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Women at the forefront of early-childhood literacy development in East London

It is a known fact that many grade 4 learners across the country are unable to read for meaning. The Eastern Cape is no exception, which highlights the importance of literacy interventions like Yizani Sifunde, which is providing underserved communities in the province with books and simple, high quality literacy practices for families and communities to adopt.

Launched in 2021, Yizani Sifunde (isiXhosa for ‘come, let’s read’) is a project funded by the Liberty Community Trust and implemented in partnership with three prominent literacy NGOs: Nal’ibali, Book Dash and Wordworks. Its focus is to nurture the early literacy foundations of very young children, exposing them to books and reading practises, setting them up for when they learn to read and write at school. 

The project is made all the richer with leading ladies like literacy activist Olwethu Mlilwana (34) and Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioner, Vuyokazi Dondi (39) from Nxaruni and Scenery Park, respectively. These ladies spend their days reading, sharing stories and fun literacy activities with young children in their communities.

Olwethu and Vuyokazi believe that children will thrive later in school and in life, if they are surrounded by caring adults who create safe and stimulating environments for them to learn and express their imagination through books. “Children need spaces that that are filled with opportunities to play, imagine, listen, think and talk about stories both at home and at school,” explains Olwethu, a Yizani Sifunde Story Sparker.

Olwethu is addressing some of the literacy challenges facing the Eastern Cape at a local level. “I support three ECD  centres in Nxaruni by delivering especially produced children’s books in isiXhosa and helping the staff to bring these books and stories to life in their classrooms. I also run my own  after-school reading club, which supports 12 children,” she says.

Vuyokazi agrees firmly with Olwethu: “To help children have the best chance of success at school and in life, we need to start talking and reading to them in their mother tongue when they are babies and keep doing this throughout their lives.” This is one of the reasons she decided to open her own ECD Centre in 2017. Vuyokazi and her team at Kamvelihle Day Care Centre, look after 30 children aged between 6 months and 6 years. With support from Yizani Sifunde, the children have story books to read and play with both at the centre and at home. “Reading interventions must be introduced in the early years, well before children begin school in Grade R. Much of what children know is learned by the time they are two, and the foundation of language is laid and set before they reach Grade R. Yizani Sifunde couldn’t have come at a better time - by starting at ECD level, the effects of this intervention will be meaningful and felt throughout children’s school years and long into adulthood,” she says.

In addition to supporting 43 ECDs across Molteno, Burgersdorp, Sterkstroom, East London and Berlin, Yizani Sifunde helps interested community members in surrounding areas to set up their own reading clubs so that children not in the project, can benefit. 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 WhatApp ‘stories’ to 060 044 2254. 


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


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