Q&A with literacy activist Thembela Ntongana

'An initiative like FUNda Sonke works when we do it as a country'

11 September 2019 - 12:42 By Carla Lever

FUNda Sonke is the loyalty programme for literacy NGO Nal’ibali. It encourages everyday people in our communities to get children reading, but it’s also isiXhosa for “everyone read”. What are some of the challenges we’re facing in achieving the aim of everybody reading in SA?

SA lacks a reading culture. Children see reading as old fashioned and parents are often too exhausted to spend time reading with their children.

We’re all familiar with loyalty programmes at shops. Does FUNda Sonke operate like that, with points that you can earn for specific items?

Yes, it does! Participants take part in monthly literacy-based challenges, which consist of surveys and quizzes as well as picture or video submissions of literacy activities they are doing in their reading clubs, or with children in their communities. They also get points for doing the three online training courses that Nal’ibali offers on the programme. The top point scorers are then displayed on our national leaderboard.

What kinds of rewards and prizes are on offer?

So far we’ve given away books to start mini-libraries for reading clubs, as well as recently giving away Shoprite vouchers to around 830 regular participants. We’ll also be giving away data and airtime as well as smaller items like T-shirts. At the end of the year we’ll have a grand prize for one lucky participant in the form of a bursary. But, like any loyalty programme, terms and conditions apply!

FUNda Sonke is mobilising an army of mentors from everyday life. They say it takes a village to raise a child – does it take a country to raise a reading child?

Nal’ibali absolutely believes that it takes a country to raise a reading child. It is through our network of almost 20,000 volunteers (known as FUNda Leaders) who run reading clubs in their communities that we’re able to spread the joy of reading for enjoyment. As at end June this year we have 115,114 children registered in 35,98 active reading clubs nationwide. This shows how an initiative like this works when we do it as a country.

You started out the programme in April. Can you see participation growing?

Yes, definitely! We have nearly 20,000 FUNda Leader volunteers and over 1,600 registered participants in FUNda Sonke… and it’s still growing! We want to emphasise that the programme is not only for volunteers in our network, but for anyone who wants to join.

There are so many benefits for children who read more – better school results, job prospects and self-confidence. But are you noticing the programme has benefits for adults too?

Absolutely! Some of the adult participants on the programme are unemployed, and they have been so happy to complete the online courses and receive Nal’ibali certificates of participation. Participating adults also benefit in that they get to connect with like-minded people who are doing the same thing in their respective communities. That’s motivating, as they get to share experiences and learn from shared challenges.

You’ve got a monthly leader board. Can you tell us a little about some of your top mentors?

Some of our top mentors like Tebello Semae, Pascal Tebogo and Mthunzi Motha have really been amazing since the start of the programme. They have been pioneers for the programme, particularly in terms of motivating others to drive reading for enjoyment in their communities.

What makes you proudest to be part of the programme?

The sense of community and willingness for the people in the programme to help each other. You get people on the platform who have limited resources, but will go out of their way to make sure they have reading materials for the reading clubs. And they are always asking for advice from each other. They are truly inspirational.

How can people sign up?

People can sign up by going to www.nalibali.mobi  and register themselves to be part of FUNda Sonke. The platform has been designed as a low data-usage mobile site, which really helps people engage.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift to them. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to access stories in a range of SA languages, visit www.nalibali.org.