Reading Clubs- a powerful tool for addressing illiteracy

In the community of Majomela in Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal, more than 400 children gather every day with their parents to read, write, draw and play. The children, aged between two and fifteen years, are motivated and inspired by the love of their volunteer teachers who work with them in the Reading Clubs. This community initiative started in April 2013, as a result of the passion of one young man who realised that freedom of expression is hard to attain if you are not literate.

Gcinumuzi Radebe (25), the founder of Nongoma Reading Clubs, wakes up every day filled with enthusiasm to change the course of Majomela history with one reading session at a time. Together with 16 other youth volunteers, Radebe runs 12 reading clubs in their community, helping children learn to enjoy and be confident in reading. In a recent interview with ACTIVATE!, Radebe said, “We want them to have fun while they read, create and tell their own beautiful stories.” 

Majomela is situated in rural Nongoma, with very little infrastructure.  The Reading Clubs take place at the homes of the volunteers. Weekday workshops start at 15h00 and end at 17h00. Children enjoy these workshops with their parents and volunteer teachers, whom the children relate to as brothers and sisters, since they are from the same community. At the homes of the volunteer teachers, the children are free from worries of harsh criticism and the corporal punishment they sometimes encounter at school. In these Reading Clubs they are never made to feel inferior, pressured to conform, or in danger of failing or being labelled as failures.

Zama Ngcobo (12), in Grade 7 at Sizumphakathi Primary and a member of a Nongoma Reading Club, said, “We are very happy that teachers in our club listen to us when we read, and that they also sing and play with us. It makes me even happier when our parents are here, we read to them, and they look happy too.”

The schools benefiting from the project are Sizumphakathi and Fefe Primaries, as well as Mthombowesizwe High, all located within the Majomela community. Throughout the year, the schools invite the Nongoma Reading Clubs to run reading sessions. They are thankful to the clubs for the support, as they see that participating learners improve, both in their reading ability and in their love of reading.

Sinegugu Ngcobo (28), a volunteer teacher, loves the opportunity the program gives her to teach children to read in both isiZulu and English. “Many at Majomela cannot freely express themselves in English, even matriculants. I am glad that these children are learning to be multilingual from their childhood.” Ngcobo completed matric in 2004, and has been unemployed since then. Since joining the reading club, she has developed a passion for teaching. “I would be glad to get a bursary to study teaching. I want to adopt this fun style of teaching and learning that I have learnt from our club.”

The Majomela community is working together to improve the standard of their children’s education. This spirit is at the heart of Radebe’s work. “Everyone can make a difference. It doesn’t mean that you need to have money, you can use your talents, skills and knowledge to drive the change you want for your community” Radebe emphasised.

The work of Majomela would not have been effective without the support from Nal’ibali, a national reading-for-enjoyment campaign which sparks children’s potential through storytelling and reading. Nal’ibali (isiXhosa for “here’s the story”) provides the reading clubs with story books and other stationery resources.  Through sustained mentoring and collaboration with communities, reading clubs, literacy organizations and volunteers of all ages along with a vibrant media campaign, Nal’ibali is striving to root a culture of literacy into the fabric of everyday life in South Africa.

 “We are thankful for the support we get from Nal’ibali, but I believe our work would be more effective if we had more books, equipment, and our own local library. We urge and welcome any support from organizations and government departments with same vision of a literate nation.” Radebe said.

Radebe heard about Nal’ibali after he joined the Activate! Network. Through Activate! he also learnt that he cannot do things alone but he needs to build relationships with other people –both within his community and anywhere in the world.

With materials developed and provided by Nal’ibali, and with skills and inspiration from ACTIVATE!, Radebe has turned his passion for literacy into a successful programme, bringing the joy of reading to hundreds of families in rural KwaZulu-Natal. His achievement has also motivated young people from his community to pursue further studies to become educators and is a beacon of hope for young leaders across South Africa, inspiring them to reach for the stars and turn their dreams for a better future into reality. 

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