Gift that keeps on giving

[Image] To teach a child to read is to equip her with the tools for success in life.
(Image: help2read)

Lorraine Kearney

Literacy is key: if you can read, you can make something of yourself.

“Literacy can break the cycle of poverty,” stresses Marco Andolfi, the business development manager of Cape Town-based non-profit Section 21 company help2read.

The flipside is that if you cannot read, you are trapped – unemployed and unemployable, or stuck in a low-paid, unskilled job.

With this in mind, help2read has designed a model that targets primary school children in under-resourced schools.

“help2read is an organisation set up to promote child literacy across South Africa,” Andolfi explains. “We recruit and train local volunteers to help children in primary schools – mostly in grade three – to learn to read.”

There are approximately five-million illiterate people in South Africa. And schools are not necessarily helping to lower this number: according to the 2006 Pirls report, South African schoolchildren are three to five years behind their international counterparts.

Pirls, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, is run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, an independent, international cooperative of national research institutions and governmental research agencies. First conducted in 2001, Pirls reports every five years on the reading achievement of fourth grade children worldwide.

“The problem is that most South African children come from a culture of non-reading,” says Andolfi, “and this is added to poorly resourced schools.”

There are no books at home; children don’t see or listen to their parents reading; they are seldom, if ever, taken to a library; their schools frequently do not have libraries.

How it works

help2read places volunteers, each armed with a well-stocked book box, into participating schools. There are coordinator teachers at these schools who identify the pupils most in need. The volunteers then work one-on-one with these children, 30 minutes a week, for a year.

In total, each volunteer spends two hours a week at their school. The long-term nature of the intervention helps to build strong relationships of trust between the child and the volunteer, as well as build the child’s self-confidence.

“We have 686 volunteers working in our schools in Western Cape and Gauteng. It is unpaid work, and many of them are unemployed. It’s also a skills development project. We hold regular workshops for our volunteers, and they learn skills that will help them in finding work.”

Some volunteers are employed and come in before work; others are retired people. Each volunteer is strictly vetted, with proper police clearances carried out, before they are trained. Only once this is done are they placed in schools.

Of the volunteers, 52% are unemployed and live in disadvantaged areas. They often volunteer as a means of participating in meaningful activities that enhance their own skills and self-esteem. Women make up 93% of the volunteers.

It seems to be working. “In 2011 we had assessments that found that after six months on our programme, learning improved by 14 months.” This brings the children up to speed.

Although this school outreach is the core of help2read’s work, it also has other projects to promote literacy, such as Reading Adventures, which run at local libraries.

“We use puppet shows and other activities to spread the love for reading. We are also now undertaking a youth librarian training project together with Equal Education.”

Such partnerships are an engine of growth, Andolfi says, emphasising that there is room for more, particularly with the education ministry. It has also recently expanded into Namibia, teaming up with the Michelle McLean Children Trust.

Numbers are growing

help2Read started as a pilot project in 2005 at Muizenberg Primary School, on the Cape Peninsula. It now works in about 90 schools in the Western Cape, with about 1 250 children. It also expanded into Gauteng in 2011, where it works in 15 schools and helps 250 pupils.

“In the long run, our major goal is to be in rural areas, especially in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape [where the need is greatest],” says Andolfi. “We must create skills in the areas where people live so that they can make a life there, and are not forced to migrate.”

The mission, according to the group, is to “motivate the literate adult population in South Africa to pass on their skills to the next generation, helping children to become confident readers. The key to the future of help2read is the recruitment and development of volunteers from underprivileged communities”.

Andolfi explains: “We try to train people to help themselves.” He points out that help2read is not a charity but is a developmental organisation. It’s the old story of teaching a person to fish rather than giving him a fish.

Of course, the need is great. Volunteers and cash are constantly in demand. Corporates can help through donations, and individuals can also make donations – for just R100 a month, for example, you can sponsor a child to learn to read for a year. For R25 000, a company can sponsor an entire school.

Donations and sponsorships are also used to get books. They come from publishing houses, which donate or give an NGO discount; through the US group Books for Africa; and from individuals.

Books used in the programme are age-appropriate and in line with school requirements. Donated books that don’t fit this profile are sold back to the public. The cash raised through these book sales and other fundraising activities is poured right back into the literacy programme.

The organisation is holding its annual fundraising dinner in Cape Town on 20 November.

Description: Help2read works in schools

Metatags: help2read, read, education, literacy, illiterate, volunteer, school, library, learner, book, MediaClub, Play Your Part, Brand South Africa, Brand SA, official site

Gift that keeps on giving

Teaching a child to read is a priceless gift. The world opens when you can read, and your prospects improve – a better job, a better life. The help2read organisation gives this gift to South African children.

Lorraine Kearney

Literacy is key: if you can read, you can make something of yourself.

“Literacy can break the cycle of poverty,” stresses Marco Andolfi, the business development manager of Cape Town-based non-profit Section 21 company help2read.

The flipside is that if you cannot read, you are trapped – unemployed and unemployable, or stuck in a low-paid, unskilled job.

With this in mind, help2read has designed a model that targets primary school children in under-resourced schools.

“help2read is an organisation set up to promote child literacy across South Africa,” Andolfi explains. “We recruit and train local volunteers to help children in primary schools – mostly in grade three – to learn to read.”

There are approximately five-million illiterate people in South Africa. And schools are not necessarily helping to lower these rates: according to the 2006 Pirls report, South African schoolchildren are three to five years behind their international counterparts.

Pirls, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, is run by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, an independent, international cooperative of national research institutions and governmental research agencies. First conducted in 2001, Pirls reports every five years on the reading achievement of fourth grade children worldwide.

“The problem is that most South African children come from a culture of non-reading,” says Andolfi, “and this is added to poorly resourced schools.” There are no books at home; they don’t see or listen to their parents reading; they are not often, if ever, taken to a library; their schools frequently do not have libraries.

How it works

help2read places volunteers, each armed with a well-stocked book box, into participating schools. There are coordinator teachers at these schools who identify the pupils most in need. The volunteers then work one-on-one with these children, 30 minutes a week, for a year. In total, each volunteer spends two hours a week at their school. The long-term nature of the intervention helps to build strong relationships of trust between the child and the volunteer, as well as build the child’s self-confidence.

“We have 686 volunteers working in our schools in Western Cape and Gauteng. It is unpaid work, and many of them are unemployed. It’s also a skills development project. We hold regular workshops for our volunteers, and they learn skills that will help them in finding work.”

Some volunteers are employed and come in before work; others are retired people. Each volunteer is strictly vetted, with proper police clearances carried out, before they are trained. Only once this is done are they placed in schools. Of the volunteers, 52% are unemployed and live in disadvantaged areas. They often volunteer as a means of participating in meaningful activities that enhance their own skills and self-esteem. Women make up 93% of the volunteers.

It seems to be working. “In 2011 we had assessments that found that after six months on our programme, learning improved by 14 months.” This brings the children up to speed.

Although this school outreach is the core of help2read’s work, it also has other projects to promote literacy, such as Reading Adventures, which run at local libraries.

“We use puppet shows and other activities to spread the love for reading. We are also now undertaking a youth librarian training project together with Equal Education.”

Such partnerships are an engine of growth, Andolfi says, emphasising that there is room for more, particularly with the education ministry. It has also recently expanded into Namibia, teaming up with the Michelle McLean Children Trust.

Numbers are growing

help2Read started as a pilot project in 2005 at Muizenberg Primary School, on the Cape Peninsula. It now works in about 90 schools in the Western Cape, with about 1 250 children. It also expanded into Gauteng in 2011, where it works in 15 schools and helps 250 pupils.

“In the long run, our major goal is to be in rural areas, especially in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape [where the need is greatest],” says Andolfi. “We must create skills in the areas where people live so that they can make a life there, and are not forced to migrate.”

The mission, according to the group, is to “motivate the literate adult population in South Africa to pass on their skills to the next generation, helping children to become confident readers. The key to the future of help2read is the recruitment and development of volunteers from underprivileged communities”.

Andolfi explains: “We try to train people to help themselves.” He points out that help2read is not a charity but is a developmental organisation. It’s the old story of teaching a person to fish rather than giving him a fish.

Of course, the need is great. Volunteers and cash are constantly in demand. Corporates can help through donations, and individuals can also make donations – for just R100 a month, for example, you can sponsor a child to learn to read for a year. For R25 000, a company can sponsor an entire school.

Donations and sponsorships are also used to get books. They come from publishing houses, which donate or give an NGO discount; through the US group Books for Africa; and from individuals. Books used in the programme are age-appropriate and in line with school requirements. Donated books that don’t fit this profile are sold back to the public. The cash raised through these book sales and other fundraising activities is poured right back into the literacy programme.

The organisation is holding its annual fundraising dinner in Cape Town on 20 November.

Contact:

Marco Andolfi, business development manager

Tel: +27 (0)21 685 8085

Fax: +27 (0)86 511 2399