By Anathi Nyadu
My life is made up of one thing, and one thing only: Reading. Since I was a child I remember only one thing: Reading. My whole childhood is filled with dirty newspapers that I had scrambled out of dustbins, with TV plus magazines from my granny who worked for a madam, and – of course, stolen books!
I remember reading torn pages of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. (I still don’t know where I found them.) I remember being ecstatic after my granny told us a bedtime story about “The child who was stolen by the baboons”. She used to narrate it so nicely that my mind would travel to a place where baboons spoke and sang with hoarse voices. I loved stories!
Stories filled my heart with joy. And a mysterious hunger for stories grew inside me. But stories were scarce, very scarce. My granny had stopped working for the Madam. And whilst arthritis was eating her bones, she lost interest in telling stories. She cursed more, she drank more.
I was left now only with one option with which to quench my thirst for stories. And that was to steal books. I remember stealing a book from my English Teacher’s collections. Yes, I felt guilty… but my love for stories was too strong and books were expensive. You know, what they say about the end justifying the means, right? I mean, I always justified my thieving by comparing myself to those thieves who shoplifts bread because of the unbearable hunger pangs.
But not even this justification could absolve my guilty conscious.
I’m just happy that my niece, who is nine years old, will not resort to this. Thanks to creative and innovative people from all corners of this world who have decided to take advantage of modern technology. And bring stories to where the readers are: in affordable mobile phone.
Mobile literacy is the next big thing. How do I know this? Well, I attended the Mobile Literacy Network meeting that was organised by the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg. One of the aims of the meeting was to “map out the ecosystem of mobile literacy in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa”. One of the questions that the speakers were asked to address was: “which nodes does your approach to facilitate literature and literacy via mobile devices still need in order to become more powerful?”
On the first day of the meeting, Mobile Literacy was discussed in great lengths by speakers from different walks of life. Different walks… but there was one thing all the speakers agreed on – Mobile Literacy was the way to go! Mary Kinyanjui, a Librarian from Kenya, spoke excitedly about a project (“Kids in the tab”) that they have in a Library that is situated in a ‘slum’ in Kenya. She spoke of magically improved school results and how through games the children were motivated to learn more. She spoke also of how libraries were becoming more popular to the youth. More and more young people were visiting the library. I was happy to hear that kids were reading. But Mary Kinyanjui’s happiness from the success of her project far surpassed mine, it could not be contained.
It was really impressive to sit amongst people who were championing a struggle against illiteracy all around the world in unconventional guerrilla tactics. FunDza’s, Mignon Hardie, rose to speak about the Reading Revolution that they were waging against illiteracy by providing stories that appeal to the pleasures of the youth. And they were doing this in a way that was cheap and accessible to their target market: through phones. Being one of the wsers of the FunDza mobi site, I was able to attest to this.
I also got to learn about other initiatives and how they were all involved, in one way or the other, in fostering a reading culture for the youth. Nal’ibali, for example, publishes stories for children. Inculcating a reading culture on children whilst they are still young is a sure way to having adults who will be readers.
In a later session, aptly titled “Power to the Users”, I was grilled by “mobile literacy practitioners” on my reading habits. They asked: how do I read? Where do I read? Who did I read with? Are my friends readers too? Endless questions. However, I fully understood the necessity of those questions to them, and I diligently answered. Yes, we, millenials, are not really great readers, but there are some of us who love reading so much that we even stole books to quench this thirst.
On the second day, attention was shifted towards the more technical stuff like websites (WikiAfrica; Ulwazi) and organisations (LIASA; City of Johannesburg Library and Information Services) that were focused mostly on dissemination of information through mobile devices. In a later session, Marion Walton, a researcher from the University of Cape Town, presented her findings about Mobile Literacy. Arthur Atwell, of Paperight, spoke of his drive – albeit unsustainable – to provide affordable learning material to students by transforming photocopy shops into bookstores. This, particularly, appealed to me, as a student who knows the exorbitant amounts we pay for textbooks.
All in all, the meeting was an experience. It is really impressive to see how many people and organisations have dedicated their lives to and invested in promoting a reading culture in the world. I was lucky enough to sit in the midst of them and listen in as they spoke excitedly about their failed projects, their current projects, the challenges they faced and their pipeline dreams.
What is my project, I wondered. When I left the Meeting, I felt a sense of purpose. I knew I had to find a project that advocates reading and to dedicate myself to it. The Mobile Literacy meeting made me join the Revolution that is striving to make everyone a reader.
Aluta Continua! Let’s make them Read. Read before they fall asleep! Read when they eat! Read, Read, and Read on their mobile phones! So, no more jam-smeared newspapers scrambled out of dustbins… Stories are not scarce anymore. I just have to press a few buttons on my phone and then a whole library opens in my palm.
Mobile Literacy – the way to go!
Anathi Nyadu is a student at the University of the Free State and also a writer for the FunDza Literacy Trust’s ‘library on a phone’ initiative. The Goethe-Institut South Africa kindly sponsored his attendance at the mLiteracy Stakeholder Networking event from 26-28 January 2015.