Who Is Who In Literacy – Meet Biblionef
7 November, 2017
Have a bookshelf lined with books at home? Count yourself privileged. In South Africa, access to books is a major challenge hindering literacy; a challenge that particularly impacts children from impoverished families, who are less likely to own or have access to reading material at home.
Countless studies stress the importance of access to books. Growing up surrounded by reading material has a direct impact on your ability to read; you’re more likely to succeed in school, be a fluent reader and receive more years of schooling than your counterparts who don’t enjoy the same access to books.
While this is a major challenge in South Africa, it is also an area of incredible opportunity for change. In our latest edition of ‘Who Is Who In Literacy’, we feature Biblionef South Africa, an organisation that’s putting books in the hands of thousands of children across South Africa. We spoke with Darcell van Buuren, who oversees fundraising at Biblionef, about the organisation and its work.
Since you began in 1998, you’ve distributed a whopping 1, 5 million books to organisations and schools in disadvantaged communities around South Africa. Can you tell us a bit more about your work, how you distribute literacy resources and who you work with?
Biblionef’s mission is to provide the worlds neediest and isolated with children books and a chance to read. The South African office is one of six other Biblionef offices scattered around the world, each ensuring that children have access to reading material. Each child gets given a new book and we partner with schools and literacy organisations in disadvantaged areas. Our main focus is getting the right book to the right child. We advocate that children should read for pleasure, which is why we primarily donate storybooks.
Schools, children’s homes, refugee camps or any other children’s organisation with an educational focus can apply to Biblionef for a donation of books. Organisations are asked to apply to us by writing a letter of motivation, which will then be assessed by our Executive Director; priority is given to schools and organisations in townships, informal settlements and rural areas.
The books are packed into boxes by our staff and are couriered to our beneficiaries. This entire process is free; however, our beneficiaries commit to taking on a community project to ‘give back’ to their community in ‘payment’ for the books. This helps to further improve the community, as well as create a sense of ownership and responsibility for the books.
What age group of readers do you cater for?
We focus on donating books to children between the ages of 3 to 18 years.
What are some of the challenges that you face with regards to literacy in South Africa?
South Africa is faced with a host of challenges; poverty and unemployment being the highest on the list. Our staff has seen first-hand the effects of poverty at the schools that we support. For example, children are unable to focus on their school work because they have not eaten a proper meal, while others are being taught outside because they do not have classrooms. In these instances, literacy education is not seen as a priority because there are a number of other factors that are deemed more important. As a result, not a lot of focus is given to acquiring quality storybooks for children. Funding will rather be spent on providing meals or shelter for the learners.
Do you distribute books that are in a number of different South African languages?
Yes, we do. We donate new storybooks in all the 11 South African languages as well as Braille where needed. We source books for our donation program from local publishers and look for stories that depict African culture and contain stories that South Africa children can relate to. When funding allows, we commission the translation, publishing and reprinting of exciting stories into local languages, which helps to broaden the base of stories available to children in the country.
Can you tell us more about how you promote early literacy?
By promoting reading and access to storybooks, we help children develop early literacy skills. Our books also help resource our beneficiaries’ reading interventions, aiding in literacy development.
When funding allows, our staff personally hands over the donation of books to our beneficiaries. We then use the opportunity to explain to them the importance of storytelling and reading aloud. We encourage teachers to have regular reading sessions with their class and to demonstrate how fun reading for pleasure can be.
How do you foster sustainability in your operations?
Biblionef offers its expertise in library skills to literacy organisations that have funding. We have been very successful in rendering services, such as the covering of books, setting up libraries and sourcing appropriate books for particular age-groups, all of which help generate income and ensure sustainability. Literacy organisations can also use their funds with Biblionef to carry out their book-related projects.
How can other organisations, whether schools or literacy NGOs, support and be supported by Biblionef’s efforts?
Literacy organisations and schools that have received funding for the purchase of storybooks are encouraged to see if they want to partner with Biblionef. We are one of the only organisations with such a big variety of children’s storybooks in all 11 languages. Our staff are skilled in selecting books that cater to the specific needs of children (e.g. selecting books in the children’s home language and ensuring that the books are age-appropriate). We also offer personalised advice on selecting the best storybooks for your literacy programmes. When literacy organisations and schools use their funding with us, we can negotiate for a percentage of the books to be donated as a way of promoting their literacy efforts.
For children’s organisations and schools that have no funding and are in great need for home language storybooks, they can apply to Biblionef South Africa for a donation of new storybooks. Applications can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about Biblionef, visit their website.
Registered Non-Profit 063-979 PBO 930027054 UK Charity Reg No. 1109567