By Dennis Abrams
Cover2Cover Books, a new publisher of teen fiction for the South African market, founded the FunDza Literacy Trust last year. Its purpose? To fulfill some of the publisher’s socioeconomic and philanthropic goals by building literacy among South African teens and young adults. Cover2Cover provided loan capital to start the non-profit organization as well as a share in the publishing business.
The word “FunDza” itself spells out the reasons for the trust. “Funda” means to learn or to read in a number of South Africa’s indigenous languages. “Za” refers to the South African country domain identifier, and signifies the trust’s intention to have a positive impact in South Africa as well as emphasizing its use of technology. And of course, and perhaps most importantly, the name emphatically stresses the “fun” aspect of reading, that reading should be a pleasurable and enjoyable act, and not just a means to a functional end.
FunDza currently runs three outreach programs:
The first is aimed at popularizing reading. Working with schools, libraries, reading groups and youth development organizations, FunDza supports their efforts to improve literacy among their members. Organizations register with FunDza and make a commitment to get their members reading. By doing so they gain free access to reading materials as well as ideas on how to work with the materials in a learning environment.
FunDza works together with Cover2Cover books to produce teen books — the Harmony High series — that have been highly successful in getting young people hooked on reading. The series, which follows the lives a group of teens who attend a fictional high school, features gripping and fast-paced narratives with messages that are positive without being preachy. They are intended to deal with the issues that many South African teens face on a daily basis, using easy-to-understand language and plots built on tension and excitement to keep readers turning the page. As one young reader wrote, “I loved the book…it was written in South Africa…It wasn’t something about the suburbs. It was local — about black people in the townships. It was about us teenagers in high school, about the choices we make, about how the decisions we make change our lives.”
Their second program is devoted to building a community of readers by linking readers with content available via mobile phones. Because South Africa has such a high level of cell phone penetration, especially among teens and young adults, mobile phones provide a great channel to deliver reading material.
And so FunDza has a mobi-site which hosts a large number of books, short stories, non-fiction stories and inspiration tales. The content on the mobi-site is fed through a portal on Mxit (a popular messaging service with more than 10 million users in South Africa alone). This allows FunDza to reach the widest possible audience and grow its readership base.
To keep readers interested and involved, stories are serialized so that readers come back on a daily basis to find out what happens. Readers can leave comments so that the writers, including such notable names as Tracey Farren, Cynthia Jele, Lauri Kubuitsile and Epiphanie Kubsano, get immediate feedback on how their work is being received.
FunDza’s third outreach program is designed to encourage readers to develop their own writing skills and become published authors. The “FunDza Fanz” section of their mobi-site hosts space for readers to publish their own work and showcase their talent to an audience of their peers all across South Africa.
In addition, FunDza is hosting Write4Life workshops, which provide aspiring writers with the tools they need to hone their writing skills. The first of these two-day workshops will be held this month, and the work produced through the course will be published on the FunDza Fanz site.
Although the trust has been operational less than a year, it has already achieved a huge amount of success. The first three titles in the Harmony High series have reached readers at more than 70 beneficiary organizations nationwide, and a fourth title, Too Young to Die, is scheduled to be released this month. Through their mobi-site, FunDza has published seven full-length mobi books, 13 short mobi-stories and eight non-fiction titles, as well as poetry, profiles and the writing of their “FunDza Fanz.” (The content is published in four of South Africa’s 11 official languages – English, Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaans.)
Mignon Hardie, FunDza’s managing trustee, acknowledges that there is still work to be done. “We are keen to grow our base of supporters and friends around the world. We realize that worldwide there are organizations working to encourage reading for pleasure and to improve access to books and reading resources. As such, we’d love to hear from them and share our lessons and experiences.”
There are a number of ways to contact FunDza: