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Thembi’s New Friend, Thembi and her Big School Project, Thembi’s Big News

Title: Thembi’s New Friend, Thembi and her Big School Project, Thembi’s Big News
Author: Verusia Bernard
Published by: Ukuphumelela Consultancy, distributed by: Pelmo Books
ISBN: 978-0-620-69409-4
Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers

It’s been a while since I’ve spotted worthwhile resources for primary school children about HIV/Aids and other related issues.

Verusia Bernard, who recently completed her PhD on HIV, disability and rehabilitation in the medical faculty at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has used the stories of children she met whilst doing her field research to produce three colourful booklets about a little girl called Thembi. They’re just what’s needed by students in grades 5 and 6. According to UK-based charity organisation AVERT, more than 2.3 million children in South Africa have been orphaned by HIV and Aids. “Orphans are particularly vulnerable to HIV transmission; they are often at risk of being forced into sex, have sex in exchange for support, and typically become sexually active earlier than other children”, reports AVERT on its website Furthermore, says AVERT, “High drop-out [rates] in schools also compromise effective HIV and sex education. It has been suggested that prevention programmes should focus on younger children while more of them are in education and before they become sexually active.”

Clearly, Bernard is of the same opinion. These booklets may be little, but their messages are mighty, and as many “younger children” as possible should get to read them. Relevant terms are clearly explained and the illustrations, by Carolyn Davies, are captivating. Thembi is lucky enough to have a loving mum (she’s a nurse, so a lot of useful information – some of it very sad indeed – comes through her character) and dad and a secure family life. She’s bright, brave and sparkly and full of good ideas about how to learn more about HIV/Aids. Children in other classrooms can use her ideas and the discussion points provided by Bernard at the end of each story. Other themes like inter-racial relationships, bullying and communication skills thread their way through Thembi’s stories. At the end, her wise mum tells her, “A little girl in a big world with a good idea can make a big difference.” That’s a message to be passed on to millions of young South Africans. 

To obtain copies of the books, contact the author at: or the editor, Mary Louise Peires, at: The books cost R50 each.

Category: Book Reviews, Winter 2017

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