FunDza’s Family Programme supplies books and resources to reading groups across the country. We have learnt that these are most effectively used when facilitators receive our training in how to run their reading groups with our materials. However, training is intensive, ideally over a few days, and that can be difficult with groups all over the country.

When lockdown happened, no reading groups were really taking place. But now that lockdown restrictions have eased, some groups are wanting to run reading groups again, and so we need to train facilitators.

Like many others in lockdown, we learnt that virtual training was possible and although it has some disadvantages – so much of training is about relationships – it also offers opportunities for doing things differently. So instead of Dorothy travelling all the way to the Northern Cape for two days of training for the NACCW branch there, or finding a central venue for the various organisations in the Western Cape who want to try out our reading group approach and resources (with one in Paarl and some in Khayelitsha) we are running these training sessions online.

We start off on WhatsApp, helping participants register for a new customised online course that covers the various topics that would have been covered in training such as: how to get groups talking, what languages to use in groups, approaches to writing, warm-up activities etc. We also have two zoom meetings to check in with the participants to see how they are doing, and to try to retain some of the valuable personal connection. At the end of the course we will have another session to see how prepared and confident participants are feeling, and to take them through the resources they will be using.

Obviously we do not have as much personal interaction and relationship building, which is a pity, because a lot of our training is about modelling how the groups will work in practice, and so there is usually much interesting discussion and personal writing. However, we are hoping that because the online course will be completed individually, and over a longer period of time, it will have a more lasting impact – and this addresses one of the weaknesses of our initial training which is that it is inevitably (due to geographic and economic constraints) a once-off, in-out event.

The course is being piloted at the moment by the two groups mentioned above – NACCW in Northern Cape, and organisations affiliated to Outliers, an umbrella body of afterschool programmes in the Western Cape. It is still early days but far feedback has been positive, with one participant describing the sessions so far as ‘helpful’ and as ‘interactive and thought-provoking’.

We are very interested to see if the course ‘works’. If we find that it does help facilitators develop confidence and insight into how to run effective reading groups, then it will be a ‘game-changer’ for our Family programme, as it will enable us to train all facilitators, not just those we are able to reach face-to-face.