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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 since 2009. Sifunda Kunye Literacy club has extended it outreach to more of our partner schools in Alicedale and Zwelitsha. Saturday morning book clubs currently attract between 75 and 120 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.
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.
Lean more about the Literacy Center
The Sifunda Kunye Literacy Project currently supports a variety of initiatives that assist in the development of literacy skills outside of the classroom in a fun and engaging way.
Grade 10-11 Book Clubs
These clubs are composed of 30-60 girls and boys from grades 10 and 11. Each Literacy Project facilitator leads his/her own club once a week. The group of 30 learners chosen include an equal number of strong, average and weak learners, so that all of the learners have the advantage of working with individuals at different reading levels, assisting each other and learning from each other. The books read in the clubs include novels, short stories, poetry and drama. The books are in both English and isiXhosa.
Book Club participants not only have the advantage of reading and exploring literature outside of the classroom, they also volunteer as Student Leaders for the Literacy Project’s Reading and Writing Clubs. We believe that our reading and writing role models need to read for themselves and appreciate reading in order for them to be able to share that love with the young readers at the clubs. The book clubs have grown so much since implementation in 2014. The numbers have increased and the Student Leaders are showing so much improvement in language fluency.
Book Publishing Project
This program was not originally part of the Literacy Project’s Scope; however, as we started the reading clubs, we noticed a huge lack of storybooks for young children written in their mother tongue (isiXhosa). And so we decided to print our own. Learners from grades 10 and 11 embarked on a journey to write poems, rhymes, and short stories to be compiled into books that could be used in the reading clubs. Over the past year and a half, we have published more than 10 storybooks written by the St. Matthew’s learners. These books include a compilation anthology and a book of nursery rhymes. We are currently working on a project to have children from the reading clubs record the books into audio books and have them distributed to the major community radio stations around Keiskammahoek and King Williams Town.
Primary School Extra Support Initiative
This initiative is a new programme that was fuelled when we noticed the struggles in reading and writing that many of the young children who had been coming to the Saturday morning book clubs had been experiencing. In our new Primary School Initiative, the Literacy Project facilitators dedicate 3 days a week specifically to the primary school that feeds into St Mathew’s, sharing stories, talking, reading, and singing. These things all build children’s early literacy skills, helping them to go on and read successfully later. The focus of this programme is from grade R through 5.
The Literacy Project supports reading clubs as a way to combat the general lack of reading culture in South Africa. The majority of South African students experience reading in the controlled and very often tedious environment of a school classroom. Reading is often thought of as solely an academic exercise for school purposes only. We believe that reading should be fun and that learners should be inspired to read daily by observing and interacting with reading role models around them as well as by exploring a variety of genres in enjoyable ways. We currently have two reading clubs:
- Primary School Reading Clubs (grades R-7): These reading clubs consist of 100 primary school children. They are facilitated by St Matthews’s grade 10 and 11 boarding girls and community volunteers under the leadership of a Literacy Project facilitator. The club takes place every Saturday morning from 9:00 to 13:00. When we started the clubs we had challenges with a venue to host them. Now, after the opening of the St. Matthew’s Literacy Centre, a gift from Sifunda Kunye, we have a beautiful and welcoming resource centre for all of our learners to enjoy.
- Reading club for the Keiskammahoek Children’s Home (KCH)-grads R-11) In January 2015 we launched our second reading club. It started as a project for one of our book donors Biblionef SA, where we were required to show initiative and gratitude by doing something special for our community. The student volunteers at the reading clubs loved the experience so much that they requested that we make it a regular club. The reading club takes place every second Friday at the children’s home, which is situated at the hospital in Keiskammahoek. This outreach program has allowed us to expand our literacy efforts into the broader community and has been a great experience for the young children of KCH and also the student leaders.
In 2018 we expanded our outreach and now also have community reading clubs at Sifunda Kunye partner schools Xolani Senior Secondary School in Zwelitsha and Hendrik Kanise Combined school in Alicedale.
Drama, Poetry/Song and Dance Clubs
The Literacy Project offers training to grade 10 and 11 learners, allowing them to take part in drama, poetry, music and dance, so as to grow their confidence and self-esteem and to help them experience reading and literature in new, exciting, and positive ways. Training sessions often happen on Saturday afternoons following the reading clubs.
- Drama: Learners are charged with finding a problem in the community or in a book, then they must present it through a play, song, dance or a combination of the three and present a solution to the problem. This helps the learners to develop critical thinking skills and problem solving skills while engaging in a fun and imaginative activity.In addition to the short problem-solving plays, grade 10 and 11 learners produce larger drama performances which are played for primary and senior primary learners of surrounding schools.
- Poetry: We get learners to express themselves through poetry and teach them to enjoy playing with words and language to convey meaning. Poetry reading and performances are encouraged. Many of our students have developed a love for poetry and performance art since beginning with our clubs.
- Songs and dance: We encourage learners to sing along and dance to good music and to write and sing their own songs. We encourage them to collect songs for kids, write song books, and record CDs that go with their songs for young children. This is a great reading and writing exercises that also helps foster creativity and self-expression.
Innovative Writing Camp Empowers Learners
Eighty learners from five area schools explore creativity, learning, and self-expression in an intense writing camp over a weekend. The camp is sponsored and hosted by the Sifunda Kunye Educational Project, a local public benefit organization that has been active in the King Williams Town district since 2008.
Sifunda Kunye invites 10 to 15 learners from each of its partner schools in the King Williams Town District and Grahamstown district to participate in these camps. Learners from St. Matthew’s, Toise SSS, Xolani, Richard Varha, and Hendrik Kanise Combined Schools spend an intense 3 days (Friday-Sunday) focusing on a specific theme, completing personal works, and submitting them for peer critique. Learners are encouraged to express their dreams and ambitions in essays, poems, and group discussions and drama. Participants receive guidance from a talented group of volunteer facilitator leaders, student leaders, and the Sifunda Kunye staff.
Participants submit their work for inclusion into a published student journal at the end of the camp. The journal is a unique opportunity for many to see their
work in print.
Learners and teachers are continually impressed with the writing camps. Participants relish the opportunity to engage in an in-depth weekend of imaginative learning. They enjoy improving their language and writing skills in a fun and creative venue outside of the classroom. Teachers enjoy witnessing the progress these young writers make over the course of a weekend.
The Sifunda Kunye Literacy Project’s writing camps have been successfully running since they first launched in August 2014. Sifunda Kunye is a non-profit that relies on donations and grants to support its literacy and technology programs in Eastern Cape schools.
Our Literacy Project facilitators, student leaders, and volunteers from the community offer writing workshops once a year to grade eight (9) and nine (10) learners from the Sifunda Kunye Partner Schools. Each of the five partner schools identify 10 to 15 learners to participate in the writing camps. The camps are hosted at St. Matthew’s High School and take place during weekends in September (Heritage Day month). They run from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon with children and their chaperones sleeping over at the school.
The camps have been successfully running since they were first launched in August 2014. We published our first journal in 2015, which included short stories, personal narratives and poetry. The learners really enjoy the opportunity to participate in an in-depth weekend of imaginative learning.
Creative Writing Clubs
Our learners are creative, hungry for knowledge, they grab opportunities presented to them. We don’t only offer writing camp and leave it there, we push creative writing clubs in all our schools, it is a way of expression and making these learners show their potentials. These clubs offer learners assistance in:
- Writing skills
- Improve in language skills
- Supportive environment
- Creative skills
- Planning skills
The club focuses on the following writing each term:
- Personal narratives, history, and poetry in TERM 1
- Fiction and non-fiction story writing and essays in TERM 2
- Summary writing and newspaper articles in TERM 3
- Songs, plays, and opinion pieces in TERM 4