A Peace Corps volunteer sent this report from one of the most challenged provinces in South Africa. She was instrumental in this literacy initiative during her assignment and is currently proposing a plan to sustain the work after she completes her stay. PCV’s are life changing forces in their communities. I am in awe of their passion for service and commitment to humanity.
A family outreach program began in our informal settlement. Tribal leaders nominated residents to serve as “Community Development Coaches.” These Coaches were trained on key topics in early childhood development, play, nutrition, and gardening. Each Coach works with ten families for two years at a time, conducting weekly home visits and teaching both parents and children together. The program targets children ages 1-5 years whose caregivers do not have a source of income (excepting social grants). In 2011, toys and books were donated to each of the families in the program. The arrival of the books prompted the Coaches to request training in literacy. In November 2012, nine Coaches were trained on the SOUNS method and began to implement SOUNS with 110 children in the program.
Most of the children were immediately delighted with the SOUNS symbols. They readily mimicked the Coaches and eagerly handled the O-M-S-T as each sound was presented. Even the children’s caregivers were excited to participate. Many of these caregivers are illiterate, and SOUNS provides an opportunity for them to learn basic literacy skills alongside their children. At one home visit, the grandmother in charge of four young girls sat to the side, pronouncing each sound carefully and showing her granddaughters how to feel the symbol. X (pronounced “sh” in Tsonga) is already a favorite among the children who giggle every time they shush their Coach. By using the SOUNS method, the Coaches expect to prepare these children to enter Grade R on par with their peers who have attended crèche.