Sasha-Lee Taylor’s Youthful Initiative – Learn to Read, Learn to Lead

Sasha-Lee Taylor's Youthful Initiative - Learn to Read, Learn to Lead
Sasha-Lee Taylor's Youthful Initiative - Learn to Read, Learn to Lead

Sasha-Lee Taylor – a name to remember!

She’s a 23-year-old entrepreneur, model and philanthropist, hoping to make the lives of those in South Africa, just a little better, by offering them an opportunity to gain one of life’s most basic skills –- being able to read.

Did you know: 78% of Grade Four learners in South Africa cannot read for basic meaning in any national language. In other words, eight out of every 10 nine-year-olds in South Africa are currently functionally illiterate.

South Africa Today ‘virtually’ sat down with Sasha-Lee to find out about how reading is changing the lives of the youth in South Africa.

Sasha-Lee is not only an author… her passions go beyond education as she is also the Director of Ace Models International West Rand.

How did the Learn to Read, Learn to Lead concept came about?
I have always had a passion for education and giving back. I find it so important for everyone to have access to equal education opportunities. However, I noticed that there were many children, even young adults, who are illiterate and that is how the “Learn to Read, Learn to Lead” idea was born. The name represents young children of today, becoming leaders of the future. This project is a way of connecting both my passion for giving back along with education.

What inspired this campaign?
My passion for education, as well as empowering the youth of today would be the inspiration behind the campaign. It’s vital that we all play a role in making the world a better place and this is my way of making a difference.

In June 2018, I was invited to the National Youth Summit at Parliament in Cape Town, where I was able to speak about the “Learn to Read, Learn to Lead” project and also gain insight on all the things the youth wanted to be addressed by the government, one of the main issues being equal education opportunities. It was at this summit that I heard children as young as 10 years old ask the ministers for equal education opportunities –- and that was the moment I realised we actually had a huge educational gap in South Africa.

“Learn to Read, Learn to Lead” is an attempt to bridge that gap for all South Africans. It was truly an honour to have been invited and will definitely remain one of my highlights

When did this initiative officially start?
I have been working on this project for quite some time as I wanted it to be perfect, however, it officially launched in July 2018 at the Nasdak venue, with the help of Rachel Jafta. Rachel Jafta is co-founder, director and chairperson of Econex. She is a Professor in Economics at the University of Stellenbosch.

Our next step was to get the books into various bookstores and to sell as many copies as possible as the profits go towards The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Child Welfare Tshwane Fund. It took me longer than I would have liked originally, roughly two and half years for the first book to officially get off the ground, but at the end of the day it was not rushed –- a lot of time and effort went into it and I could not be more proud of the end result. The second book is also in production and we’re hoping to launch that this year, 2020, which is exciting!

Tell us about the book design and mascot — why did you go with that particular storyline and characters?
I believe “local is lekker” so when creating the storyline and characters I tried my best to embrace the beauty of South Africa. I wanted everyone to be able to relate to the story and characters. The story is set in a South African location. A lot of colours were used throughout the book to represent our Rainbow Nation and also as to make it more fun for the children.

Each book has a theme in the beginning that continues throughout the book. But most importantly, there is an educational section within the book that actually teaches the children how to read and write. In this section, repetition was used to make it easier for the children. We also used very simple and basic English sentences throughout the book which is beneficial for each child wanting to learn how to read.

The mascot and main character’s name is Tata, named after the late Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela’s quote: “Education is the most powerful tool one can use to change the world” is what inspired this campaign and is why I decided to name the main character after him. I wanted to create a character that each individual in South Africa can relate to and not be aimed at a specific race or culture. This is why Tata is a little rainbow creature — again, representing all of the Rainbow Nation, I made him a little alien that came from space because children are very interested in outer space nowadays.

What makes the second book different?
The second book tackles a more personal issue, which I believe needs to be addressed more in-depth – Bullying. It’s reported that as many as 57% of South African learners have been bullied at some time during their high-school careers. This is something I believe needs to be brought to light and through education we can help those learners not only overcome these hardships, but also potentially stop the act of bullying in it’s entirety.

50% of the net profit from the book is equally split to go towards the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Tshwane Child Welfare Fund. Why did you select these beneficiaries?
These are two organisations that are doing amazing things to help our youth. Nelson Mandela’s dream was to improve education in our country and I felt it would only be right to give back to one of his organisations, especially since the main character was also named after him. It is my way of building on the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

The Tshwane Fund has always been close to my heart and I admire the work they do for the children — giving back to them was my way of showing that their work doesn’t go unrecognised. The remainder of the profits from the books will go towards converting and setting up shipping containers into classrooms and libraries to put in areas that lack educational facilities.

You received the Young Leader in Philanthropy award – when was this and what was the requirements in order to receive this award?
This award was given to me by the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund at the National Youth summit that I was invited to. The award is aimed at recognising a “Nelson Mandela in every generation”. It is about an individual that is doing good for their community and giving back. This year was even more special as it was also the centennial celebration for Nelson Mandela.

Tell us about ACE Models West Rand?
My passions go beyond education and tie hand-in-hand with helping those around me build self-esteem and confidence which I believe is an important trait to have in today’s day and age. I am currently the Director of ACE Models International West Rand, which allows me to combine both my passions at the same time. I strive to give individuals the self confidence they need in life, whether it’s being able to make a difference by helping children learn to read with my educational book or assisting individuals of all ages overcome stage fright, or the simple fear of public speaking. At the end of the day, you are the master of your own destiny, and sometimes we all need a little guidance along the way.

How can people get involved?
Anyone is welcome to purchase a book exclusively via our email for R170, or purchase one at a Bargain Books store. People can also get in touch with regards to sponsoring books for an underprivileged school or area or even help with the converting of shipping containers into classrooms (even sponsoring a container). I would also love for people to get in touch by letting us know in which areas the books would be needed.

To order a book, please contact Sasha-Lee on [email protected]

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