CityLife Arts

Puku applauded for winning a UNESCO literary award

By CityLife Arts Writer

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga has congratulated Puku, a Non Governmental organisation which promotes the love of reading and writing  in indigenous languages to especially children  for its recent winning of a major UNESCO literary award.

.“We are very proud and we’re very excited about the honour that you received. Your honour is ours. Congratulations and thank you very much.” With those words, the Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, in delivering South Africa’s celebratory address to mark this year’s UNESCO International Literacy Day, lauded Puku Children’s Literature Foundation for winning the 2021 UNESCO King Sejong International Literacy Prize.

“Puku is proud to be named a 2021 UNESCO Laureate for its work on “Using digital technologies to promote children’s literature in South Africa’s indigenous languages,”.  The organisation said in statement yesterday.

The other five outstanding literacy programmes came from Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guatemala, India, and Mexico and each will receive a medal, a diploma and a cash prize of US$20.000.

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.

Nomvuyo Mzamane, Puku’s Education & 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.”

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,” the organisation added.

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.

In the spirit of International Literacy Day, Puku acknowledges the vital role in which extraordinary storytellers, educators, writers and language practitioners have to cultivate literary traditions within linguistic communities.

‘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,” shares Mrs. Elinor Sisulu, Executive Director of Puku Children’s Literature Foundation.

In her closing remarks, Mrs Palesa Tyobeka, Chairperson of the UNESCO Education Sector Committee (ESC) in South Africa addressed Puku; “I want to also just add my voice in congratulating the Puku team on their award. You know, the presentation that you made here today, showed us that this was not a fluke. You’ve earned this. You worked

hard for it. We are so proud to call you our own. Really and truly.” Mrs. Tyobeka’s words were echoed by the stream of congratulatory messages from various social media platforms during the event. As she concluded; “You did not only share what you did but you challenged us. Each and every one of us in our little corners to look at what we are doing through different eyes. We were challenged. We were excited. But also we learned. Oh boy did we learn!”

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