14 February 2024 – The school year is underway, but sadly, large numbers of children lack the foundation of all learning – the ability to understand what they are reading. In May 2023, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that 81% of Grade 4s in South Africa struggle to unlock the magic of the written word – in any language – and are functionally illiterate. In fact, South Africa came last out of the 43 countries assessed.

A child who can’t read, can’t learn, so will be less likely to finish school and get a job to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. With little education and few prospects of employment, a young person has little to do and look forward to, putting them at greater risk of substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, shame and frustration. If one can’t support themselves, they are more vulnerable to pursuing crime to survive or suffering abuse as they are financially dependent on their abusive partners.

One issue fueling our child illiteracy crisis is children’s lack of access to books. A study commissioned by the Department of Basic Education and UNICEF South Africa found that the number of households who reported having zero access to books at home stood at 43%.  Book Dash, a South African social impact publisher, highlights that when preschool children own books, families are more likely to read with children regularly. This builds reading ability, oral language skills and early literacy skills; develops socio-emotional skills and general knowledge; and supports strong relationships between children and their caregivers. In turn, this leads to better school performance in all subjects, higher educational attainment, increased economic growth and reduced inequality. It’s therefore critical for young children to be given books.

In addition to the staggeringly high numbers of children in South Africa who lack basic literacy skills,  millions of children are also going hungry and don’t have access to nutritious, consistent, sufficient food. This is leading to alarmingly high rates of malnutrition in communities countrywide. According to the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, eight million children in the country aren’t getting enough nutrition. Child stunting, a marker of chronic malnutrition, affects 27,4% of children under five.

Our overwhelming, heartbreaking child hunger and illiteracy statistics are stunting childhood development, hindering learning and education, and dimming the light of their future potential.

But HOPE is on the horizon. HOPE worldwide South Africa, an NGO focusing on early childhood development (ECD), recently launched the Book & Breakfast Initiative (BBI). Targeted at children from birth to six years old, the time of greatest brain development, BBI is a beacon of light against this tragic reality. Our mission is simple yet ambitious: provide young, vulnerable children with a daily nutritious breakfast porridge and a new, age-appropriate book every month.

Dr Marc Aguirre, Country Director for HOPE worldwide South Africa, says: “For just R110 per month, you can unlock early childhood potential through nutrition and literacy. Imagine the impact – a full tummy to focus on learning and experience the joy of reading, while having ideas and imagination ignited by new stories. The BBI aims to reach 10 000 children in disadvantaged communities across South Africa over the next three years.”

You can join hands with HOPE worldwide South Africa to make a difference in the lives of young, vulnerable children by:


  • Spreading the word: Share the BBI story with your network and let the hope ripple outwards.


  • Getting involved: Volunteer your time or skills to support the initiative. To volunteer and for more information, email: [email protected]


For more information on BBI, visit:


Issued by:

Thandiwe McCloy

Marketing, Media, Advocacy and Communications Manager – HOPE worldwide South Africa

Contact Number: 083 696 6597

Email: [email protected]


About HOPE worldwide South Africa

HOPE worldwide South Africa has been serving vulnerable children, households, and communities since 1993. Our vision is to see a South Africa where every young and vulnerable child has the best possible start in life. One of our main goals is to restore hope and resilience to children and families. From 2011, we have focused our efforts on young, vulnerable children from birth to six years as this is the most critical period in a child’s development. What happens in early childhood will last a lifetime. Tragically, millions of young children face enormous challenges that are impacting their well-being and development. These include unemployment, poverty, hunger, a lack of access to early learning opportunities and Gender-Based Violence. To address these, we are investing in young children through; our Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centre (crèche) support programme, Community ECD Parenting programmes, Nutritional Support, and through our ‘Adopt a Family’ programme. Our footprint currently spans seven provinces in South Africa: Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free State. Through partnerships with various sponsors, HOPE worldwide South Africa’s nutrition programme reaches 22 000 children monthly via support to preschools and households. We are also supporting over 1400 ECD centres through our HOPEww ECD Network (HEN).

HOPE worldwide South Africa also runs the Caregiver Learning Through Play (CLTP) programme in partnership with Save the Children, Ntataise and the Early Learning Resource Unit (ELRU) and is supported by the LEGO Foundation. The CLTP programme aims to equip 600 000 caregivers with knowledge, skills, activities and tools to facilitate Learning Through Play and Responsive Parenting by February 2025.