Ndilisa, Talita, Lwazi, Vuyani, Ambesa, Ludwe, Onke & Abenathi: The Joy of Reading

Names: Ndilisa May, Talita Maliti, Lwazi Fanana, Vuyani Vorslag, Ambesa Mafanga, Ludwe Zigwebile, Onke Ntlolokotshane & Abenathi Ntelezi
School: Chris Hani Secondary School
Community Issue: Education/Literacy
Hometown: Khayelitsha, Western Cape


How do you inspire in a group of young people a love of reading? Especially when you have limited access to books and no place for young people read? Eight high school learners in Khayelitsha have been working on this dream over six months and just may have come up with the solution.

Khayelitsha is a township located about 30 minutes out of central Cape Town in the Western Cape. It was built in the mid-1980s to accommodate large numbers of rural-urban migrants segregated from living in Cape Town as part of the Group Areas Act. There are currently over half a million people living in the township with an estimated 48 000 new people arriving each year. The majority of these individuals are Xhosa speaking from the Eastern Cape. While infrastructure and education is improving, creating and maintaining housing and other basic services for the residents of this fast growing township is a constant challenge.

All over South Africa students face challenges in learning to read, write and calculate. The education system struggles to produce a proportionate number of well-educated matriculants who are able to compete at an international level.  For Chris Hani Secondary School, the number of students passing matric exams (a marker of educational success) has risen in the past five years – the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) pass rate went from 44.2% in 2009 to 83.3% in 2012 (politicsweb). With over 1200 students and specialising in arts and cultural activities, the school now shares educational success statistics with the national average. There is often a big jump in necessary English writing and reading skills between grade 7 and 8, with many students struggling to make up the necessary skills even by their final year, which is grade 12.

The Community Action Project
These 8 enke Trailblazers joined the enke family in 2013 at the Cape Town Forum. Over the following six months they designed and ran a project called “The Young Minds Reading Club” aiming to create a nation of passionate readers and focusing their efforts on primary school learners.  Their thinking was that engaging young readers at a young age is key because teaching young people is easier when they are more curious and passionate.

Having thought about their dream before the Forum, it wasn’t until they learnt about project planning skills during the Forum that they were inspired to make it happen.

Their idea was simple enough. Put a call out for fiction and non-fiction books to be donated, set up a designated area in a community space and have regular reading and discussion sessions.

Overcoming challenges
Initially, their biggest challenge was that they had no books so they encouraged people to attend the local library and borrow books from there. However, the library had restrictive opening hours and it was hard for the learners to get library cards and sharing library cards only worked for so long.

With the help of Ikamva Youth and teachers at their school, the founding members of The Young Minds Reading Club spread the word and collected donated books from friends and other schools in the area. Learning how to write sponsorship letters enabled their progress greatly and led to them setting-up their own website (this website now acts as a call out to new participants, a testament to the joy of reading and a blog on the ups and downs of the club).

The numbers of participants has fluctuated over the past six months and there were times they wanted to give up. Luckily, the primary school learners eventually figured out the Club was benefiting them, so that in the end about 116 people have come through the club and all regular participants passed English in grade 7.

Overcoming challenges like access to facilities and motivating learners was also tough but seen as a necessary evil, as one young team member put it, “we took it as a challenge because not everything will go the way we want it to be and we realise that there is no gain without pain!”.  It’s precisely this attitude that has helped them overcome their inexperience and trepidation about asking for donations, gaining permission from the school and speaking in front of people.

A brand new attitude
According to their deputy principal, these students have always been dedicated and passionate learners and she affirms the need to improve reading skills in primary school learners and is excited that this is the first project of its kind to be done by Chris Hani students.

Since initiating the project she has seen an improvement in the team’s ability to argue, their increased confidence and of course, their own passion for reading and comprehension. Although the deputy principal offers support and encouragement, as well as practical support, she attributes the success of the project to the passion and persistence of these 8 2013 enke Trailblazers involved.

What now?
Young Minds Reading Club has seen the reading skills of their participants improve and watched as dedication to the group  grew.  They would like to create a more permanent space for young people to access books to read together and to grow their book collection. Having started with English books and teaching learners how to articulate themselves in English, they now wish to expand to Xhosa and various local languages.

Their tips for new participants on the enke: Trailblazer Program:“It’s not always easy to start a community action project (CAP) but once you do things fall into place. You always need to remember the bigger picture, what you believe in and what motivates you.”

Website: http://youngmindsreadingclub.webs.com

We want to reach 1000 more young people like Sesi by the end of 2015.  You can help us support more projects like this by contributing to our crowdfunding campaign here: http://igg.me/at/enkeMYM/x/828715 

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