Like a bookworm on a hook

Winner — Non-profit Organisations Award: Project Literacy

It took just three months for Project Literacy, a Pretoria-based non-profit organisation, to turn five-year-old Mohau Raborisi into a competent reader and storyteller. It is this sort of investment in the future of the poor that makes it a winner in its category.

Mohau, now described by Project Literacy spokesperson Yondela Tolobisa as ‘an amazing little star from Soshanguve township”, is a beneficiary of the organisation’s Run Home to Read programme — aimed at addressing the absence of early childhood development programmes for children in rural and other marginalised areas.

The programme was initiated in 2000 as a family literacy pilot project, in partnership with Unisa’s The Children’s Literature Research Unit, to address the ‘pre-literacy skills problem” of children before they start their formal education at school. I

t’s now reaches 600 families annually. Initially rolled out in rural Limpopo, Run Home to Read was introduced in Soshanguve, near Tshwane in Gauteng, where Mohau and her single mother, Ellen, live. Run Home to Read is a family literacy programme that brings parents and pre-school children together through a series of book-focused activities.

In the process children develop a relationship with books, which involves learning how to ‘hold them properly and turning pages”. They also learn how ‘books convey meaning” and to relate these meanings to their everyday lives at home. They witness literacy in action as their parents ‘draw up grocery lists, fill in forms or receive and read letters”.

Parents and caregivers are central to the way the project is designed. They are trained as agents of the programme, or Reading Champions, and are sent into their communities to activate and spread the aims of the project.

Once a needy community is identified, Reading Champions are chosen by Project Literacy’s contracted workers. Their choice is based on how much access they have to other caregivers in their community, either through church or other collective gatherings.

They are also required to have a ‘certain status in the eyes of community members”. As a minor incentive they receive a stipend for their involvement. The champions are given training to equip other parents with little or no reading ability ‘to convey the love of reading” to their children.

They are given a stock of reading material to distribute when they are ready to run their own workshops. A spin-off of the programme is that adults are also encouraged to improve their literacy skills.Many of the caregivers and parents become motivated to join adult basic education centres with the help of Project Literacy.

Beyond relying on donor funds, Project Literacy sustains itself by creating and selling its literacy training materials to government departments, other related organisations and individuals. Once developed, the reading material is translated into English, Tshivenda, Sepedi, isiZulu, Siswati and Xitsonga to be used in similar training programmes across the country.

The Investing in the Future judges praised Project Literacy’s model, saying it could be emulated by other NGOs. They commended its links with government departments and its business-like approach.

‘There is no substitute for the power of reading at a young age,” the judges said. ‘Reading should not be restricted to the home, though. It should happen in every context. The focus of Run Home to Read could change slightly, but it’s a fantastic programme.”

The strength of Run Home to Read, as Demonstrated in Mohau’s case, is that it is run in the family’s mother tongue and that the families are monitored throughout the learning process.

Its success is seen in uneducated women like Mohau’s mother becoming agents of education in their communities as Reading Champions.

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Percy Mabandu
Percy Mabandu is an art historian and freelance writer based in The city of Tshwane.

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