Maverick Citizen

POWER OF BOOKS

Small town, big dreams – quest by Touws River’s Haleema and Shanidea to fund their education through writing

Small town, big dreams – quest by Touws River’s Haleema and Shanidea to fund their education through writing
Haleema Mirza (left) and Shanidea Persence. (Photo: Clemence Thomas)

In the small town of Touws River in the rural Western Cape two young girls have captured the hearts of their community and beyond. Despite daunting obstacles, these De Kruine Secondary School Grade 8s have already achieved what many can only dream of – becoming published authors while in Grade 6 at Steenvliet Primary School, at the age of 13.

Haleema Mirza and Shanidea Persence are remarkable young girls who have embarked on a literary journey that not only promises to change their lives but also inspire others to reach for their dreams.

For Haleema and Shanidea the dream of becoming authors was born during their Grade 6 year at Steenvliet Primary School. Both come from disadvantaged backgrounds, where financial constraints often pose insurmountable barriers to higher education. Recognising the uphill battle that might await them after Grade 12, the duo decided to take matters into their own hands by writing and publishing Afrikaans books.

Their plan was simple yet audacious: The proceeds from book sales would be set aside to fund their future tuition fees, ensuring they could pursue higher education and break the cycle of poverty that had gripped their families for years.

Mirza, author of Uit die kop van ‘n skoolkind (“From the head of a pupil”), told Daily Maverick that the book speaks about “happy reading and remember as you read  to be happy and celebrate you, because there is only one you in the entire world”.

“I discovered my love for writing after I entered the 2021 DigiSkryf writing competition and got a certificate. We came back and the school’s secretary told us that we should continue writing.” 

However, Shanidea faces a unique challenge. She has a debilitating bone condition in her right hand, causing immense pain when writing for extended periods. Despite numerous attempts to seek help at public hospitals, she was met with disappointment. The surgery she needs to alleviate her pain and improve her hand’s functionality remains elusive.

Undeterred, Shanidea has shown extraordinary determination. She not only completed one book but has another waiting to be published.

young writers

From left: Library assistant Lydia Groenewald, Haleema Mirza (13), principal Peter Jafhta and Shanidea Persence (13) at Steenvliet Primary School. (Photo: Clemence Thomas)

‘No sorrow’

Persence, author of ‘n Lewe vol Vreugde, told Daily Maverick: “With writing poems as our only outlet, expect care-free expressions about people, life, diseases and the pandemic, our town, family, friendship, death, loss, teachers, school, bullying, jealousy, love and appreciation. There is something in there for everyone.”

Although her book’s title translates to A life filled with joy, she has also had her share of hardships. In 2022, she lost her mother to a long illness, leaving a void that could have easily derailed her dreams. However, the unwavering support of her family has been the cornerstone of her strength. With their encouragement she has continued to write, channelling her grief and emotions into literary creations.

“I stay with my grandma, aunt and cousins who continue to encourage me to write. I will keep on writing, and I dream of moving into medicine one day, maybe in UCT or Stellenbosch because I don’t want to go that far from home. There is no sorrow in my book, only happy thoughts.”

Haleema’s poignant storytelling reflects her resilience in the face of adversity. Her ability to harness her emotions and craft them into words showcases the power of writing as a cathartic outlet for healing, according to her former school library assistant at Steenvliet Primary School, Lydia Groenewald.

Groenewald continues to rally behind these young authors, recognising their exceptional talents and indomitable spirits. “Their story has become a beacon of hope, demonstrating that, even in the most challenging circumstances, dreams can be realised through hard work, determination and the support of those who believe in them,” she says.

“Both authors describe their work as a collection of thoughts and observations from the perspective of 12-year-old girls. It’s forward, cheerful and therapeutic.”

Shanidea Persence (left) and Haleema Mirza. (Photo: Clemence Thomas)

Funds to publish the books came through donations from Hercules Distributors, Boland Skryfbehoeftes, the Touwsrivier Uitreikgroep – a group of former Touws River residents who meet biannually and run outreach projects out of their own pockets – and Steenvliet Primary School.

These contributions led to Haleema and Shanidea publishing 50 copies each in June 2022. They went on sale at their school.

With their writing ability, unwavering determination and the support of their community, they aim to make a significant impact in the literary world as they continue to grow and mature. They hope their stories will evolve and touch the hearts of readers near and far – being living proof that, even in the most challenging circumstances, the human spirit can soar to remarkable heights.

As Haleema and Shanidea continue their remarkable journey, their former primary school cheers them on every step of the way. Yet, there is always room for more support. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fred Pheiffer says:

    How badly can a reporter stuff up a story? Haleema Mirza is the author of Uit die kop van ‘n skoolkind, and Shanidea Persence that of ‘n Lewe vol vreugde, not the other way round as in the text and subscripts to the photos. And another pet peeve of mine — poorly translated Afrikaans! Uit die kop van ‘n skoolkind translates as From the mind of a schoolchild, not From the head of a pupil.
    Kudos to the DM for highlighting these kids’ achievements, but get your story straight, FFS.

    • Colin Donian says:

      Hello Fred,
      This is a delightful story (apart from the lax attention to detail you idenitify).
      There are other stories between the lines for me, one of which is how uplifting stories seldom see the light of day, and if they do, they are overwhelmed by the darkness of Ukraine, Gaza, corruption and where to invest for more…
      In a society that prizes self-help, innovation and overcoming adversity, these young ladies would be lauded and supported.
      Lastly, even the name of Shanidea’s book, ‘n Lewe vol vreudge, is encouraging and powerful, given her circumstances.
      Well done Haleema and Shanidea!

      • Fred Pheiffer says:

        Absolutely, Colin, which is why I find DM’s sloppiness all the more frustrating. Imagine how Haleema and Shanidea would feel upon reading this report. They’re recognised for their achievements in the media, but their details are all mixed up.

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