Over the years FunDza has been experimenting with different ways of developing young writers – from running two-hour workshops, to online tips and resources, to intensive writing mentorships. Each of these types of interventions has pros and cons.

Last year FunDza experimented with hosting three WriteSmart Writing Clubs in the Gauteng area and it learned a lot from the exercise. This year it received funding to refine this and experiment some more.

FunDza ran four WritingMe Writing Clubs from July through to October this year. Two clubs were in KZN – one with Youth Interactive in KwaMashu, the other at the Bayview Library with Chatsworth Senior Secondary students. The two in Cape Town were at Sophumelela High School in Philippi, and at Red Hill library near Simonstown.

The KZN workshops were run by author, Sifiso Mzobe who FunDza regards as part of the family. He is a regular FunDza writer, mentor and translator. The Red Hill club was run by Sonja Kruse who worked previously with False Bay College before to run writing and reading sessions.

I (Ros), together with Nandipha Tshabane and Asithandile Tyulu, worked together as a small team to run the club at Sophumelela High School in Philippi.

After ten enjoyable sessions at Sophumelela we were sad to say goodbye to the young writers in the group. We had come to know them personally through their stories, poems and the conversations we had each week when we met in the classroom/library on Wednesday afternoons. The Sophumelela group were inspired, and inspiring. They never failed to surprise us with their creativity and raw talent.

The ten-week course was carefully structured to build on the new skills learned each week. There was a lot of work with descriptive language and building poems, which introduced the joy and power of playing with words. The writers enjoyed working together to create poetry and the process highlighted the importance of editing.

The clubs aim was not only to improve writing skills but to build confidence in a safe and supportive environment where the learners respected and encouraged each other. The focus was on personal narratives and building and shaping these by providing tools that they could use: greater descriptive vocabulary, exploring dialogue and characterization.

The use of model texts really made a huge difference. These were drawn from work that came out of previous writing workshops. This encouraged and inspired writers that they could ‘do it too’ and meant that the texts were relatable and accessible. The writers saw their own lives in the texts and this sparked their imagination and made it easier to access and write their own experiences.

A love for language was evident, especially in the poetry, and experimenting with what they had learned – unusual imagery that brought a uniqueness and individuality to their work.

I was amazed by their support for each other. They were very keen to read their writing to the group and perform it. They cheered each other on and introduced music to make the poems a real performance. Many of the poems and pieces were personal, heartfelt and moving. It was evident that they had connected at a deep level with the readings and had been inspired.

One of the writing sessions was used to record their experiences and writing. Lee Baker, from the UK, cinematographer, kindly donated his time and skills to interviewing members of the group and filming them and produced a short video. See it on YouTube here.

The writing that came out of the group is a testimony to the passion and talent of these young writers. Read their stories here.

A big thank you to HCI Foundation for providing the funding for the two KZN clubs and the one at Sophumelela High School, and to the Western Cape Department of Culture, Arts and Sports for its funding of the group at Red Hill. This has been a fantastic initiative, which we hope to grow in the years to come.