eleven year olds I have ever read/heard about—especially when you think that he accomplished everything through the physical pain and social stigma of his disease.”

In His Own Words

"The rhetoric of Mandela's speeches has a lyrical beauty that seems to match its moving content.  Reading the words you can imagine what it might be like to hear him."

"I think one of the most admirable things about Nelson Mandela is his lack of hate.  If I had been imprisioned falsely for even half as long as Mandela was, I'm not sure I would be able to maintain such a resolve.  And yet Mandela specifically reached out to the white men who imprisioned him after he was released."

"Throughout the book, Mandela speaks in the powerfully broad terms of equality.  As he reminds a crowd in Cape Town after his release from Robben Island, his fight is against both white and black domination.  I think this was one of my favorite speeches.  It seemed to capture Mandela's incredible capacity to rise above and look beyond his own circumstances in order to bring a country together."

Lilly Robinson


We Are All The Same

“After reading you’re left with this sense of wanting to make a difference in the world.  I look at Nkosi Johnson and I’m just inspired.  Having something so fatal as AIDS can defeat a person but Nkosi made it his goal to speak out and be a role model and spokesperson for Mothers and children with HIV and AIDS.”

In His Own Words


“In one of his many wonderful speeches he said ‘I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an idea which I hope to live for and to achieve but if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’”

Charlotte Evans

We Are All The Same

“One of the parts that moved me the most in this novel was when Nkosi gave his final speech in Durban for the AIDS conference.  He states, ‘I have having AIDS because I get very sick, and I get very sad when I think of all the other children and babies that are sick with AIDS’ (p. 205)  Nkosi then continued to discuss his experience with the disease and ends with the statement that in reality, ‘we are all the same.’  He wanted everyone to realize that even though he had this disease, he wanted to be treated like every other human being, because ultimately, they were no different.  It is amazing to thing that at the age of eleven, Nkosi could get up in front of thousands of people and give a speech about this horrible disease and how it has affected his life.  He wanted to be a normal kid, free of disease, pain and suffering.  He wanted to go to school, laugh with his friends and most importantly live.  He fought the disease for so many years, and even though he was so sick, he still attempted to help everyone that he could.  Nkosi thought it was important to try and spread awareness and assist others in order to make his life as fulfilling as it could be.  It amazes me how this one small child led the hope for many children and many people across the world, but especially in South Africa.  His trips to the United States and all of the work Gail did helped spread education of AIDS and bring a face to the crisis and the disease that so many have been taken by.”

Rivonia’s Children

“In the first chapters of the book, the author discusses the secret lives of the activists Ruth and Joe who risk everything.  Their dual lives have always presented problems, but they did realize that someday the work they were doing would come to a harsh stop.  In the houses ‘secrets could not be told nor kept’ (p. 15) in fear that someone would find out so everything had to be undocumented.  In the raids, the police would uncover all of the movement’s secrets and anything documented could and did hurt their efforts.  Like many activists, Ruth and Joe realized the danger they were in, but knew they could not cut off contact because ‘they would be giving up in the face of the state’s terrible power.’ (p. 15) These activists clearly believe in their cause because no matter what it took, they were willing to sacrifice everything they had.  One activist, Andre Gide, stated, ‘holding a privileged place in society where most people were mired in poverty was like having a seat in a life boat after a shipwreck.’(p. 19)”

“The government was clearly afraid of this group of activists, and did everything in their power to minimize the power of the movement.  To me, the scariest part about these events is that they were less than forty years ago.  While we live in a democratic state where we have rights and protection under the law, many people still live in fear of their government because these basic freedoms do not exist.”

Our Stories, Our Songs:  African Children Talk about AIDS

“Collins mother sells AIDS ribbons on the street to not only raise awareness of the disease, but to feed her family as well.  Victor’s mother tried to work to support her family, but contracted AIDS as well and could not work.  Like these two children, many go through life without money and are greatly affected by deaths due to AIDS.  Victor wrote that many people ‘have a mother or a father that is dead, and their hearts hurt the way mine does’ (p. 7).  One of my favorite stories was told by Mavis, a student who aspires to be nurse.  She wrote, ‘there will always be sick people, so I’ll always have a job’ (p. 13).  She clearly understands that AIDS is a large problem and there is no easy solution.  So in order to attempt to ease the pain of the many suffering children and adults she has a desire to assist them in anyway possible.  I am happy that she has aspirations to succeed and help her community; a dream that AIDS has taken away from many.

Eric Bosen

In His Own Words

“My favorite speech from the book comes early on and it’s entitled ‘I am Prepared to Die.’  This one just strikes me as the most powerful one out of all of the rest as Mandela clearly states how far he is willing to go to achieve his goals and seeing his people free of apartheid.  I believe you would be hard pressed to find people who are as dedicated to a cause as he was and still is.  Some of his actions in the past hat he describes in this speech may be been criticized for their violent nature but I can understand the justifications for them.  When you have a cause you are fighting for yet are being actively worked against by those in power it severely limits your actions.  Even more so when these people are willing to arrest you for indefinite lengths of time and have no real intention of releasing you since you have spoken out against their actions.  Thus you are left with limited options as Mandela pointed out when he stated the ANC was forced to move away from its policies of non-violence since they were not being heeded.  This seemed to be a logical choice and I cannot really criticize it; you do what you must to see your dreams accomplished and Mandela’s were of noble intentions.”

Rivonia’s Children

“This book was a good selection for the reading list as it’s really informative as to what happened with the revolutionaries and during their trial.  It introduced us to a lot of the important figures of the time period that were fighting for equal civil liberties.  And to my surprise many of the white supporters that fought alongside of the black South Africans were communists.  This forces me to question some of my preconceived notions about communists that have permeated our country due to the cold war.  I’ve been raised in a society where it is typically considered a very poor thing to be a communist, yet in this book we see such individuals fighting for the same ideals we would, i.e. freedom and civil equality.”

Our Stories, Our Songs:  African Children Talk about AIDS

“Much like Journey to Jo’Burg these stories of childhood misery leave me feeling depressed about how hard children have it in other parts of the world.  When I compare and contrast my own childhood to what these kids have gone through I feel somewhat ashamed about some of the things I have worried over.  I still have both of my parents, I received good grades in school so I could go to college, and I always had food, shelter, and clothes to wear.  And I still managed to fin d things to complain about despite having it so good.  It reminds me of a saying my mother always told me as I was growing up:  ‘you don’t know how lucky you are.’  This is so true; you don’t know how good you have it until you’re forced to read about how bad others have it elsewhere.”

Kara MacNeill

Kaffir Boy:  Childhood and Responsibility

Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane was a moving and inspiring autobiography of a young black boy growing up during apartheid in South Africa.  I was shocked reading about many of the different aspects of life during his time.  While reading the story, I felt a wide range of emotions including sadness and anger.  I learned a lot about the history of South Africa, which I had previously been naïve about.  The story was so depressing, yet inspiring and gave a sense of hope towards the progress and future of blacks in South Africa.”

“The ideas about religion were also very interesting.  Christianity was seen by his mother as a new hope and opportunity.  She was optimistic about embracing these new ideas in hope that better luck and fortune would be possible for their family.  At the same time, the family (the father especially) continued to embrace tribalism.  This demonstrated to me their desperate situation in which they wished constantly for a better life.  However, at the same time they were stubborn to change their old traditional ways.  Religion seemed to play an important role for the family since, at times it was all that they had.  It was also interesting how during times of hardship that the family repeatedly experienced.  They put a greater emphasis on witch craft and their ancestral spirits as seen in the quote ‘there was no room for chance in this world; all occurrences were preordained, and were caused either by the ancestral or evil spirits.’ (101)  I think that accepting their fate as being out of their control helped them cope with their situation.  It took the blame off of their own actions and accepted it to be out of their control.”

“’There were two worlds as far as we were concerned, separated absolutely in every sense.  But somehow, in my knowing about these two worlds, it never occurred to me that though the two were as different as night and day, as separate as east and west, they had everything to do with each other; that one could not be without the other, and their dependency was that of master and slave.” (94)  I found this quote to have a strong impact on me.  It demonstrates how society creates these divides and classes in order to sustain itself.  The people learn their “place” and role in society and perpetuate this process.  The white is Africa depended on the blacks for their labor and benefitted from keeping them in a powerless position.”

We Are All The Same

“Gail Johnson’s role in the advancement of AIDS awareness and action was also extremely inspiring.  It moved me that this white middle class mother could take in this sickly child and in the long run made a huge impact for all AIDS victims in South Africa.  Simply for the love of Nkosi she got laws passed and showed the public the truth about AIDS.  Gail’s selflessness towards the AIDS infected individuals inspired me to want to make a difference somehow.”

Rivonia’s Children

Rivonia’s Children by Glenn Frankel was actually very interesting and informative.  I enjoyed reading about these individuals and what they did to contribute to the change in South Africa.  It showed me the strength and power that one group of people can have on making their voices heard and initiating change.

“Despite the dangers, these individuals continued to fight for what they believed was right.  The opening of the book captured my interest immediately.  I was drawn in to the tension and fear that Hilda and Rusty lived in.  ‘There were times when she longed for a normal middle-class life, times when she wanted to chuck it all and flee for the nearest border.’ (Frankel, 1999, p. 15)  Although these individuals could have settled to live a peaceful life, they made the ultimate sacrifice to take on this fight.  Their strong beliefs in this cause forced them to give up the opportunity for living a normal life.  They had the opportunity to abandon their cause and flee the country, but their commitment was too strong.  These individuals were focused and not looking for an easy way out.”

Our Stories, Our Songs:  African Children Talk about AIDS

“The most important thing I got out of their stories was how AIDS was killing their parents and when they dies, the children were left in difficult situations.  Often times the children were left with relatives or grandmothers who were too old to work and earn money to support the children.  Seeing this reality hit me hard.  The children sometimes were left without food, new clothing, or blankets.”

Jessica Thorn

Kaffir Boy:  Childhood and Responsibility

“This firsthand account from Mark Mathabane truly paints a vivid picture of the horrific living conditions that black people were forced to face.  Mathabane’s first section, The Road to Alexandra, details his childhood growing up in various rat-infested shacks in the city of Alexandra.  Everything, from the piece of cardboard that served as his bed to the nightly police raids where he was beaten and frightened nearly to death, made a knot tighten in the pit of my stomach.  I can’t imagine growing up the way he did—always starving and always terrified that his parents would be arrested and taken away by the Peri-Urban.”

“I definitely think that Mark’s mother was the driving force behind him choosing the right path and finding success in life.  I was amazed at how determined she was to keep her children in school.  She knew that education was the only path to a better life.  I think this just shows how influential parents can be.  If Mark’s mother hadn’t encouraged him (and even forced him) to continue in school, he might not be where he is today.  Sure, intrinsic motivation is necessary for someone to succeed.  But, I truly believe that it takes something more—someone who believes you can do it”

We Are All The Same

“I just finished reading We Are All The Same by Jim Wooten.  Nkosi Johnson was the bravest child I have ever read about.  I cannot imagine waking up every day, knowing my days were numbered, and still living life with as big of a smile and as much energy as he could muster.  I admire his adopted mother, Gail, as well.  She fought just as hard to fight AIDS as her son did.  She devoted her life to helping AIDS victims, knowing she would inevitably experience disappointment and tremendous sadness.  Gail was definitely a force to recon with—the way she fought for her son to go to school like any other child was amazing.  She stopped at nothing.”

Rivonia’s Children

“I had no idea that so many white Jewish communists fought against apartheid.  The most interesting parts for me are when the author takes us directly into those people’s lives.  It was fascinating to read about their experiences in jail, and how their work affected their families.  It’s amazing to me that people like Rusty, Joe and Ruth risked so much.”

In His Own Words

“I was struck by Mandela’s powerful and passionate words in this speech.  He clearly values education immensely.  I noticed a trend in his ‘Education Speeches’.  He often describes the horrible effects that apartheid has had on education in South Africa.  He also speaks directly to the students—telling them to take their work seriously and to study hard because they are the future.  I chose to copy this selection of Mandela’s because it speaks directly to the teachers.  I think his words apply to teachers all over the world, not just South Africa.  All of the things he mentions—professionalism, lesson planning, making sure objectives are carried out, that students are getting something out of the lessons—are things I have learned at Skidmore and feed confident about putting into practice next year when I student teach.”

“I like that he saw the fight against AIDS as something the country had to do together.  It was not just the problem of the individuals who were infected.  In ‘AIDS:  A Task for Us All’, he writes ‘We have to work together wherever we are to preserve our nations, our continent and humanity as a whole.’”

Melissa Ross

Rivonia’s Children

“Upon completing Rivonia’s Children I was overwhelmed with pride and, obviously, more questions.  First, being Jewish I was proud to identify with these heroes.  From the time I was young, my grandpa , a Holocaust survivor, has repeated the words ‘Never forget’ and ‘Survive’ over and over, day in and day out.  I am proud to say that these families never did forget.  In the ample references to the Holocaust and its connections to apartheid, were able to see that these families never forgot.  In fact, they remembered so much that they did everything in their power to prevent it from happening ever again.  As Nelson Mandela has said ‘not out of bravery, but it was duty’. (p. 335)  These unique individuals, these heroes had the strength to go to such extremes simply because it was their duty.  They exemplify everything my Grandpa advocates to me each and every day:  they survive, they never forget, and they affect change in the lives of others.”

“I have loved reading this book for several reasons. One, its personal connection to my life gives me great pride to say I share the same faith and values with these heroes.  Two, it allows me to make relevant connections to life and how we should live it; different time, different place, same goals.  Finally, this book gives me hope.  In a world rattled with cruelty and hatred, there are people who will stand up for what is good; for what is right.  And that is a message that is irreplaceable.”

Kaffir Boy:  Childhood and Responsibility

“For me, apartheid had been a whisper; a word heard but never defined.  Reading Kaffir Boy first was serious wake-up call….there was still a lot to learn about South Africa before leaving.”

Jouney to Jo'Burg

"This book has been exciting for me to read because it has become a catalyst to thoughts of the future.  It has left me with a deper understanding of apartheid but it has also left me with a crucial question:  What will I do to affect change once this trip is done?  My future class may be a terrific place to start."

Soweto

"The real strength of this piece, for me, was the photojournalism throughout the piece.  I am not sure who is in charge of the photodocumenation but it was brilliant.  They say a picture is worth 1,000 words and it is so true.  Each photo relayed to me both the facts of what was occuring and the emotion of it all.  Whether it was the sister and the relatives at the Hector Peterson funeral or the little boy in front of the trucks, this packet illustrated to me the desperation, passion, and hope that engulfed the Soweto uprising of '76.  Having read this story and seen the photos that illustrate it, I am eager to go to Soweto to see what kind of progress has been made, as well as what kind of legacy has been left behind by both apartheid and the '76 uprising."

In His Own Words

"Nelson Mandela's compilation of speeches and wise words has served as an inspiration as well as an insight to his bright mind.  The way he thinks, the way he feels, and the way he operates.  First, I was truly moved by his thoughts on and his fights for education.  Maybe it is because I hope to be a teacher but, I love how much faith Mandela places in the schools and in South Africa's youth.  He encourages each and every student to work hard, challenge themselves, and soak up everything they can from their education. 'You are our future' he says.  'In your hands is the key to make South Africa a great country; to make our society a prosperous and caring nation.' (p. 243)  This mentality inspires me for several reasons.  First, it shows me that Nelson Mandela realizes he cannot do things alone.  He must enlist help from those who are most powerful, those who will affect the future.  He has faith in every child and school which I find remarkable.  Second, I'm drawn to the way in which Mandela puts such trust and responsibility in children.  This is something which I hope to do in my own clasroom and the fact that he can do it on a much larger scale is remarkable."

Emma Harris

Our Stories, Our Songs

"I was also very touched by these children.  They appreciate everything in life, something I definitely take for granted.  They are grateful for every piece of food consumed, any clothing on their back, and any person who will listen to and love them.  Reading these stories forced me to think about my life and how beyond lucky I am.  I often forget about how fortunate we are and take material things for granted.  I am confident that traveling to South Africa is going to be an eye opening reality check for me.  I am really looking forward to meeting kids, like the ones in this book, that will inspire me and leave footprints on my heart."

Natalie Dunn

Kaffir Boy

"Mark explains how his tenth birthday came and passed, uncelebrated and unnoticed. This alone is striking and upsetting to read. A tenth birthday, or any birthday for that matter, is certainly something to be celebrated. The fact that the day that Mark was brought into this world is not seen as a celebration, but as a day “to be survived” is tragic. Surviving, as Mark explains, is part of black life, and this difficult process has matured and aged him far beyond his technical age. This image of a young ten year old boy struggling through each day, living with the horrible images he has seen (such as witnessing a murder) and the emotional and physical pain he has endured, makes me feel very uncomfortable and helpless."

We Are All The Same

"We Are All The Same gives a great deal of facts and statistics about South Africa and the AIDS epidemic.  It was nice to learn this information while still being able to follow along with a story.  It was especially helpful in the sense that it gave Gail and Nkosi's story some background and perspective."

Journey to Jo'Burg

"This book is a great way younger readers can learn about South Africa, racism, and the realities of apartheid.  I can easily see this book as a centerpiece in a 6th or 7th grade curriculum.  If kids can learn about this part of the world's history through this touching story, they may be more likely to find a personal connection and understanding with such important and painful parts of our past."

Rivonia's Children

"Reading this book has given me a new perspective and appreciation for activists.  I have never considered myself to be the type to act out in 'activist' ways, yet after reading Rusty, Hilda and the others' story, I was left with a new idea of how people will act when they care truly and deeply about something.  I was left simply inspired."

Katherine Garcia

Kaffir Boy

"When I began reading Mark Mathabane's Kaffir Boy I was instantly attracted and engaged with his life story.  It is a passionate story about a young boy's struggle in a country where he is taught to hate himself for being black and to think that he could never make anything of himself.  Whenever someone attempts to, they are immediately shot down, threatened for not fitting into the mold that they have been forced into.  It seems unimaginable to us, the struggles that black south Africans had to endure during the years of apartheid.  In their own land, where they are the majority, they were very badly treated like garbage by the whites and the small groups of blacks with positions of power.  This is really sad and upsetting and unfortunately it is something that repeats in history because it had happended during the slave trade when black Africans sold their own into slavery."

Jenna Cameron

Journey to Jo'Burg

"One of the most striking elements of this book for me was how closely it paralleled books on slavery and the civil rights movement in the United States.  I wish that more children were provided with books such as this at a younger age to foster cultural and historical awaremness and begin the conversation of racism and injustice early on.  I think that by trying to always protect our society's children and sheltering them from stories and information that don't always have happy ending, we are hurting their chances for awareness and open mindedness as well as society's potential for growth and development through the generations."

Kaffir Boy

"The significance of soccer for many of the children in the ghettos as a distraction from hunger, violence and suffering, a simple enjoyment and alternative to gangs shows the power of offering options and activities for all people and the difference that can make."

"I found the father's insistence on tribal rituals and beliefs and the son's reaction to them very interesting.  It shows the sway and influence of parents as the primary influence on children until they begin to interact with others, primarily friends, gaining new prospectives and experiences and challenging the values and beliefs instituted by their parents.  In the United States this shift of primary infuence and reflection on a change of belief is accepted as happening in the teen years, but in this setting it seems much earlier as the children mature at a much more rapid pace, having to make lifestyle choices for survival at an age unimaginable to many Westerners."

Our Stories, Our Songs

"I always find stories and information written from a child's perspective to be among the most sobering and powerful even in its simplicity and honesty.  I think it is this straightforward simplicity and blatant honesty perhaps that makes it so effective and meaningful.  It's one thing to read the facts about a disease/issue from which we are removed; it is another to see through a child's eyes how it affects his/her daily life as in this compilation."

"To see the themes of parent death, lack of understanding/knowledge behind those deaths, loss of childhood, poverty, et. cetera, repeated in multiple stories from a perspective that accepts those issues as expected and mundane is quite powerful, but also beneficial to realize how such things as those are just a part of life for many.  It puts our trials and tribulations, frequent complaints as fortunate, middle class Westerners into perspective."

Jeremy Herrmann

Kaffir Boy

"Mathabane used education as a way for him to escape his restrictons.  Sometimes it may not seem as in my privileged life that being educated is going to solve all of my problems.  However, if I really think about it, much of my success and happiness in my life to this point and many of my goals for the future can be traced to my education."


CREATIVE THOUGHT MATTERS
Skidmore College · 815 North Broadway · Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
© 2006 Skidmore College
http://www.skidmore.edu