CityLife Arts

A boost for children’s literature as Puku wins UNESCO Award

By CityLife Arts Writer

Puku a Non Governmental Organizations aimed at developing indigenous languages, especially by encouraging young readers  to embrace reading and writing in those languages is poised to receive a prestigious international award.

UNESCO has selected six outstanding literacy programmes from South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guatemala, India, and Mexico as winners of its International Literacy Prizes to be awarded on 8 September, 2021,  as part of International Literacy Day. Of the six, three awards are part of the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for work contributing to mother language-based literacy development, sponsored by the Government of the Republic of Korea. Each of the three UNESCO King Sejong prize winners will receive a medal, a diploma and a cash prize of US$20.000. South Africa’s Puku Children’s Literature Foundation is being awarded the 2021 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for its work on “Using digital technologies to promote children’s literature in South Africa’s indigenous languages”.

“Puku is proud to be named a UNESCO Laureate. Puku Children’s Literature Foundation is a non-governmental organization established in 2009 with the objective of promoting reading and book development to help all children, especially those living in the most economically deprived areas, so that they may have access to books in all South African languages. Puku aims to ensure that all children have access to quality, culturally relevant literature in the languages they understand. Puku does this by working to create systemic change in the reading and book development ecosystem through digital platforms that provide a structured and organised system for selecting, reviewing and sharing accurate data on children’s books in all South African languages. Puku also hosts community events celebrating books and reading, advocates for the book publishing ecosystem, and conducts writing and reviewing workshops for storytellers, writers, teachers, librarians, language practitioners, cultural and literary activists and academics in indigenous language communities,” the organisation said in a statement yesterday, September 6, 2021.

Nomvuyo Mzamane, Puku’s Education  and Multimedia Edutainment Specialist notes; “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for South African children and youth to become independent readers and have access to reading resources in the languages they most need. As the pandemic has forced a shift to distance learning, the task of producing enduring and memorable content in all South African languages through digital platforms becomes more urgent.” Puku Children’s Literature Foundation NPC +27 67 178 1321 Puku Channel @PukuBooks – Home@pukufoundation

With support from the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP) as administered by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture’s National Arts Council, Puku ramped up its digital products and services. Puku spearheaded the publication of the first-ever book in the N/uu language,made progress towards the completion of the first in a series of catalogues of indigenous language books for early childhood and foundation phase, and used radio and social media to enhance its work in the promotion and preservation of all South Africa’s indigenous languages. Puku also designed and produced what is the world’s first video tutorial on the subject of reviewing children’s literature that affirms the African child in an African language, with the pilot being in isiXhosa. Through webinars, radio and social media, Puku organized a campaign to promote and preserve indigenous languages, with a special focus on the promotion of reading in indigenous languages from early childhood. As a thought leader in the children’s literature space and acting as a strategic convenor, Puku was able to connect institutions and organizations, leading experts in the indigenous language communities with voices on the ground. The nine Puku webinars, all available in their entirety on YouTube’s Puku Channel, are the first ever webinar series in indigenous languages within and between linguistic communities.

Puku’s leadership in unique, multi-sectoral collaborations and advocacy for indigenous languages, including this award recognition, would not be possible without its partners. Puku is most grateful for ongoing and far-reaching collaborations with the University of South Africa (UNISA), the National Library of South Africa (NLSA) , the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB), the Indigenous Language Initiative for Advancement (ILIFA), the book donation non-profit Biblionef, the International Board for Books for Young People (IBBY), and the University of the Western Cape (UWC). We are also thankful to Ouma Katrina Esau, her family and the Northern Cape Provincial government for our collaboration on the N/uu language children’s book. As COVID-19 continues to force increased uptake in virtual communication, making it easier and cheaper to organize meetings that reach a larger audience with less time and financial investment. However, Lorato Trok, Puku’s Specialist Multilingual Editor notes; “Virtual worlds have also brought the emotional burden of lacking physical  interaction with other human beings, especially direct contact with our children.”

Other significant challenges include the great digital divide whereby those who do not have access to infrastructure, devices, and data are excluded. Looking beyond the Literacy Prize, Puku aims to mobilize the resources needed to have a complete digital refresh and upscale their website into Pukupedia, an online encyclopedia for children’s books in all Southern African languages. Puku will seek funds to continue supporting the production of books in the endangered Nama, San and Khoi languages. Puku also looks forward to sourcing investments to expand its indigenous language e-learning opportunities, its African language book catalogues for children of all ages, and its think-tank work through webinars and other engagements.

 “We need to harness their talent and abilities to populate our digital platforms with the enduring and memorable content that our children desperately need. Just as Nelson Mandela wanted all children in the world to experience the wonder of books, so do we want all children to have access to the digital spaces where they can enlarge their earthly dwelling place with the magic of stories,” says. Elinor Sisulu, Executive Director of Puku Children’s Literature Foundation.

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