Literacy advancement is a founding tenet of the Sifunda Kunye Educational Project. Though it started small, the Literacy Project is now a robust portfolio of various programs and truly one of our most valuable endeavors. The Literacy Project began in 2009 as a small Saturday morning book club, conceived by our original project manager and run by student leaders in the President’s Award program at St. Matthew’s High School. Instilling a love of reading and the personal pursuit of knowledge is a crucial aspect to education success no matter where you are. The book club was our first attempt to help foster those traits in our learners. The goal was to get students and leaders together to enjoy reading and learning outside of the classroom.
In the early days of the program, as we explored ways to positively impact literacy, we reached out to two Cape Town-based programs – PRAESA and Nal’ibali. Both support book clubs for learners in poor areas around Cape Town. They also produce isiXhosa and English primary school books to help young learners develop language skills. We were very impressed by their model and we soon invited two PRAESA employees, Xolisa Guzulu and Ntombi Mahobe, to visit the St. Matthew’s book club and train some of the St. Matthew’s students to lead the clubs in storytelling, drama, and English/isiXhosa reading.
The book clubs continued to be a successful program over the next couple of years, but by the end of 2012 it became clear that more support was required in order to see the program reach its full potential. And so the Sifunda Kunye Literacy Project was born, revitalizing the Saturday book clubs and adding additional programs in writing, drama, and music. We hired Nolundi Ngxekana as the first manager of the Literacy Project by the end of 2013. Her assistant manger Mihlalikazi Khumalo was also hired at that time. Sadly, shortly after the kick start of the project in January 2014, Nolundi passed away. We were incredibly lucky to have Mihlalikazi step up to the position of manager. She brought energy and a new level of strong leadership to the program.
The Sifunda Kunye Literacy Project has now been successfully running for over a year and a half. Saturday morning book clubs currently attract between 75 and 120 students each week from Keiskammahoek and surrounding villages. Kids between the ages of 4 and 14 meet to participate in storytelling groups, reading groups, drama and music circles, connecting language, learning, and fun outside of a traditional classroom setting.
The Sifunda Kunye Literacy Center at St. Matthew’s
As the programs have grown, so has the need for a dedicated space and resource center. In August 2015, the Sifunda Kunye Literacy Center opened on campus at St. Matthew’s. The building was an unused classroom block from the old part of campus. In May 2015, Sifunda Kunye launched a large project to refurbish the building, creating a beautiful resource room for all of the Literacy Project’s activities, including the popular Saturday morning book clubs. The entire renovation cost approximately $22,000USD and took three months to complete. Sifunda Kunye Project Manager Zander Hampson led the effort with tremendous results.
The Center now houses a small primary-level reading library filled with isiXhosa and English books, a reading corner, and a larger multi-purpose auditorium space used for drama and music. Students, teachers, and staff now enjoy the space regularly. We continue adding resources and improvements to the building. One of the improvements for which we are currently pursuing funding is the renovation of the toilet block nearest the Literacy Center. Currently the kids and leaders do not have access to any form of indoor plumbing at the center. We hope to have that project funded and completed by the end of 2016.
In addition to offering the St. Matthew’s learners a recreational learning space, one of the largest benefits of the Center has been the opportunity for outreach. Learners from Richard Varha Secondary School as well as residents of the Keiskammahoek Children’s Home regularly attend club meetings and events at the new building. It has become an essential educational gathering space for the children of the community and is helping us fulfill our mission to support quality education and literacy.