Who Is Who In Literacy – Meet FunDza
15 August, 2017
Access to reading material is one of the main barriers to literacy in South Africa. According to recent research conducted by the South African Book Development Council, only four out of ten households have books to read for pleasure.
In this month’s edition of Who Is Who In Literacy we feature FunDza, a local NGO that is tackling access to books and stories head on by providing disadvantaged youth with relevant and engaging reading material.
We spoke with the Executive Director of FunDza, Mignon Hardie, to find out more about FunDza and its work across the country.
How did FunDza get started, and what motivated the founders to tackle access to books and stories?
The FunDza Literacy Trust was born out of a small independent publisher which we had started, called Cover2Cover Books. Dorothy Dyer was the inspiration behind the entire project. At that time, Dorothy was teaching English to learners at LEAP Maths and Science School in Pinelands and wanted to find a way to get her students reading for pleasure. While doing this, she realised that there was a gap: too few accessible books aimed at South African teens and young adults that inspired a joy of reading.
Dorothy set out to address this problem and teamed up Mignon Hardie, Ros Haden and Palesa Morudu, all passionate about getting South Africa reading, to create Cover2Cover Books with its flagship teen series, Harmony High.
The FunDza Literacy Trust was founded to take on the social development aims of the small publishing house: to find innovative ways of growing a love of reading and writing among South Africa’s youth. FunDza was founded not only to get books and stories into the hands of those who have the least access at present, but also to support the creation of local stories that speak to the hearts and minds of our country’s youth.
How do you provide youth with access to books and stories?
We do this in two ways: firstly, through our book distribution programme, which partners with beneficiary groups that work with teens and young adults. Secondly, through our fundza.mobi portal, which provides access to a growing “library on a phone”.
We also work with a number of third-party platforms and allow some of our content to be made available in other spaces too. These include the online platforms of Worldreader, Vodacom Digital Classroom and Level Up, and also in special reading projects such a Zenex one in the Eastern Cape.
The idea is to make local stories and content as freely accessible as possible. A large part of our focus is on creating the materials that will resonate with our target readership and encourage reading for pleasure. Every day there is something new to read. Each week we publish a new, local, professionally written and edited story – this comes out on ‘FunDza Friday’, a children’s story – this comes out on a Monday, as well as a variety of blog posts and feature articles.
Can you tell us more about your book distribution programme?
Since inception, we have supported approximately 500 reading groups across South Africa with access to books and have delivered more than 90,000 books and almost 200,000 pocket booklets to these groups.
We’ve seen the best results among readers that have used our books as part of more structured reading programmes; as a result, we’re piloting a new approach to explore the best way to support structured reading groups in the future.
Can you tell us more about the Young Writers programme and how you empower youth through literacy?
In schools, writing, like reading, is often taught as a chore, something with no intrinsic meaning. We encourage our readers to practice their writing skills and send in their writing for editing and publication online. More than 2,000 individual writers have had their work published through the ‘Fanz’ section.
FunDza provides one of the few platforms for aspiring writers to share their work with a real audience who read their stories, poems or essays for enjoyment. This helps writers think more carefully about their writing, and also creates a sense of community as writers appreciate and comment on each other’s work.
We also run a variety of writing workshops through our network of beneficiary groups and we’re piloting three writing clubs in Gauteng at the moment.
Through a freshly-completed three year project with the National Arts Council, we’ve also been able to take young aspirant writers to the next level – offering a select number professional mentorships.
What are some of the challenges that you face with regards to youth and literacy in South Africa?
In many ways it is the challenges that have determined our approach: young South Africans who come from homes or communities where there is a lack of a reading culture do not see reading as something pleasurable or meaningful, and so we have to be very sure that our content is exciting enough to hook these new readers. Teens are often more interested in social media, and so they can find our mobi library in a place they are familiar with: their cellphones.
Many young people are also not aware of the benefits of reading for pleasure, and so do not value it enough as an activity. We have also realised the importance of educating people about the benefits of reading in both their academic and their personal lives.
How might the use of mobile – given possible limitations on imagery – be applicable for younger age children?
Child-friendly content on mobiles can be shared by older readers with younger readers. To this end, we publish a children’s story every week as we know that many of our readers are already young parents or have younger siblings or children in the community that they reach. We want them to not only develop a reading habit for themselves but to share the love with younger children too. We often do use images in these stories, although we need to be mindful both of data costs and the restrictions of low-end mobile devices to reproduce these with ease.
We have had some amazing responses from people who have used our app to read to children on their phones. Many are parents but one story does stand out. Unisa student Anzani Tshivhase, accessed FunDza’s children’s stories on her phone during her in-service training with an ECD centre in Limpopo province. The ECD centre had no children’s books so she read the ones online to the children instead. We loved this innovative use of our ‘library on a phone’!
How can other organisations, whether schools or literacy NGOs, support and be supported by FunDza’s efforts?
There are lots of ways to connect with us. Organisations or groups can apply to be part of FunDza’s ‘Family’ – our network the beneficiary groups around the country that are using our books and other resources to promote reading and writing in their communities. Click here to apply.
Alternatively, groups and individuals can access our online ‘library on a phone’ for free. Go to https://live.fundza.mobi on any computer, tablet or phone connected to the Internet; or download FunDzApp from the Google Play store. If you are on the Cell C network, access our content at NO data cost through our app on FreeBasics.com – go to the website and scroll down to ‘FunDza’.
Not only is there a growing library of reading content but people can also register for free open online reading and comprehension courses too. The site offers three open online courses at any point in time and these can provide useful practice for those wanting to improve their language skills for school or university.
We also run a number of special projects with different organisations. For instance, we’re providing content for an educational project in Limpopo province with Sumbandila and Rethink Education; we offer training to teachers; we also offer a variety of reading and writing workshops (either our standard offering or customised to a particular audience or need) too.
To find out more about FunDza, visit their website.
Registered Non-Profit 063-979 PBO 930027054 UK Charity Reg No. 1109567