A lifelong love for reading starts at school

A lifelong love for reading starts at school
MySchool My Village MyPlanet shares Biblionef SA’s dream of giving more children better access to books. Image source: Unsplash

What more noble educational aim can there be than making books available for children in all official languages for reading pleasure and for education, to lay the foundation for children to make good decisions through critical thinking and live balanced and productive lives. That is the mission of Biblionef South Africa which forms part of an international network of independent organisations with offices in the Netherlands, France, Ghana and Tunisia.

Operating according to UNESCO’s Book Donation Charter, Biblionef donates new storybooks in all eleven languages to schools and children’s organisations throughout South Africa. These books support endeavours to improve literacy levels, establish a reading culture, and help create the right circumstances to foster a love of reading. The organisation either purchases existing titles from publishers and booksellers at a discounted price, receives book donations from publishers and booksellers or commissions the publishing and reprinting of appropriate titles, before distributing them to underserved communities with no access to books.

“We’re always on the lookout for local books with local content and big, beautiful illustrations,” explains Sunitha Amod, Biblionef SA General Manager. “Seeing themselves represented is what helps inspire reading for pleasure and plays a role in getting children motivated to read.” Biblionef aims to access titles in all of South Africa’s official languages, raising funds to work with local publishers to translate and print books in one language into the many others.

Amod says that over the course of Biblionef’s three decades of operation in South Africa, the demand of books in African languages remains undiminished – but that the costs of publishing and printing them remain incredibly high. “We often find that books in African have had an initial print run and are then out of print – and we have to go to the publishers with funding to ask them to reprint,” she says. “To make it economically viable for them, they have to print 300-500 copies, which is quite a costly exercise. In turn, it is costly to distribute the books to rural areas – which are the ones that most often struggle to access books – so all of our fundraising goes into reprints, distribution and administration.”

In an ideal world, Amod would like each classroom to have a stock of 40 different storybooks which are easily-accessible to children. Multiply that by three to four classes per grade and from Grade R to Matric and the scale of what they’re undertaking is put into perspective.

Biblionef SA and MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet are currently in the second year of a three-year partnership to support 10 Primary Schools from KwaZulu-Natal, providing them with high-quality home language storybooks, English storybooks and non-fiction books. The partnership also provided Foundation Phase teachers with essential workshops and in-class coaching and mentoring sessions, with the focus on how to incorporate storybooks into the CAPS curriculum easily.

60 teachers participated in the project each year – two teachers from Grades 1-3 were selected from each school, with the indirect impact being improved access to books and a new way of exploring the curriculum for 2 400 learners. “The project has been independently evaluated and the results are encouraging,” says Amod. “Teachers are delighted to have received training and then have the tools – the books – in their classrooms to teach children the wonders of reading for pleasure.”

MySchool My Village MyPlanet shares Biblionef SA’s dream of giving more children better access to books in their home languages and featuring characters and stories that they can identify with. What greater gift than a book which can open up a child’s imagination, teach them new skills and help them see the world in new ways?

MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet customers can add organisations like Biblionef SA as Beneficiaries on their accounts and then, each time they swipe their MySchool card or linked Woolworths card when they shop, Woolworths donates a portion of the sale proceeds to them – at no cost to the customer – to continue doing their amazing work.