Health workers bring stories into the homes of more than 10,000 children

13 January 2020 - 14:49

Children are hardwired to fall in love in with stories. It’s how we humans make sense of the world around us and how we learn language. Now, in a pioneering campaign by partners Nal’ibali and Grow Great, young children and babies in Limpopo and Mpumalanga will have the opportunity to experience the magic of stories in their homes. The difference is that it will happen while they are seeing a health worker.

Doctors are the first to acknowledge that physical and mental development go hand in hand. Through this partnership nearly 400 community health workers in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces will have access to Nal’ibali’s bilingual reading-for-enjoyment supplement – a popular booklet filled with especially written children’s stories and related literacy activities in a variety of South African languages – to help ensure children’s hearts, minds and bodies are nourished.

Community health workers Elsina Mohale and Mavis Mononela chat to mother Nonky Rampedi. They will soon be sharing reading materials with the mother and her baby.
Community health workers Elsina Mohale and Mavis Mononela chat to mother Nonky Rampedi. They will soon be sharing reading materials with the mother and her baby.
Image: Grow Great

Key figures

Community health workers are community leaders and heroes. They provide home-based care to families and are the connection point between primary health care services and communities. These trusted community figures are in a unique position to not only provide health care for both the parents and the child, but to offer support to new parents who might not otherwise have access to developmental aids in a one-on-one setting.

In Limpopo, the campaign will focus on the Greater Letaba and Greater Giyani sub-districts in the Mopani District, and in Mpumalanga it will roll out in the Ehlanzeni District. In these areas community health workers currently reach more than 12,000 children under the age of two through Grow Great.

Age appropriate

But why give children access to books and stories before they can even talk?

Storytelling and reading are magical experiences for young children, and they are also an important part of childhood development, right from the outset. Even when babies don’t yet understand many words, studies have shown reading with them helps stimulate their brains.

In addition, sharing books with pictures, rhymes and simple stories has been proven to help teach older children vocabulary and language. Even very young children respond to the parent-child engagement in profound ways,  building important interpersonal bonds and establishing neural circuits in their brains.

Health workers Elsina Mohale and Mavis Mononela will give the gift of storytelling to mother Kesepe Rampedi and her children.
Health workers Elsina Mohale and Mavis Mononela will give the gift of storytelling to mother Kesepe Rampedi and her children.
Image: Grow Great

Two-pronged approach

“At Grow Great, we are focused on preventing stunting in children. That means making sure they get enough nutrition to reach their developmental goals,” says Nicola Eley, programme lead at Grow Great.

“But, what we’ve learned is that nutrition isn’t enough. Children desperately need mental stimulation too. That’s why we’ve partnered Nal’ibali on this campaign. We both want to see healthy, flourishing children in South Africa.”

One in four South African children under the age of five years  are stunted, meaning they too short for their age. Stunted children are less able to concentrate, learn and build on knowledge. That means a quarter of our country’s children are behind before they even start primary school.

This is entirely preventable if children have not only the right nutrition and mental stimulation right from the start, but also have supportive relationships with parents. Nal’ibali’s fun and relevant literacy materials designed for caregivers and children to enjoy together certainly add to a caring home environment that children need to thrive.

To download digital copies of the supplement, or for more information about the Nal'ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign and its volunteer network, FUNda Leader, visit www.nalibali.org, www.nalibali.mobi, or find them on Facebook and Twitter