Reading expands our minds, reduces ignorance based prejudices and evolves our thinking. Homeless South African man, Philani, is doing something about expanding literacy.
Philani is a 24 year-old South African homeless man and sidewalk bookworm (currently based in Johannesburg). He spends his days on different street corners with his expansive library of books, which he reviews at anybody’s request. He has read all the books in his collection, sells some to raise money for himself and his homeless friends, and give some children’s books away to encourage kids to read.
Instead of begging for change on street corners (stereotypical behavior we have come to expect from homeless people, which we still find on many streets in all major urban areas around the world), Philani sets up impromptu literary pavement book discussion groups, motivates and educates random people to participate, sells books (to grownups only), and gives away books to kids, since they “expand your mind.” Speaking about literacy and reading for kids he says:
“Reading is not harmful. There’s no such thing as harmful knowledge. This thing is only going to make you a better person. They can still take this reading thing and turn it into their habit, their life-long habit.”
(After his story hit YouTube and other media outlets, Philani received numerous gifts from random people, had several articles written about him and received a couple of job offers. To my knowledge, he still continues this good work).
There is no argument that reading is an essential building block and on-going critical ingredient for a civilized society. There is also no argument that everyone benefits when most, if not all, people know how to read and are able to read as much as they chose in all their areas of interest. A great society encourages reading (and the writing required to satisfy the literate public appetite for knowledge), as well as the exposure of people to diverse voices and opinions about any and all subjects of interest and importance (like politics, economics, environment, war, medicine, philosophy, humanity, poverty, fairness, equality, sexuality…) as well as favorites like silliness, love, humor and joy.
And it’s never too early to start:
Your mission, if you chose to accept it, is to read, buy and gift books to as many people as you can, and to make sure you pass on the love of knowledge and books to future generations. If a homeless man in South Africa named Philani can do it, so can we all.
Photo2: Penelope fewster /Flickr