READ FOR AFRICA IS UNFOLDING AS IT SHOULD

The year that was, the 14 years that were and a plan to “find your 70”

As Read For Africa graduates from Primary School and turns 14 today, the 14th of March 2014 it is clear to me, in the words of Max Ehrmann in Desiderata “that the universe” and therefore Read For Africa “is unfolding as it should”.

2012/2013 was an interesting period in my life personally and therefore in the life of Read For Africa which was started as the vehicle to bring the Phono-Graphix reading and spelling method to South Africa in the year 2000 with the ambitious vision of “teaching Africa to Read”.

As I reflect on 2012/2013, I am forced to think back to 1999/2000 when Read For Africa was in its early stages of development. 2012/2013 were also about development, rekindling that passion and revisiting the initial vision. We launched Phono-Graphix in SA for the first time in 2000 and we are launching new courses and resources in 2014.

 

 

I was a naïve 24 year old when I returned from the UK in September 1999 having lived there for two years and having only taught a handful of children how to read. The first person I presented the programme to in SA was Traci Mann at Sparrow Schools. She had been a lecturer of mine at University and was the first person to suggest the idea of people “Reading for Africa”. While I was thinking about how I was going to teach a few children how to read at one of her schools, she was thinking of the possibility of me starting a company called “Read Africa” based on “Read America”. With Traci’s encouragement I presented the programme to a number of schools and organisations in SA. Many professionals expressed an interest in being trained in the method. This meant that I would need to go to the USA. I shared my vision and plans with Tanya Gillot – a friend who was still teaching in London at the time and had also been exposed to Phono-Graphix. She believed strongly in the potential of Phono-Graphix and Read For Africa and paid for my flight to America. She stated that it was an advance payment for the first course that she would attend in SA on her return from the UK. The financial assistance as well as the assumption that it would all work out made taking this leap of faith that much easier.

So I made my way to the States, became a certified Phono-Graphix Trainer and proposed starting Read For Africa. Carmen and Geoffrey Mc Guinness at Read America, were very supportive. They sponsored all the resources for the pilot and research projects at Sparrow Schools. In good spirits they teased that the one condition was that I had to teach Africa to read!

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Julian and Lee. The first children I taught using Phono-Graphix in the UK in 1999. Note how, Julian (left) is holding a magazine that says “Madiba” on it. One of the first texts he wanted to be able to read having moved from Sierra Leone when he was 7. Mandela was his hero then already!

I will never forget what Lee asked me on my last day at Cumberland Secondary School in London: “Miss, where can I buy that yellow book, I want to teach my dad how to read?” He was referring to the book on Phono-Graphix called Reading Reflex written by Carmen and Geoffrey Mc Guinness.

Jenny’s first trip to Read America in 1999. From left: Carmen McGuinness, Mandy McGuinness and Geoffrey Mc Guinness

I had the passion and drive, but absolutely no business experience and very little money. Many mentors and friends told me at the time that one can’t run a business purely on passion. Whilst there was a huge interest in Phono-Graphix with obvious results, the resources needed to implement Phono-Graphix in schools, such as the kits needed to train school teachers were priced in US dollars and, given the $/Rand exchange rate were expensive by South African standards. In addition it was more expensive to courier resources to SA than other international destinations and South Africa had high duties on international resources because they want to encourage the use of local resources.

For the first few years Read America very graciously agreed to subsidise the materials and Read For Africa was therefore able to train a few hundred teachers in the first few years as well as teach several thousand children and adults to read. However, understandably, Read America could not afford to subsidise us indefinitely so the subsidies came to an end. I kept in touch with Carmen and Geoff and on a number of occasions approached them with regard to pricing, adaptations to the materials and the possibility of “local” printing (to avoid the courier costs and South African import duties). However, we were unable to agree on mutually acceptable business terms.

A small part of my passion and drive dwindled each time my approaches failed. I felt so strongly about the programme. I was seeing amazing results with children and adults including those with intellectual disabilities. However, the relatively high cost of the materials in South African Rand, the duties and other restrictions prevented me from “spreading the word” effectively and quickly enough. Given the obstacles I was facing I considered other methods of teaching reading but deep down I knew that I could not separate the work of Read For Africa from Read America and the fundamental principles of Phono-Graphix. I believed so strongly in these principles that I had based my career and business on them. I had also drawn much of my inspiration and knowledge from Carmen Mc Guinness at Read America so I could not and would not adopt any other method.

Not being able to use Phono-Graphix as freely or as effectively as I would have liked, was a huge obstacle and when we were asked to run a learnership for 150 young adults and teach literacy in the context of a Hygiene and Cleaning qualification, we grabbed the opportunity. On the one hand, I saw it as an interesting diversion and challenge that was still continuing to uplift semi-literate and unemployed youth. However, I also saw it as a “way out” and accepted that to some extent I had failed to achieve my initial vision. I truly believed that without permission to use Phono-Graphix in the way in which I needed to meet South African conditions, I would never be able to succeed fully in what I had set out to achieve.

Whilst I knew I would always be involved in the teaching of reading, and training of teachers and other professionals who could afford it, it was frustrating to feel that I was somewhat limited.

It is only now that I realise that the period that followed from 2004 to 2011 was a crucial diversion in Read For Africa’s foundational years and that these “perceived failures” were a necessary distraction. I now understand the meaning of “providence” and believe that “things really do happen for a reason” which is a saying that I used to resent when things were not going my way.

So, disappointed as I was, Read For Africa ventured into the world of skills development, adult education, learnerships and working with the SETAs. Our team of teachers/facilitators now had an opportunity to channel their enthusiasm and expertise into teaching adults how to read alongside other skills. My only experience with teaching adults had been on small community projects or programmes for domestic workers. These learners valued education and were excited about the opportunity to learn having never been to school. The prospects therefore of doing skills development work having completed a Master’s degree in Adult Education were great.

I also met Janet Landey from Party Design at the start of this venture. Her passion and tenacity were contagious. She believed more emphatically than I did in Read For Africa’s potential to teach Africa to read. Her faith in “providence” would prove to be an incredible influence in keeping the Read For Africa dream alive over this period.

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Janet Landey at Party Design (left) and a 65 year old adult learner (right),

learning to read for the first time.

In reality working with unemployed youth brought new challenges. For the first time I encountered learners who didn’t seem to care whether they could read properly or not. People who were unskilled and had no qualifications wanted to enter the world of work sitting in front of a computer, earning large salaries without investing in the process. This made it very difficult to teach the basics of reading and Hygiene and Cleaning to illiterate cleaners in training. Managing these expectations and trying to get learners to “pass” with limited skills, budgets and time was tough. Trying to teach people to read who did not realise that they were semi-literate, and were not interested in learning how to read or improve their reading was soul destroying.

Part of the challenge was that the ABET (Adult Basic Education and Training) curriculum and resources were out-dated and in many cases not relevant. It reminded the learners of their school days which hadn’t always been successful. Very few adults were motivated to attend lessons in “basic” education. In addition, ABET Level 1 assumed the learners were able to read. We quickly found out that many could not. Fortunately, most of our staff were trained Phono-Graphix Reading Therapists so we were able to integrate basic reading into our courses. These learners were on programmes that varied from Hygiene and Cleaning, Business Practices, Sport and Recreation, Event Management, New Venture Creation and Project Management. Thankfully, this gave us the opportunity to teach employed workers in their late 40s and 50s to read. They had never been to school nor had formal training and were very keen and excited. So the experience wasn’t all bad, but we were limited to our physical capacity in terms of only being able to work with a finite number of learners per group during a specific project. Looking back, it is satisfying to know that collectively we worked with at least 2000 adults over this period and had introduced Phono-Graphix directly or indirectly to many of the learners we worked with. We had at least helped learners improve their English reading and spelling skills.

What was also very exciting was working with companies like Party Design and Sew Africa in township and rural areas where we trained several of our learners to become Buddy Readers. These Buddy Readers in turn contributed to literacy programmes in their communities and were able to assist children in learning how to read on a voluntary basis as part of their learnership experience.

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The other positive from this experience was that Read For Africa identified the need for traditional ABET to be marketed differently and to de-emphasise the “basic” education aspect. Read For Arica started to provide ABETter solution through its World of Work (WOW) programme. Adults developed mathematical and communication skills using real-life examples. Learners were able to understand their own pay slips, to budget and to complete work-related paperwork whilst working towards achieving various unit standards or qualifications.

So, yes. We were contributing to literacy and numeracy in Africa in a small way, and with the help of passionate clients and colleagues, were able to provide ABETter solution to many adults. We worked with employed learners on skills programmes to illiterate unemployed youth. Many of these learners had intellectual and/or physical disabilities with related learning difficulties.

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However, we still had no real plan or formula to seriously teach Africa to read. The “harvest was plenty but there were just not enough harvesters”. We were also too preoccupied with all these projects and travelling all over the country. We went to very interesting and remote places from Welkom to Giyani, to Ilembe to Maphumulo, Nongoma, Soweto, Duduza, Diepsloot, the Winterveld, the Inner City of Johannesburg and Orange Farm.

It was all very rewarding and income generating, but the pace at which we had to move didn’t allow for much reflection. We couldn’t get off this treadmill that we were now accustomed to. It was an incredibly busy and stressful time, but it was also Read For Africa’s and my comfort zone which provided a stable income for up to 17 people who were employed at a time over a 7 year period.

Then, in 2011 two things happened that caught me completely off-guard and would take me to the edge of this comfort zone and trigger what was to be the toughest, yet most significant two years both personally and in the life of Read For Africa.

One – My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 72.

Two - the biggest funder of the skills programmes that we were involved in went through changes. All the projects that we were working on were affected both operationally and financially.

My world crashed overnight and the two years that followed were the toughest yet - filled with distraction, despair, and discouragement. I just wanted to give up and run away and felt that I was losing both my dad and my business.

We had no choice but to fulfil our commitment to the learners who were in our charge and to finalise the projects that we were working on, knowing full well that we also ran the risk of never being paid for our final efforts. I also knew that it was too risky to take on new projects without being paid. In reality I suppose I had no choice because I felt my parents needed me to work with them through the challenging times, managing their affairs and closing down my dad's business.

The task of preserving my dad’s dignity, whilst extracting the wealth of knowledge floating around in his mind was limited to his “good days” and this took a terrible toll on me. Becoming so acutely aware of the decline of a brilliant mind was heart-breaking. In addition to this, my dad resented me (his primary power of attorney) the most. In his eyes I was taking away his independence and he blamed me for everything that went wrong, which was uncharacteristic of him. Each time I took over one more aspect of his business, or closed one more account, a part of him and me died inside. For the first time ever I started to understand what it means to mourn the loss of a life of someone close to you when they are still alive.

It will always amaze me how adversity can reap so much good even though you may only appreciate it much later. I realised how so many of the quotes that I read and possibly rolled my eyes at on the difficult days are actually so true. I was introduced to more books by Robin Sharma (the Monk who sold his Ferrari) over this period and read beautiful quotes of his on a daily basis. Quotes such as: “when you most feel like giving up, is when you most need to keep on going”. “Every minute spent worrying about ‘the way things were’ is a moment stolen from creating ‘the way things can be’.

I was incredibly alone during this time, as I tried to keep strong. I told very few people about what I was going through and relied mainly on the support of my sisters and family friend Avra Spyrides. I was trying to run my business and keep my family afloat and with the help of my sisters, move our parents out of our family home of 35 years. All the paperwork and legal issues associated with selling a home and closing a business was all very new to me. It also didn’t help that estate agents and potential buyers were trying to take advantage of the situation.

I started to work on one thing at a time. However, I was so used to the fast pace of the skills development industry and managing huge projects that I felt a bit lost at times. Whilst I was still very busy finalising our adult education projects, managing my dad’s affairs, I did start to think that I needed to resurrect my initial vision, but still didn’t know how to do this or where to start. I was emotionally drained and exhausted. Moving to the UK to teach Phono-Graphix or become a class teacher in a remote village was an attractive and quiet alternative. However leaving my parents was not an option. There is as great a need in the UK for good literacy instruction however “Read For Britain” just didn’t do it for me as much as “Read For Africa” does!

Alternating between books on Alzheimer’s and Leadership, I tried to use this time to learn as much as I could and see how I could learn from other people who had had a “knock”, or who had been “distracted” by other business or personal experiences. I also decided to dedicate more of my time to teaching reading – a past time that I had outsourced to many of the Reading Therapists that worked under the Read For Africa banner because I had been too busy.

The pleasure I got out of teaching reading again was intense. It didn’t take long before I got excited. The validation I got from students and parents started to build me up. New teachers and schools became interested having witnessed the progress in the learners. I was reminded that “word of mouth” is the most powerful marketing tool and that success and progress seen in the learners was more effective than any advertising campaign. Most importantly, I confirmed that no matter how many distractions or diversions, I would always be drawn back to the original vision. Now more than ever I had to find a way to be able to promote Phono-Graphix within the constraints of conditions in South Africa. I had to go back to the United States.

 

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Read America conference July 2012

This time I went with more money and more business experience. I also knew that an injection of Carmen Mc Guinness enthusiasm would be good for me and looked forward to meeting up with her and Geoff again. My long standing relationship with Read America, who was now operating under the “Phono-Graphix Reading Company”, my commitment to their programme and my vision for Africa enabled me to negotiate a new business arrangement between the Phono-Graphix Reading Company and Read For Africa. I shared my ideas for adapting resources to suit the African market and purchased the complete business rights to Phono-Graphix in Africa, including the right to use and further develop Phono-Graphix educational materials to meet conditions in Africa. This new business arrangement also included the right to train other practitioners to be trainers in Africa. I could also develop, produce and sell the resources locally.

WOW, I finally had what I needed and wanted, but where was I to begin?

I slowly worked my way through small projects and spent the last part of 2012 and a large part of 2013 working on adapting the resources whilst continuing to teach reading most afternoons. But, I was still not satisfied. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t doing enough nor working fast enough and that I was just wasting time. I felt guilty about teaching so much as it meant I didn’t have enough time to market the programme, I wasn’t training more Reading Therapists and more specifically Trainers, nor was I strategising or focusing on the bigger picture. I needed to earn a regular income and I couldn’t take on work that meant I would have to travel or be away from my parents. I had what I wanted yet I hadn’t produced anything substantial and hadn’t yet shared my new business arrangement with the greatest supporters of Read For Africa. I was inundated with issues relating to my parents’ move, my dad’s business, and their finances. I sometimes resented how dependant my parents were on me and felt guilty about that too. I placed increased pressures on myself and wondered how I ever thought that Read For Africa could live up to the expectation of teaching South Africa, let alone Africa to read?

I had many a negative chat with myself, but I just kept moving a little bit each day.

I read in Robin Sharma’s “The Leader Who Had No Title”, about an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “The Making of an Expert”. It stated that it takes ten thousand hours of focused effort and deliberate practice to master something. This apparently adds up to about 10 years in normal life that involves sleeping, spending time with people and doing other daily activities. So this really means that you need to focus on the particular job you want mastery in for at least ten years.

Untitled-12 copyIt dawned on me that Read For Africa had invested well over 10 years of focused effort and consistent practice in teaching reading. We had taught every type of person imaginable to read and spell in every possible environment. We had run a business and employed people. We had trained hundreds of teachers and other professionals in this time. We had worked with children and adults in rural, township, government and private schools. We had worked in affluent, destitute, resourced, under resourced settings. We had worked with learners for whom English is a first, second or third language. As part of the adaptation of the resources we had recently translated Phono-Graphix into Afrikaans and were starting to apply the method to Zulu and Sotho too. We had worked with motivated and demotivated practitioners. We had worked with illiterate adults as well as professionals who could read but needed to improve their spelling. We had worked with numerous curricula. I had personally taught reading in England and Africa. We had also worked very successfully with learners with intellectual, physical and/or learning disabilities. Many of these learners had been told that they would never be able to learn how to read.

 

I had no excuse. Given my new business arrangement with the Phono-Graphix Reading Company, I could no longer blame the exchange rate, lack of experience, lack of funding/finances, copyright issues nor my dad’s illness.

Without ever asking for it, some amazing people fell into to my life at this moment and what has transpired as a result is absolutely amazing. The synchronicity of the events that have taken place since May 2013 have also been amazing and have to be shared with all of you – people who have been supporters and practitioners of the Phono-Graphix reading method and have worked with Read For Africa at some stage over the past 14 years.

Perhaps you too have drifted from your vision at times or had situations at work or in your personal life that seem to take you off the path. Hopefully this is a reminder to you that these distractions are often blessings in disguise and that you can relate to what I have experienced.

During my lowest point I attended a Business Breakfast on 9 May 2013 where Pavlo Phitidis gave a talk entitled “The purpose of an entrepreneur: It’s not what you think”. I went expecting to leave all fired up, but I left feeling discouraged. I took all the things that he said very personally as if he was analysing (criticising) me and my entrepreneurial efforts. He spoke about why most entrepreneurs fail. The two messages I left with were: 1) he would never buy a business dependent on its owner. 2) you can’t run a business purely on passion. These were central themes in all the advice I’d received. I sat there thinking how I now had the opportunity and the rights to train more Phono-Graphix Trainers all over Africa, yet I was still trying to do it on my own and stunting further growth. I thought about how during this “difficult” time, other people should have been running with things, but I was still the only qualified Phono-Graphix Trainer in Africa - Read For Africa was certainly too dependent on me.

Immediately after the seminar I went to my favourite coffee shop to catch a breath and to see if the baristas at the Vida e Café in Greenside could put a smile on my face before my next appointment. They are wonderful at Vida, they know us by name and you can’t help but exit with a smile on your face. On this day however, I bumped in to a friend from school, Lana Hindmarch who had been involved with Life Coaching. I literally blurted out all the emotions that I was feeling. She had no context but listened carefully as I told her about the last 2 years, my dad’s illness, all the work and money I had walked away from. I was feeling terrible when I had hoped that Pavlo Phitidis would inspire me.

We spoke about life coaching and she told me about Paul Nyamuda – an Executive Coach and Psychologist. She raved about Paul and what he had done for her business. She said that he is “brilliant, but usually fully booked”. She said she would mention me to him.

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Andrew Kembo and his team of baristas at Vida e Greenside with my sisters.
Keren Grant on the far left, myself in the middle and Natasha Taylor on the right

The next morning I received an email from Paul stating that he would like to meet with me and that it was no accident that we had been introduced to each other. Just that week he had been chatting to an adult who couldn’t read and he wanted to try and help her and didn’t know where to start. He gave me some homework on “taking charge of your life” and met up with me the following week. He said he would like to assist me and at no charge!

When we met, Paul suggested that Read For Africa is not just a company or an organisation or merely a campaign, it’s a “movement”. He was excited by my passion when I spoke about reading and Phono-Graphix and the potential we had to teach Africa to read. However, he also noticed that I was focusing more on the negatives, feeling intimidated by the tasks and responsibilities that lay ahead, feeling overwhelmed by my dad’s situation. All these things were preventing me from moving forward. He spoke about “asset based” thinking where you decrease your focus on what is wrong (deficit based thinking) and increase your focus on what is right. He suggested that I was currently more of a “deficit based” thinker and needed to look at both my “situational” and “relational” assets. I needed to think about how my current situation and relationships could assist me both personally and professionally.

Personally this was a break through as I was able to draw on my family for more support in terms of my parents’ affairs. I was able to look at everyone’s strengths in my family and start to ask for specific help instead of trying to do everything myself. My dad’s brothers were very supportive. David, in Australia who has a background in finance had offered his help before, but I now took advantage of his expertise.

I was more open with my sisters who never realised the extent to which I was struggling and we were able to focus our efforts and take on roles according to our strengths and at times that were convenient to each of us. I looked at how I could start involving my mom in the marketing of my new courses and resources that we were working on. She had been instrumental in the start-up of Read For Africa due to both her Occupational Therapy and PR background. It would be a distraction from the family admin for her and a great help when we launched our new course.

Businesswise, I started to think about the “champions” of Phono-Graphix – people who I had worked with and trusted and I knew were ready, with minimal further training, to train teachers and other therapists in Phono-Graphix. I started to think about relinquishing some of the control so that we could expand our reach and not be so dependent on me.

I began to see the opportunities in my situation and that my experiences were not all negative over this difficult period. Providence was playing out in my life and the difference now was that I was actually able to identify it and was ready to trust it.

I realised that what I had perceived as “life changing” and terrible, was really just a way of forcing me to change my focus and go back to my initial vision. That working on fewer projects (especially those unrelated to our vision) and travelling less enabled me to invest that time in my parents. I realised that the quieter months in terms of work and travel had been a blessing as “God really does only give you that which you can handle”.

The decision to teach more had given me an opportunity to “play” again, to try new ideas and rekindle my passion. More importantly it gave me an opportunity to work first hand with the resources which I hadn’t personally used in a long time. I was able integrate my ideas with the Read America resources, work more closely with other Reading Therapists and teachers and produce a product customised for Africa, a product that Read For Africa is now very proud of – our new Starter Kit. By printing locally it also meant we could avoid courier costs and import duties and be able to provide these resources at a lower price. Whilst I had beaten myself up about not doing this sooner or spreading the word faster, the timing couldn’t have been better as our final customised product was worth waiting for.

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Read For Africa’s New Starter kit filing system.

There were two other significant processes happening parallel to this which would become incredibly relevant later and reiterate the perfect timing of events. Further suggesting that “The Universe” and therefore Read For Africa was “unfolding as it should”.

 

Firstly, my colleague Melanie Smith of Psych Assess had been working on getting our Phono-Graphix Reading Therapist courses accredited with the Health Professions Council (HPCSA). This meant that health professionals such as Psychometrists, Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists etc. could earn 12 Continued Professional Development (CPD) points through doing our course. Many more professionals would now be interested in doing our courses as a result. In addition, under my new business arrangement, I could train Melanie and she became the second qualified Phono-Graphix Trainer in South Africa. After all these years, I could finally tick off a lesson learned– assisting Read For Africa to be less dependent on me.

 

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Melanie Smith - PsychAssess

Secondly, Murray Mc Lachlan, a family friend who lives in America and had earned an MBA at Stanford University contacted me. I had stayed with him and his wife Judy in California 14 years ago when I trained as a Phono-Graphix Trainer. He had always been interested in Read For Africa and had heard from my parents that we had gone through a few changes. He had been consulting for a not-for-profit organisation - Building Futures Now (BFN). BFN works with Hispanic students in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. In many cases English is a second language and parents have limited education and English skills, so he could relate to some of the challenges I described. He was keen to explore the prospects of introducing Phono-Graphix to this community as well as assisting Read For Africa with Strategic Planning, something that passionate teachers/practitioners tend to neglect.

Pavlo Phitides, had emphasised that passion is but one element of entrepreneurial success, purpose is the other. Having help to strategise and focus on the bigger picture with purpose again was energising. I accepted that Read For Africa could not be fuelled purely by passion and that a strategic plan was essential. Another lesson learned. Tick!

Murray has a wide network of people/organisations who are doing great things in education in America, Malawi, Ethiopia and South Africa. We have “met” telephonically for hours on a bi-weekly basis to brainstorm and strategise. He has put me in touch with key people which has translated into opportunities for Read For Africa. The input and advice from a fatherly figure has been reassuring and comforting.

One of the best pieces of advice he gave me was to go to the Global Leadership Summit – an annual video-broadcasted event that he had attended in America.Untitled-18 copy He had raved about the famous speakers/leaders who shared their stories and their vision. I attended the event in Johannesburg in October last year.

Oscar Muriu, from Kenya, had the biggest impact on me. He spoke about VIRAL LEADERSHIP: Multiplying your impact exponentially”.

Firstly, according to Mr Muriu – we need to “Train more harvesters”. The problem is not the harvest, the problem is that there are not enough harvesters to get the job done. We tend to run around on the verge of burnout, ignore our families and just don’t stop. Successful leaders do it the other way round – they invest in leaders who raise other leaders.

Again, I was reminded that your reach is limited to your personal capacity and the need to train more Phono-Graphix Trainers as well as Reading Therapists was obvious.

Secondly, Mr Muriu emphasised the need to live for a new generation. The problem with living for your generation is that every milestone is reached at the same time – marriage, children, death and the risk is that your vision dies with your generation. You need to instil your vision into the next generation – start investing in people much younger than you.

This was big for me. I had always hidden behind the fact that I was younger than everyone. That I was too young and inexperienced when I had started Read For Africa. Most of the people that Read For Africa had trained or inspired were in their 40s and 50s and older. Now that I am nearing 40, I am no longer the youngest in the group and this really sank in at this moment. I realised that I often think that anyone younger than me is too young or inexperienced and forget that I was only 24 when I was first introduced to Phono-Graphix.

It was amazing to then discover a few weeks later that most of the attendees on our course in Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN) in November last year were new graduates who had just completed their Occupational or Speech and Language Therapy degrees. They were doing their community service in rural KZN. It was great to work with young graduates who were motivated and excited and would have the opportunity to teach reading and share Phono-Graphix. These young therapists work with teachers and parents in under resourced communities and are well positioned to inspire future generations.

Finally, Mr Muriu told us to go out and “Find your 70”. He referred to Numbers 11:10-17 in the Old Testament where Moses was due to lead the children of Israel into the desert. He told God that it was too tough and that he would rather die than have the responsibility. God told him that he was working too hard and that he must pick 70 leaders, and infuse them with his DNA to continue his work. He assured Moses that these people would help him carry the load and the great thing was that there were already 70 people right under his nose. Mr Muriu went on to say that sometimes the best leaders are close by but we are just too busy to see them. You need to open your eyes and see who you can pour your life into until you reach “your 70”. You need to identify 70 budding leaders around you, tag and train them and send them out to harvest.

His words seemed to be the last piece of the puzzle and as a result we have a formula! A formula that we have already shared with the 100+ people that we trained in October/November last year. We trained more people over this two month period than we had trained in over a year and I experienced first-hand that when you do what you are meant to be doing, your impact can “multiply exponentially”.

Untitled-19 copyAfter this conference Dr Morayo Jimoh, an Educational Psychologist in Nigeria contacted me and attended our course. She visited some of our projects and returned to Nigeria keen to get funding to train more people and to introduce Read For Africa to Nigeria in 2014. A friend of mine who is a great fan of Phono-Graphix got a teaching job in Botswana for 2014. A Reading Therapist in Zimbabwe contacted me around this time about training teachers in Zimbabwe and doing more there. Was this not providence?  

 

Melanie Smith’s marketing efforts for our accredited course with Psychometrists and other therapist led to people from all over SA expressing an interest in our training. People from Nelspruit, Belfast, Secunda and Aliwal North travelled to Johannesburg to do the course. In a few weeks we had arranged venues and courses in KZN and Cape Town. This gave us the opportunity to reconnect with other Reading Therapists that we had worked with in these areas and I started listing “my 70”.

 

We had a third potential trainer in Potchefstroom - Annette Loedolff who had worked with us for over 10 years. Untitled-20 copyShe is an English teacher by profession, but had always been keen to work with Phono-Graphix in Afrikaans and we now had the opportunity to make this a reality too.

We had shared Phono-Graphix with hundreds of teachers and other practitioners, but our focus now needed to be on seeing which of these people could become one of “our 70” Phono-Graphix Trainers, namely people who had the knowledge, expertise and passion to “multiply this impact exponentially” across SA and Africa. There are more than 10 great people who are “right under my nose” and are ready.

Our plan, for AFRICA which includes you is therefore as follows:

If there are 53 countries in Africa; 9 provinces in South Africa and more than 10 Phono-Graphix Reading Therapists already identified and ready to become Phono-Graphix Trainers, I have “my 70”. I may not have all 70 people’s names, but I know where to look for them. I plan to find one person in each South African province over the next 5 years and one person in each African country over the next 10 years and rely on some of these people to find me along the way. I then trust that each of these people will in turn find “their 70”.

For the first time in 14 years, I have a huge sense of relief. I have only realised now that teaching Africa to Read is not solely my or Read For Africa’s responsibility. It is all of yours. I therefore invite each of you to think through what “finding your 70” means to you.

You have already been inspired by Read For Africa or what we have stood for if you have received this story. If you’ve attended a Read For Africa course, you’ve most likely taught several people to read using Phono-Graphix and may have a few more to go to reach “your 70”. You may be a parent or a friend of a person who you supported through the process of learning to read and are now an enthusiastic Buddy Reader. You may be a learner who couldn’t read and now inspires others. You may be a funder who has sponsored our programmes or plan to do so in the future.           

Whatever your title or designation - you have an opportunity to “find your 70”. Teach 70 people to read. Finance or find funding to sponsor 70 children to attend reading lessons, or 70 teachers to be trained. Introduce 70 teachers, parents and/or other practitioners to Phono-Graphix. Buy 70 books for children or adults who don’t have access. Encourage each proud owner of their new book to read it or share it with 70 other children or adults in their community.

If you take a few minutes before the year becomes too crazy to reflect – you may already be well on your way and can also start ticking off “your 70”. The good news is that you have the rest of your life to make up the balance of “your 70” and inspire those people to find “their 70”.

And so the leadership engine will roll on year after year and from generation to generation until every child and therefore adult in Africa can read. If you live abroad, but still share this vision then let’s not limit it to Africa!

The last thing I urge you all to do as you work out “your 70” is to buy the children’s version of “Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to freedom” by Chris Van Wyk. Share it with your own children, the learners you work with and their parents and teachers as you inspire 70 or more people to join you in shortening the “long walk to literacy”.

As Mandela said “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that generation.”

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Go to Read For Africa’s Facebook Group, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/166538845748/); join if you haven’t already and tell us your story – let us know how you’re going to find “your 70” or who you already have on your list!

 

To celebrate our 14th birthday, Read For Africa will be sponsoring 14 people to attend one of our courses in 2014. Anyone who shares their story on our Facebook page/group can also nominate themselves or someone who they feel will benefit from becoming a Phono-Graphix Reading Therapist. Include how you plan to find your 70. Read For Africa will select 3 or 4 people per term this year and we will then follow each of those people’s journeys as they “find their 70”.

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