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Story Sparker empowers community through literacy

When 22-year-old Asive Mcunukelwa from Molteno finally landed a job as an Educational Assistant at a local primary school in 2019, she was overcome with joy. She had been looking for work for a long time but, as it is for many other young people in her community, employment opportunities were scarce. However, after witnessing many Grade 7 learners struggling to read for understanding, her joy was quickly replaced with concern.

“These children were getting unsatisfactory grades and their literacy skills were not on par with their level of education. I later discovered that a lot of them were not exposed to literature until they started Grade 1. I also realized that for them, sharing of stories only started and ended in the classroom. I immediately knew that was the problem and I felt desperate to change it,” she shares.

Fortunately for Asive and the children in her community, an opportunity to address this issue presented itself. An Eastern Cape literacy intervention project, Yizani Sifunde (isiXhosa for ‘Come, let’s read’) was launched in 2021. Funded by Liberty Community Trust and implemented in partnership with three prominent literacy NGOs: Nal’ibali, Book Dash and Wordworks, Its focus is on nurturing the early literacy foundations of very young children, setting them up well for when they learn to read and write at school. 

Yizani Sifunde aims to infuse underserved communities in the Eastern Cape with high-quality Early Childhood Development (ECD) training, an abundance of books for the children and their families, and sustained literacy practices in the community and in the family.

Currently, Asive forms part of a network of Yizani Sifunde’s Story Sparkers who work with 43 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres across Molteno, Burgersdorp, Sterkstroom, as well as East London and Berlin to address some of the literacy challenges facing the Eastern Cape. She supports three ECD  centres in Molteno  by delivering specially produced children’s books in isiXhosa and helping the staff to bring these books and stories to life in their classrooms.  In addition to this, she runs her own  after-school reading club.

“The most important part of my work is encouraging parents to become active supporters of their children’s literacy learning, particularly at home. For children to thrive later in school and life, they need to be surrounded by caring adults who create safe and stimulating environments for them that are filled with opportunities to play, imagine, listen to, think and talk about stories both at home and at school,” she says.

To help children have the best chance of success at school and in life, caregivers need to start talking and reading to them in their mother tongue when they are babies and keep doing this throughout their lives. Asive admits that she grew up believing that learning begins at school and is confined within the walls of a classroom. 

“I think many people still hold that belief. The fact that some parents are not actively involved in their children’s literacy development is a testament to that. They don’t know that most children’s language and learning development takes place in the early years, that 75% of what they will know is learned by the time they are two, and the foundation of language is laid and set before they reach Grade R. So, parents need to know that learning begins long before school and doesn’t stop when school is out. At Yizani Sifunde, we encourage a culture of reading for enjoyment between parents and their children,” she says.  

In addition to supporting select ECDs, Yizani Sifunde also allows interested community members in the surrounding areas to set up their own reading clubs which means that other and older children can also benefit from the project. Members of the public who wish to access free children’s stories in their home language can do on the Nal’ibali website, www.nalibali.org, or by WhatApping ‘stories’ to 060 044 2254. 

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For more information about Yizani Sifunde, contact Project Manager, Lindelwa Keswa on Lindelwa.k@nalibali.org 

 

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