Young African reading activist arrives in Gaborone
by Thato Molefe
Cleo Bonny has a reading fetish. Thanks to his late mother, who sat him down for reading and writing sessions when he was five or six years old. “I thought she was evil,” commented Cleo in his self-published book, The Young Commentator, “and I regret that I thought that way. Now reading has taken me beyond my imagination.”
His current career too is rather avant-garde. Cleo travels on a very low budget from one African state to the next motivating young people to pick up a book to read.
Cleo was born in Malawi in September 1980, where he started his crusade. He travelled to South Africa were he was well received by teachers and students in various public and private schools across all the provinces.
“Students have to read everything including newspapers and their textbooks,” said Cleo in his high tenor voice, during an interview with The Sunday Standard, last week. “They should not focus on what their teacher prescribes for a particular topic,” he says.
“Africa needs awareness and to go getting future leaders. In this way we can reduce the likeliness for future wars, infringements on intellectual freedom.
“In fact,” he says, “African governments must implement a policy on regular reading sessions in schools.”
Cleo says interest in reading is usually curbed after students leave school. Those who lack technique in speed-reading maintain, will get slower. “Reading is not natural,” he says, “You need to compel yourself to read by creating the right ambiance. Every house must have a library or settle for a bookshelf to promote reading.”
A technique that Cleo has used to coerce students to read is by trying to dazzle them with speed-reading during the single period of 30-45 minutes he is usually granted. “All learners are intelligent, but have varied learning styles, some are visual learners, some are auditory learners and some are kinaesthetic (learning through touching and doing),” he says. So he tries to appeal to them all.
“What tends to happen is that educators focus on personalities compatible with their own, shutting the rest of the students out in the cold.” Cleo says and in response the students become despondent and take that despondency into the workplace hindering production levels.
Cleo has been tagged the ‘African Reading Ambassador,’ by South Africa’s media, and says he is able to read between 10 and 20 books in a week.
“Everything I know has been acquired through reading,” he said. To the ongoing debate that technology is to blame for the decline in reading, Cleo interjects, “Reading is unavoidable; you need to read to navigate your way around any technology.”
Cleo appears to be optimistic considering that he offers his reading enthusiasm to schools for free and consequently has very little income. “Back home in Malawi I was asked why I don’t get a job and stop this foolishness, but reading inspires me to continue advocating for reading.
“I have read that the yardstick of being an adult is being of service to others and that’s what keeps me going,” Cleo says.
“Soliciting assistance from ministries of education and schools is impossible because essentially I am not a teacher. I have, however, been bought clothes for and put up in lodges when heads of school were impressed with the impact of my workshops on students.
“Otherwise I have slept at mosques, police stations and used cheap transport or walked.” He says. “My payoff is the interaction between the learners and myself,” Cleo said.
He self published a concise book, titled The Young Commentator, which has improved his income profoundly. His nomadic and very basic lifestyle certainly does not promote relationships, “I have made friends and have received a couple of romantic offers,” he says, “Right now I’d rather focus on this,” says Cleo, the bookworm.