It’s estimated that only fourteen percent of South Africans are active readers, and that a mere five percent of parents read to their children. Catherine Arendse (29), a popular local Cape Town television producer and radio presenter, is one of the few who know the benefits of reading.

“My mother used to say, ‘Reading is the cheapest way of travelling. I could never send you to all the places but you’ll discover them in books. You’re transported to destinations at absolutely no cost. You’re able to live many lives in just one story,” she says, recalling her mother’s profound words.

In the light of low literacy levels in South Africa, Catherine believes that parents aren’t giving children the necessary foundation to be good readers. She was one of the few children whose ‘lullaby’ was a Lion King story.

“I read and wrote in both English and Afrikaans at a very young age. Not because I was smarter but because my mother knew the significance of reading. Children don’t read because their parents didn’t instill the love reading in them. Properly equip the child for the future – but you can only succeed in that if you enable them to read and write. Your work may keep you preoccupied but the most important job is to properly raise your children,” she emphasises.

“We read both English and Afrikaans books but my mom encouraged us to never mix our languages. She never gave us the easy way out when there was a word you didn’t understand. She’d give you a dictionary so you can go look it up,” Catherine adds.

She says it’s mandatory for a child to proficiently read and write in English but their home language is just as vital and significant.

“When you lose your language, consequently you lose your culture. Look at the Khoisan for an example. Only a few of them speak their language and that has killed their culture. It’s a struggle to retain your identity once you’ve lost it.”

She exclaims that reading doesn’t only improve literacy levels, it shapes a child’s personality as well. “Children who are not read to, tend to isolate themselves from other children because being unable to read negatively impacts on their self-esteem. They’ll be reluctant readers in class because they haven’t practised and mastered their reading skills. Your child’s love for reading will begin the day you read to them. Put a cap to their cellphone usage. [Tell them] ‘If you read for an hour then I’ll allow you to use your phone for an hour’,” she advises.

Talking about family life, Catherine reveals that her father passed away when she was only five years old, and she’s youngest of six children.

“I didn’t really feel the loss of my father because I had bigger brothers who took his role. They helped me with schoolwork and provided all the security you’d expect from a father. My mother laid a proper foundation for me and she ensured we had enough to get by.”

However, Catherine was forced to grow up at a young age and go work.

“After completing my matric in 2005 my mom told me to go work if I wanted to further my studies. I worked in the hospitality industry for over a decade. You can’t rely on your parents forever, and never think you’re too important to start from the bottom. If you really want it you’ll find a way. You’ll find an excuse if you don’t.”

Catherine left hospitality to follow her passion. She expresses concern about the high number of people who go into a career not for love of it, but because of how lucrative it is.

“The reason I went from a more stable environment to the [financially unstable] media industry is, you may be good at your work but you could never be happy if you are not living your passion. Money can only buy you so much in life; only passion will keep you going when the going gets tough. Writing, being creative and interacting with people, makes me the happiest person ever!”

The media industry may have no limited working hours but Catherine couldn’t be happier.

“I produce a few shows for Cape Town and I do radio presenting for an Afrikaans community radio station: Radio KAAPsePUNT. Radio is my first love because it’s mixed with music, and music to me is like a short story. Every song you listen to is a little story filled with emotions. Every song you play comes with a certain memory.”

Catherine happens to be a writer as well and she believes authors need to be outgoing and observant people. “I like using public transport because that’s where you see people’s nuances and how they love one another. Never take that for granted because that alone is enough to inspire a new story. Picking up a newspaper can spark a new story. Writers in general are in touch with their senses. You are emotionally invested in every piece of a character. You don’t just shape the characters, you build them from scratch, and make your readers empathise with your characters.”

Catherine doesn’t just develop fictional characters – she’s building real personalities as well.

“At our church, we’ve developed an Older Sister programme where we encourage graduates to help children with their homework. We understand there are children who’ve no parents at home so we’ve got to fill that void. Be someone they can learn from, and rely on. It takes the whole village to raise a child.”

As someone who’s moved from one field into another, Catherine has good advice for everyone who’s deciding on a career path: “Find something that you’re passionate about. Be realistic. Don’t be forced into a career, because you’ll regret it every day. Don’t allow parents to live their dreams through you. Never be too old to learn. If opportunities aren’t knocking, then build a door! There’s a lot of knowledge in the school of life,” she concludes.

Catherine’s radio show on Radio KAAPsePUNT (RKPfm), 90.7/102.7 FM, currently airs on Saturdays between 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., but a new time slot is under negotiation. The station is predominantly Afrikaans, but includes some IsiXhosa shows.