Spread­ing the gift of sto­ry­telling to even the re­motest ar­eas

Daily Dispatch - - News - CARLA LEVER

Around De­cem­ber each year, Face­book is flooded with sto­ries of Jo­labokaflod: the Ice­landic tra­di­tion of gift­ing books each Christ­mas Eve, with fam­i­lies peace­fully read­ing the night away to­gether.

Peo­ple love it, post­ing cosy images of fam­i­lies gath­er­ing around twin­kling trees with books in hand.

But, as we are well aware, SA is not Ice­land. More books are writ­ten, sold and read per per­son there than any­where else in the world – in fact, more than 10 per­cent of Ice­landers will pub­lish their own books.

In SA, the story is much starker – eight of ev­ery 10 grade 4 stu­dents are un­able to read for ba­sic mean­ing in any lan­guage.

It’s no sur­prise that if read­ing books is be­yond the abil­ity of most South African chil­dren, buy­ing books is far be­yond their fam­ily’s means.

And yet, stud­ies show that one of the most im­por­tant fac­tors in pre­dict­ing a child’s fu­ture aca­demic suc­cess is whether or not they have ac­cess to books.

Ex­cit­ing, en­gag­ing books cre­ate ex­cited, en­gaged read­ers who, in turn, grow into ca­pa­ble, crit­i­cally en­gaged adults.

Let’s be real: buy­ing more chil­dren’s books in this coun­try isn’t a re­al­is­tic op­tion. Pub­lish­ing more books is go­ing to take time. But we need change now.

En­ter Nal’ibali: the NGO whose Xhosa name quite lit­er­ally means “here’s the story”.

Nal’ibali is pas­sion­ate about spread­ing sto­ries across SA.

Af­ford­able, mo­bile, qual­ity read­ing ma­te­ri­als are in short sup­ply: ones that are fun and en­gag­ing are even rarer. One of Nali’bali’s most suc­cess­ful cam­paigns has been to pub­lish “the Nal’ibali” – a story sup­ple­ment dis­trib­uted in ma­jor South African news­pa­pers – one ev­ery fort­night.

The sup­ple­ments con­tain “cut out and keep’ sto­ries”, cer­tainly, but more than that, they con­tain the means to en­joy them.

In­ter­ac­tive ac­tiv­i­ties get chil­dren en­gag­ing with the char­ac­ters and ques­tion­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion in their own lives. A va­ri­ety of trans­la­tions means that no child is ex­cluded be­cause of their home lan­guage, and a guide for teach­ers and par­ents helps break down the ma­te­rial for use in schools and for learn­ing in the home.

The sup­ple­ments are al­ready printed fort­nightly in the Daily Dis­patch, The Her­ald, and Sun­day Times Ex­press.

In 2019, they will be joined by the Sowe­tan, ap­pear­ing on Fri­days. All this adds up: over 300,000 copies of the sup­ple­ment are de­liv­ered ev­ery two weeks dur­ing term times.

Tiso Black­star’s Patti McDon­ald says they are hon­oured to be a part­ner in this project, where de­liv­er­ies in­clude deeply ru­ral East­ern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal schools as well as to read­ing clubs, li­braries, schools and post of­fices in Gaut­eng, Western Cape, Lim­popo, Free State, North­ern Cape and North West.

“When high-qual­ity read­ing ma­te­ri­als land di­rectly in chil­dren and teach­ers’ hands, there’s no limit to what is pos­si­ble!” she says.

But what of the ru­ral schools out of the news­pa­per dis­tri­bu­tion area? It turns out Nal'ibali has a plan for them too.

More than 64,000 copies of sup­ple­ments are de­liv­ered fort­nightly, di­rect to deep ru­ral read­ing clubs and schools, ei­ther through the postal ser­vice or by hand with a team of ded­i­cated de­liv­ery peo­ple.

What dif­fer­ence does a story make to a child liv­ing in a deep ru­ral com­mu­nity?

“These sup­ple­ments are more than just newsprint to com­mu­ni­ties,” Nal'ibali manag­ing di­rec­tor Jade Ja­cob­sohn says.

“We’ve had teach­ers who ven­tured through dan­ger­ous com­mu­nity protests just to col­lect valu­able read­ing re­sources for their stu­dents.

“We weren’t sure if chil­dren whose pri­or­i­ties were work­ing in the fields would en­gage, but we found boys would ac­tu­ally re­turn to school after tak­ing their cat­tle out to graze, just be­cause they knew that Nal’ibali would be vis­it­ing. It's in­cred­i­ble!”

In­cred­i­ble it is. An in­de­pen­dent 2018 ex­ter­nal eval­u­a­tion of the Nal’ibali sup­ple­ment showed high use rates, par­tic­u­larly among read­ing clubs, and fre­quent in­ci­dence of key read­ing be­hav­iours, like adults read­ing aloud to chil­dren.

De­mand for the sup­ple­ment is at an all­time high as well – 97% of read­ing clubs that do not re­ceive Nal’ibali sup­ple­ments say they would like to.

“Our staff in­spire me with their pas­sion for pro­mot­ing South African lit­er­acy and our more re­mote ser­vice providers quite lit­er­ally go the ex­tra mile,” Ja­cob­sohn says.

“We've even had sup­ple­ment de­liv­er­ers who trekked across muddy hills and crossed flooded rivers when it wasn’t clear ve­hi­cles would make it."

Santa may not be vis­it­ing the South African book in­dus­try any­time soon, but, thanks to Nal'ibali, hun­dreds of thou­sands of chil­dren will wake up to the gift of sto­ries ev­ery fort­night.


DIF­FER­ENT READS: The plea­sure of choos­ing books!

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