September is literacy month as bookworms and literacy activists celebrate International Literacy Day on 8 September every year. However, for some people, such as Thanduxolo Mkhoyi (26), every day is literacy day. Thando (as he’s known) is based in Khayelitsha in Cape Town and currently works for Nal’ibali as a literacy activist and storyteller.

“My parents were not well educated but reading was part of their lives. They always had books on their bedside and that is something they passed on to me as well. I was always an introvert and so I would spend most of my time at the library, reading books of course. My friends even gave me the nickname ‘Madiba’ because I was always reading and writing. I was a bit of a nerd, so they said,” he says happily as he explains where his love for the pages stem.

Thando is a first born of three children and was raised by both his parents.

“Life in informal settlements had its own challenges but I tried not to be discouraged by circumstances. My sister was troubled by health at a young age so I was always alone as my mom had to spend time with her at the hospitals. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2012 before my second sister was born.”

Thando’s mother eventually succumbed to her illness as well.

“After I lost my mother I had a choice to drink the whole packet of pill and die in my sleep or to cry that pain out. I had pray to God and forgive myself for the things I could not do. I am happy with the decision I made, hence I am still breathing,” he says.

Proving true to the saying ‘it takes the whole village to raise a child’, Thando also had ‘rocks’ who paved the way for him.

“I could no longer feel the gap of losing my beloved mother because I was surrounded by zimbokodo, phenomenal women whom I can call mom. Women have mentored and shaped me. Ndingxoliswe ke xandimoshayo (They reprimand me as well when I’ve done something wrong). Their love and support has paved the way for me and made me human again. Desire Defouna and Mam’Rita Toto [just to name a few] have made the greatest impact in my life. They have held my hand and spoken life to me in my hardest life experiences,” Thando maintains.

As if following his name, which loosely translates to ‘love’, Thando’s passion for reading stories to children could never be replaced by anything.

“My mom used to tell stories about how they grew up and other fairytales, which is where I got my story telling foundation from which I developed my skills. We were once writing an essay in primary and my teacher told me to send it to my previous teacher. I thought I had done something wrong but to my surprise he loved it. During lunch time I’d be writing and reading. Reading has always been part of my life,” he recalls.

Thando has just launched his own reading project Sinovuyo Township Reads which aims to “promote the usage of our mother tongue and create inclusive spaces for our children and community to read”.

A someone who works with children on almost daily basis, Thando wouldn’t wrap up the interview without directing words to the leaders of tomorrow.

“They must work on their passion and do what they love. Find your purpose and work on building your brand and reputation up to the level where you no longer introduce yourself, but your work speak for you. Times have changed we are in another decade now. It is all about working smart and for you to be smart you need to read, surround yourself with people who add value to your life and put a distance to energy consumers. Most importantly, be humble and ungamlibali uThixo (don’t forget God’s existence),” he concludes.