Literacy with a Heart

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Gabi Curry writes, Ntombizanele Mahobe…

Ntombizanele Mahobe, Xolisa Guzula, and Carole Bloch are the most inspirational South African women anyone could ever meet. Their hearts are focused on helping children, teachers, and families learn to read, write, and speak in many different South African languages including Xhosa, English, and Afrikaans. For over 15 years these three woman have been dedicated to “motivating and nurturing reading and writing among African children and their care-givers”. Teachers in Africa face many problems in educating their students. First, is class size, teachers may have 40 or more students in one room! Many classrooms do not have sufficient supplies such as desks, chairs, or heat. Teachers don’t have enough books for their students to read from or books for the teachers to teach from. In South Africa students and teachers speak many different languages in one classroom. Children are taught in either Xhosa or Afrikaans for the first three years of school and then in English after that. Children who come to school hungry stay hungry because the governments do not subsidize food.After meeting at university, these three women became colleagues at PRAESA – The Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa. All are involved with research on family and emergent literacy. They realized that the teachers in Africa were untrained, couldn’t keep their libraries full of books, or keep classrooms organized enough so that all the children could get a good education. Using their knowledge from research, they listened to their hearts and began to implement teacher trainings that were best for the children of South African. These women helped to start reading and writing programs that are taught in the childrens’ ‘mother tongue’ or native language. “It is easiest to learn to read in a familiar language, one which we feel, think, and understand in.” (PRAESA) Establishing The Little Hands Trust they have been able to “collaborate with African publishers to increase and sustain publication of childrens’ books in African languages.” Currently there are 16 books in the Little Hand book series and they have been translated into over 20 African languages. Working in a lab school where they can train teachers and also work with students these three women have put their ideas to work. Using the Little Hands books that they have written or encouraged African authors to write they sponsor school on Saturday. Each Saturday brings work in reading, writing, and English. They travel the continent of Africa to train other teachers.In February the Foreign Affiliate Committee of CCIRA (Colorado Council of the International Reading Association) brought Ntombizanele, Xolisa, and Carole to Colorado to present about their work at the 2009 CCIRA Conference. CCIRA has worked to build relationships in order to learn what they can do to support literacy work in Africa. The three women started their visit with a trip to Highline Community School and Eastridge Elementary School, both in Aurora. These schools are highly diverse with many children speaking multiple languages. They went into classrooms looking for ideas and had opportunities to share about Africa. Each lady took time to talk to individual children at the schools about what they were doing and learning. The children felt important because of all the attention and positive comments they received from Ntombizanele, Xolisa, and Carole. At their CCIRA presentation, they combined the serious with humor to share their literacy work. “Acknowledging the enormous challenges we face to get children and adults reading on the continent, we believe that the power of story/narrative lies at the heart of being human – we put our thoughts and feelings into story form and live our lives through stories.” (PRAESA) Ntombizanele is the humorous one in the bunch. She is always smiling and made every person feel warm and fuzzy inside. When I saw her walk into Highline Community School she was smiling and laughing. She is a heart strong, funny, and beautiful lady. She will stay in my heart forever.Xolisa is a strong, beautiful-hearted, and glorious woman. She is so passionate about her work and will defiantly do anything to help any situation. When she walked into a classroom her eyes would sparkle with excitement. She walked into a kindergarten room and bounced with joy. Her joy was contagious.Carole is a passionate woman and believes in the work that she pursues. Her smile could light up the darkest room. She is so enthusiastic about what she does and will continue as long as she is helping children. She is very sweet and kind and would give anything to help a child. I will always remember her smile. These women are amazing and are doing so much for the children of Africa. Because of people like them education is changing in Africa. To learn more about the literacy work of these three women visit http://littlehands.book.co.za/ or http://web.uct.ac.za/depts./praesa/st.html