2014 IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award Presentation, Friday 12 September, Mexico City, Mexico

What a great privilege and pleasure it is for the PRAESA team to receive the IBBY Asahi award in 2014.

Thank you for affirming our many years of reading promotion work. The fact that we are still going strong, twenty-three years after PRAESA started at the University of Cape Town as a self-funded multilingual education unit, suggests we have a determined and sometimes necessarily stubborn streak.  I say this because sowing storybook seeds in many languages and then tending the literary fields for children in Africa is no easy task – we are all too familiar with drought and famine.  Language is a deeply political and complex issue and colonialism and apartheid ensured the neglect of African languages in high status print functions across the continent.  It is this we believe, that is at the heart of the matter. 

Three interwoven principles have guided us over the years.  Firstly the same kind of enriched, and inspiring conditions that encourage English-speaking children to become curious, and engaged readers and writers are the same ones that African language speakers need.  This should be self-evident, but it isn’t. In our work we are countering the low level expectations of the education system for millions of bright young African language speakers as they enter and progress through primary school. Secondly, nurturing a love of stories offers all of us satisfying and enjoyable inroads into our literacy and lifelong learning journeys. Storytelling was used to enrich knowledge and values through the oral tradition, but the hegemonic pressure of schooling to deliver measurable skills has led to a loss of appreciation for the deep educational value of stories. We are reviving the value of narrative as an essential part of education. And thirdly, the roots for this love of things literary are our home languages, which provide us with understanding and communication, to which we can add other languages as we strive to communicate with one another in multilingual South Africa. So we have to continue creating a desire and demand for reading material in African languages and English and help to create storybooks, in paper and digital form.

This award comes at a wonderful time for us: PRAESA is driving a national reading –for – enjoyment campaign, Nal’ibali, which means ‘here’s the story’ in Xhosa. We love what we do though we have many challenges. These include inspiring adults to want to be involved in reading with children, helping them create spaces for regular sessions, mentoring them to know what to do and how to do it, affording and developing appropriate reading materials and of course ensuring it all continues to grow, book by book.

It is good to know we have supportive friends out there.  Thank you!

Carole Bloch

Director: PRAESA