Presentation of the IBBY-ASAHI Reading Promotion Award 2004
Acceptance speech by Lorato Trok on behalf of First Words in Print
I would like to welcome with both hands Mr. Osaki and Mr. Koike from the Asahi-Shimbun newspapers. To welcome you to my country in my Setswana language we say lo amogetswe ka diatla tse pedi mo Aforika Borwa.
We are greatly honoured to be the recipients of this wonderful award. Thank you so much to the IBBY jury for realizing the importance of this project. This award is a victory to all South African children who have long waited to read and enjoy books that depicts the surroundings they live in, and most importantly in their own languages. What better time could be to receive this award than now as we are celebrating ten years of democracy in our country!
The problem of illiteracy in South Africa is one of the most vicious legacies of apartheid. In homes where the adults are illiterate or functionally illiterate, the children stand little or no chance of developing the literacy skills they will need to be able to make sense of their school environment when they begin formal schooling. Access to reading material in one’s home language is a major factor in the development of early literacy.
Research has shown that children who have no access to books before they go to school are severely disadvantaged and have trouble catching up with other children. Children whose home conditions do not make it possible for them to read and be read to by their caregivers will in turn become adults who are less functionally literate than those whose homes are filled with books and literacy activities, and the cycle of poverty and disempowerment will continue from one generation to the next.
The First Words in Print project was born at the Centre for the Book when a variety of people working with books and with children agreed that it was critical to address the need in South Africa for children’s literature, especially so in local languages. Seed funding from the Nordic Council of Ministers made the start possible.
Since the inception of the project 22 500 packs books in seven of the eleven official South African languages have been distributed to children in five of the nine provinces of the country. Our ultimate goal will be realized should we be able to gather enough funds to have our books translated into all official languages, and reach as many children countrywide as we can.
There is a perception that African people have a culture of non-reading. I dispute that. I grew up in poverty and neither my mother nor my father were readers. What I know is I have always loved books and reading. I would pick up anything with words on it to read. There weren’t any books in my native Setswana language that I could read, except text-books. The only thing that kept me from owning books was because my parents couldn’t afford to buy us books, and there was no library in our area and in any of the schools I attended. What we rather say is African people love books and reading just as much as anyone, but because the majority of them are poor, buying books is not a priority in terms of needs.
I have seen the faces of children in rural KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and all the other areas the First Words in Print books are distributed to, the glow on their faces when they learn that the books are for them to keep, the happiness in their parents and caregivers’ voices during monitoring when they tell of how much a difference the books have made to their children, and even to them. One parent in KwaZulu-Natal said that the books helped her to have a relationship with her children because they would read together as a family.
We often equate books with intelligence and wealth, and this excludes the rural poor, and also makes them feel threatened. With the First Words in Print project we are unearthing the love of reading from children whose parents cannot afford to buy books for them, and in the same way inculcating a culture of reading in that delicate early age, as well as appreciating their languages. We are also saying reading books should be fun. We still have a long way to go, but we are making a huge progress.Team work has been so important. I would like to thank Ronnie Simons, my predecessor, and Nazli Johaardien, the Project Administrator, who both worked just as much to make the project what it is today.
Lastly, we would like to thank our sponsors and donors, without whom the project would never have been possible. We are saying thank you for realizing the importance of reading and making such a difference to the Children of South Africa. We hope that our partnership will be a lasting one in order to make South Africa a better place.
We would also like to thank Asahi for this award which will be used to translate these later books into eight seven other South African languages, that isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho, North Sotho, Setswana, isiNdebele and Afrikaans.
THANK YOU! RE A LEBOGA!
7 September 2004, Italian Club, Cape Town