The lockdown and resultant isolation created a challenging environment for many, but none more so than those isolated members of our country that have limited resources at their disposal. However, what has been so inspirational for us to see, is how the Family Literacy Project staff have responded so rapidly to the challenge and resiliently adapted the way we work in order to continue delivering work of an excellent standard. What we found was that by having to “stretch ourselves” to be able to adapt, we have inadvertently been shifted into a new way of doing things that has extended our organisational reach and depth greatly.
The Family Literacy Project staff and 20 interns that we employed as a result of the grant that I wrote in 2019, continued to inspire their communities and provide hope where there didn’t seem to be any. While 2020 could quite rightly be called the lost year from an educational perspective, initially small “nests” of deep rural children were impacted as a result of an intervention that we designed to ensure that our brief of making reading a shared and valuable skill and pleasure was followed through. While our regular FLP group meetings and special day celebrations such as Woman’s Day, Read Aloud, Householder’s Play Days, Save Act saving’s group meetings, Khulisa Abantwana Home Visiting sessions and our Library Open Days could not take place as often as we had planned, due to lockdown and restrictions on numbers of groups, we were still able to do significant work using WhatsApp recordings, Videos and Images.
- Savings Groups – “Empowering FLP group members through access to capital”
While the groups could not meet regularly due to COVID, they were still able to save and once the restrictions were lifted, they did meet in small groups in order to continue this program that has been so valuable to us. Through the savings groups, many of our group members and community members that were in the isolated areas in which we work, were able to receive access to capital that allowed them to purchase food over during the very difficult financial times that resulted from lockdown. We are privileged to enjoy the partnership that we still share with Save Act not only through their training support but also having them share office space where they readily provide assistance when our groups require advice regarding saving and enterprise development.
- Asifunde Sonke ECD Teachers Training Centre:
The ECD College was unable to meet as a result of lockdown. However, they also managed to remotely send out messages and continue completing assignments. This allowed that they didn’t fall too far behind.
As soon as the restrictions were lifted and ECD centres were allowed to reopen, the College continued to operate. Teachers that were part of the programme would come in regularly in order to be able to work with the kids and gather information and skills that would boost the assignments that they had to complete. These aspirant Teachers were happy to be able to be in the ECD environment again, where they were exposed to kids and the energy that they bring, albeit wearing masks and in very sanitised conditions. What we noticed was that there was a lot of work required and will still be required from a psychosocial perspective, dealing with the fallout as a result of this isolation. Not only were the kids affected and missed their peers, but we noticed that the educators also battled enormously.
Things are back to normal at the ECD Centres, albeit with kids in isolated groups wearing masks, but the energy is back and at least they are afforded the opportunity of being able to meet regularly to have fun while learning.
- Reach Out to Read Programme:
As a result of not being able to travel during lockdown and not been able to go and visit homes, the Khulisa Abantwana home visiting program was restricted. This concerned us as we know how valuable the programme is in building the requisite set of ECD skills that so many of our deep rural children miss out on. As soon as we were able to, the team of coordinators met in order to be able to discuss strategy whereby we could continue to reach out to those isolated group members who were no longer been visited. What emerged was that while we would focus on the 0-5-year-old group in our home visits, we would have to expand the program in order to be able to stimulate those kids that were at home as a result of school closures.
After conducting a brief assessment, we ascertained that all of the homes in which we work, have access to at least one smart phone. What this meant, was that we would be able to broadcast messages to all our group members and thereby continue our Khulisa Abantwana Home Visiting Programme, albeit remotely. Very quickly after developing these messages and sending the first ones out, the broader community began requesting to be added to the recipient list after observing children doing activities. We approached a funder to request that they allow us to shift funding in order to be able to purchase data for our householders to forward the message on to as many people as possible. It has been very encouraging to see how broader our network became as a result of being able to do this.
Our approach to using social media:
Family literacy project set up a video camera as well as a recording facility, rudimentary as it may have been, that was still effective enough to be able to broadcast and record these messages.
These messages are designed around themes based on the national Department of Education’s themes for ECD. We use these to produce sessions that are easily followed and could be supported using the least number of materials as we knew households had very limited resources in this department. In addition to this, in order to be able to support the learning we wished to instil, we set about putting together resource packs, using books that we had sourced through Bookdash, the FLP African Storybook Project books that we had printed and also containing additional educational play materials that we had sourced from funders such as Generation Joy from the United States, Children’s Chance for Life and additional sources such as Lego. These resource packs were put together and delivered to the sites using our facilitators and then home visitors, dropped at gates and then rotated as necessary. All materials that were put into the resource packs were necessary and supported through the video and audio messages that were being sent out.
To monitor and evaluate the quality of the work that has been replicated in the communities, we requested that photographs be sent of work that has been done, the videos be sent of activities, and resources made from waste as we had trained in our videos and audio segments, be sent on to our groups. We have received the most wonderful feedback.
An aside story that I think might be inspiring for you. We work on a five-day cycle, sending these messages from Monday to a Friday. Obviously, as lockdown progressed, one day rolled into another, and people lost track of time. One Saturday morning, a facilitator got a phone call from a young 13-year-old girl requesting the message for the day. She had an audience waiting and they were desperate for the activity that they were going to be performing.
To fill the gaps, the Family Literacy Project decided to work on a six-day cycle and produce fun activities on a Saturday too. We realised we needed to address the multi-level aspect by ensuring that we included activities that could be performed by slightly older kids. We encouraged these kids to get involved with the Foundation Phase Programme including the 0 – 5-year-old group activities by acting as supervisors for the siblings. This intergenerational approach proved very successful as the young kids in the senior primary and intermediate phase, and even the senior school were kept very engaged.
- Uthando Dolls:
We received a shipment of dolls that we used in the various sites in which we were working and even the extended sites that we had acquired as a result of the WhatsApp messages been forwarded. These dolls became an integral part of the sessions that we were producing. They also became items of comfort for the children to which they were given. The images of the kids playing with these dolls, teaching them as teachers, engaging them in the activities that we had produced as well as just carrying them on the backs as comfort items and toys during the Corona epidemic were lovely.
- Internship program:
The Family Literacy Project has invested a lot in our internship program over the years. During the Corona epidemic, the value of these interns to our education system proved far more worth than the investment we have made as a Project thus far. Our 24 interns, 20 of whom were sponsored by ABSA and the 4 that Family Literacy Project employs on a full-time basis for the Reach Out to Read programme, proved invaluable in broadening the work that we were doing, as well as deepening our impact. An additional 24 members of staff that were able to go out and develop comprehending readers amongst small groups of family members that they lived with in the various communities from which they were drawn. The reports and the feedback we have received via social media of the work that they were doing, made sure that while the children did miss out on schooling, the amount that they missed out on was slightly negated as a result of the activities that they were able to perform with them. Unfortunately, in 2021 the grant was terminated, and we were not able to keep the interns all on, however, five of them have remained on as volunteers in addition to the 4 FLP employ. They still run small groups in the areas from which they came. Isn’t it inspiring that we have community and nation builders of this calibre that are prepared to make their services available to further the brief of the Family Literacy Project?
- The Stories:
We have been collecting stories during the Corona lockdown. Stories of inspiration as well as stories that will allow us to remember what we went through. We hope to be able to make the stories available in digital format. These stories have encouraged children to draw and write ensuring that the reading, writing, listening skills were all stimulated during the lockdown.
I feel we are doing some of our most significant work to date but unfortunately the economic crisis that resulted due to lockdown his devastated the Family Literacy Project finances. There are currently 11 funding proposals that are out for our 2021 year. Unfortunately, of the 20 we have only received two positive feedbacks and the amounts that they represent would unfortunately not be able to sustain operating at current levels. While stressed by this, I am positive and hopeful that we will receive additional funding that will allow us to intensify our work again.
Many of my colleagues that operate NGOs have found themselves having to rationalise or close the projects completely. Family Literacy Project has been blessed being able to continue operating in spite of the devastation that we’ve seen around us.
I request that the board assist me in this regard and advise me as much as possible, if you have additional funding that could be accessed, please give me the details and I will contact the relevant parties and send proposals off to them. In addition, I would like assistance with the budget to continue to operate at the level of excellence as we have in the past.
I would like to thank all Board Members for their support and assistance during my time at FLP and also wish departing Board Members well and appreciate the fact that they will still be available in an advisory capacity and will be contacted regularly to advise me on issues regarding Family Literacy Project.