Students read bedtime stories to sick children in the paediatric wards at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Johannesburg Hospital.

The Wits Students’ Bioethics Society (WSBS) held a bedtime reading drive in the paediatric wards at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Johannesburg Hospital from July 22 to 26 to improve their comprehension skills.

This was in response to a Stats SA report released in June stating that almost 50% of children have never read a book with their parents.

Neha Prag, chairperson of WSBS, said when she read to the children she found a lack of “listening with understanding”.

“It was hard for some of them to identify a bird, which is really worrying because it speaks to a greater problem and adds to the urgency of why we need to do initiatives like this,” said Prag.

Books were sourced from committee members of the society and will be donated to the paediatric ward.

Prag said a concerted effort was made to source books in African languages to ensure “decolonisation of literature starts as early as possible”.

Tinstwalo Ngobeni, WSBS head of communications, said it is important to read to children in their vernacular language to “help their brain develop in that form”.

The committee is starting an online library subscription to play audiobooks to the children when students are unable to read to them.

“Library subscriptions entail being able to take physical books out and access the online library, where you can get audiobooks,” said Prag.

The money for a subscription will be crowd-sourced on social media.

Nqobile Nkosi, a nurse at Charlotte Maxeke, told Wits Vuvuzela that in the five years she has been in the paediatric ward, this was the first time the children had had someone read to them.

This is due to a lack of resources and time available at government-funded hospitals.

“By just listening to someone read to them, it’s another way of keeping their minds active – to forget about being in the hospital – and relating to the children at home,” said Nkosi.

The bedtime reading drive will continue on a regular basis throughout the year.

FEATURED IMAGE: Thando Mabuza (left) and Neha Prag (right) entertain sick children in the paediatric ward at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Johannesburg Hospital. Photo: Imaan Moosa