Climbing The Beanstalk
18 October, 2017
On the 2nd of October, three help2read staff members embarked on a Learning Share Journey to London to visit our literacy sister charity, Beanstalk. It was a very educative journey of many miles around the UK, which was akin to climbing a giant beanstalk! Indeed, Beanstalk is a literacy giant in the UK; established 43 years ago, the organisation has provided crucial reading support to over 11,000 children and has a volunteer base of over 3,000 nationally. Alex Moss was one of these volunteers and 11 years ago, he established help2read in South Africa based on the principles of Beanstalk’s one-on-one reading support model. The purpose of the Learning Share Journey was to formalise the partnership between help2read and Beanstalk and identify key best practices that make for a sustained effective and efficient reading support programme.
The first day involved spending time at the head office with the administrative and marketing teams. It was interesting to learn that the team faces similar triumphs and challenges to us in terms of volunteer recruitment coupled with a limited marketing budget. However, this is made up for by the sense of great accomplishment both organisations experience when warm relationships are established with new volunteers, who then stay on for many years providing crucial and invaluable literacy support service to learners on the programme.
We had the privilege of attending a Reading 321 volunteer training session the following day. It was such fantastic fun being on the other side of training and engaging with prospective new volunteers as if we were volunteers ourselves. The participating group was quite diverse, ranging from skilled and employed corporate individuals, retired professionals, young Moms and relatively older women. It was interesting to note that even for Beanstalk, more women than men avail themselves as volunteer reading helpers. In fact, there was only one man in the group of 15 that it could very well have been a training session being conducted in our Johannesburg office; we all had a good chuckle about this seemingly quirky universal aspect of the programme.
The highlight of the trip for me was the StoryStarters training; I was blown away by how the trainer, Amy, brought reading to 3D life! She introduced us to the delightful Mr Snuffles, a hand puppet designed to enhance the reading process for children with emerging literacy. Undoubtedly, expressive reading encourages children to be responsive, reflective and responsible readers. I am looking forward to incorporating visual reading in our standard training sessions, as it will equip volunteers with an additional skill to engage struggling learners with. And since imitation is the best form of flattery, help2read will adopt an equivalent to Mr Snuffles to add more joy to our reading sessions; particularly our after school and holiday reading clubs. Contrary to belief, visual aids such as puppets do not distract from reading and actually improve the concentration span of children.
The trip culminated with attending the Beanstalk Annual Staff Conference where we met the whole team. I enjoyed spending time with Annie Williams, the head of Philanthropy and Fundraising, who revealed that patience, persistence and consistency are essential when building relationships with funders. The funding climate in both the UK and South Africa is very challenging but articulating the shared value of improved literacy to corporate companies as well as individual funders will ensure steady support. To sum it up “The gift of literacy opens up a whole world and allows a child to thrive, which results in a functioning and effective adult.”
It was clear from the trip that improving literacy is at the core of nation-building. Many thanks to Beanstalk for this invaluable journey; help2read is committed to continuing literacy development in South Africa and we look forward to a year in the future when we also turn 43. Books are brilliant, reading for pleasure opens up the gateway to reading for meaning and this is the message we will carry far and wide as we continue our tireless efforts of developing literacy in South Africa.
– Polite Zhoya, Deputy Director