Do you need something to be really proud of, South Africa?

There’s this thing you need to know about if you have any clear and strong feelings about getting books into children’s hands. ALL children – not just the lucky few whose parents read to them.

It’s called PRAESA, the slightly awkward acronym for the very awkwardly named Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa. For years, they’ve been quietly getting on with what I consider to be some of the most important research and real, life-changing work that exists in this country. But, probably because it doesn’t involve health or crime, it’s not an organisation the lay person knows about much.

PRAESA promotes children’s literacy in all official languages across South Africa, and they’ve been doing it for more than two decades. Last week, in Sweden, this wonderful non-profit organisation was awarded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA). This is the world’s largest award for children’s and young adult literature and reading promotion.


Pippi Longstocking

There were 197 nominations from 61 countries for this award, so this is not a small deal by any stretch of the imagination. Previous winners include Maurice Sendak (a hero for some of us), and Philip Pullman (also a hero for some of us). Plus the award is named for Astrid Lindgren – who made Pippi Longstocking! Pippi was my hero long before I knew the name Astrid Lindgren or knew what heroes were.

PRAESA director Carole Bloch said the award would make a huge difference to the reading work PRAESA does.

“Having this award come to the African continent gives great acknowledgement to the importance of growing a love of reading with all children, irrespective of their language and background.”

And here’s what Bloch had to say about Lindgren:

“Astrid Lindgren was a human rights activist, feminist and author of the famous Pippi Longstocking series of children’s books which have been translated into 64 languages. She was passionate about treating children with dignity and respect and her spirit resonates with the work that my colleagues past and present in PRAESA are committed to. This incredible award encourages us to continue, ” concludes Bloch.

Dignity and respect for children. I wish every human being on earth would cultivate a bit of that.

I am beyond delighted for PRAESA. Here’s a little about them:

PRAESA is an independent research and development unit established in 1992 at the University of Cape Town by the late Dr Neville Alexander. A leading advocate for multilingual education in South Africa, Alexander spent ten years on Robben Island for his political activism. Under his directorship the PRAESA team advocated for the use of African languages and the growth of a reading culture across Africa, working on language planning and policy implementation and conducting research into multilingual classrooms. PRAESA’s current Director, Carole Bloch, has initiated and led many of its projects to enrich children’s early literacy learning experiences and the publication of storybooks and other reading materials in several languages for use in multilingual settings.

Most recently, PRAESA began the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, which aims to spark all children’s potential through storytelling and reading. Launched in 2012, Nal’ibali works with partners to put in place the conditions that support the initial and ongoing literacy learning of all children. It combines a mass-media advocacy campaign highlighting the critical link between children’s love of reading and educational success, with a grassroots programme of training workshops and reading clubs.

To date, there are over 300 clubs in a growing network across the country. In addition, the campaign produces a fortnightly reading-for-enjoyment supplement with partner, Times Media. The supplement is the only bilingual resource of its kind in the country and provides children and their caregivers with regular stories and literacy tips and activities in six South African languages. Further, 30 000 copies of the supplement are delivered for free to Nal’ibali reading clubs, as well as schools, libraries and early childhood development centres every second week. The campaign also broadcasts children’s stories three times a week in all 11 official languages on public radio stations. – Karin Schimke







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