Spreading the word: reading is fun

Copy of ca hardie Businesses are there to make meaning before they make money, says Mignon Hardie.

FUNDZA is a literacy trust, the beneficiaries of which are black youths aged between 14 and 25. It aims to improve literacy levels by making reading fun, interesting and relevant to people’s lives, as Mignon Hardie explains.

FunDza has three outreach programmes. The Popularising Reading Programme is about distributing books which we create with Cover2Cover Books, and the content is exciting teen literature. The books are set in a high school (Harmony High) and look at the issues teens face on a daily basis – everything, from absent parents to drugs, schooling to teen pregnancy.

We believe passionately in paper, but the way that the world is moving is that if you want large-scale readership, you have to go electronic. So the second part of our programme is about building a community of readers; we’re using electronic media to do that by creating an online space where we can connect with our readers, they can submit their own stories, and help shape the content of books still to be published.

The books link the readers to our mobi network (on the back of the books we publish our “please call me” number) and we then send out bulk SMSes to our members telling them about new content on our site which is accessible either via the web or through a Mxit portal.

The third part of our programme is about developing young writers. This ties in with our mobi site, as that is the platform we use to publish our readers who become our writers.

We’re also planning writing workshops to take people who are passionate about writing and want to develop their skills and learn to write for an audience. Teen writing is cathartic, which is fantastic, but if you want to write for an audience you need to take it to a new level.

The stories and the responses

People have responded to the stories so incredibly well. Broken Promises, for example, tells the story of Ntombi, whose mother has a new boyfriend and is out all the time, so she has to play the role of mother in the household. It’s about how she deals with that as she’s an aspirant singer and wants a life of her own. One reader’s reaction was that she got so angry with the mother, and then so angry with the daughter, and that she couldn’t read it as it was so close to her own life.

The “heart response” has been amazing. Readers telling us that they never knew that there was a book about them, and their life. And that’s important to us: that sticking factor. The knowledge that your own life is important and validated through the pages, and that you can recognise yourself through it.

How do you get your books out there?

We invite beneficiary organisations (youth development organisations, schools, libraries, book clubs) to become partners with us. They have to show the commitment to get together a group of teens who want to read, and are excited enough about these books to pass them on, and take part in the reporting mechanism where we get feedback on the books. We have 65 beneficiaries nationwide, and most have either a library system or a facilitated reading group.

The books are sold via standard channels by Cover2Cover Books. FunDza, however, can provide these books to registered beneficiaries who can’ t afford them otherwise. We involve readers from beneficiary groups in the book development process to test material and thereby ensure that the books’ content remains relevant and exciting. So there’s a conversation happening there, which is very important.

The importance of literacy?

Literacy forms the basis of being able to think critically and be a good communicator in the world. It allows you to make better choices. You can be empowered by literacy as it gives you the ability to self-educate by reading more, and then experience the world differently by being able to ask and answer questions in a way that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to if you weren’t literate.

I was privileged to grow up in a house with lots of books and that isn’t the case with the majority of South Africans. The latest statistics from the SA National Book Development Council reveal that only 14 percent of South Africans say they are readers, and only 5 percent read to their children. So unless we can start developing a book culture and a reading nation, it’s going to be very hard for people to educate themselves and take the opportunities that life offers.

Job satisfaction?

I’ve always wanted to be involved in small business as I feel that that is where one makes a difference. There is a sense of self-determination that comes with starting something new, as opposed to working within the existing framework of big business.

Something I’ve learnt along the way that really resonates with me is that businesses are there to make meaning before they make money.

I love feeling that what I’m doing has an impact, and that that impact is not measured by money but rather by the effect it has on people’s lives. I’ve always been a big reader, so I know the value books have added to my life and I’d like to share that opportunity with others.

Leadership

The difference between management and leadership is that with management you make sure that the door is actually there, there’s a handle, all the hinges work, it’s oiled, there’s a lock and key if you need it, and the door can open and close. Being a leader is about being able to invite people to go through the door – and that they actually then go through it.

I’ve always been okay at making sure that the door can open and close, but I always get so excited about what’s happening on the other side of the door that I tend to just run off. So I’m working hard on making sure that we work together to co-create the vision so we then can walk through the door together. In our team we all contribute and I try to play a supportive role.

South Africa

I love South Africa and I’ve got no desire to be anywhere else. We live in the most beautiful country in the world, but it is fraught with challenges. And education is one of them. Education is the heart of economic and social change, so if you get that right it can have huge knock-on effects for our country.

We all have a responsibility to turn our ideas of what we want this country to be into a reality.

Check out the FunDza Literary Trust at www.fundza.co.za

l Justin Nurse is a freelance journalist and founder of Laugh It Off.


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