Zambia welcomes 100,000 new readers, one story at a time

By Sara Melillo

June 4, 2014   |   0 comments

Tassew Mekuria, Director of Creative’s Read to Succeed project in Zambia, addresses the audience at the breakfast ceremony announcing the expansion of Reading Tools in a Box.

Trucks are rumbling down the rural roads of Zambia carrying special packages as they travel to far-flung primary schools. Thousands of young students are about to receive fun and engaging reading materials in local languages—books and materials that enliven their basic classrooms and make reading enjoyable.

At a recent ceremony in Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka, Creative Associates International announced the expansion of its Reading Tools in a Box initiative, designed to build early-grade reading skills both in and out of the classroom.

Over the next few months, Creative will send 305 boxes, valued at nearly $55,000, to six provinces across Zambia.

Each box contains 10 illustrated books in local languages, five titles on basic life skills as well as additional materials designed to boost reading skills. All of the materials are colorful and fun, featuring interesting stories that children can read aloud and enjoy.

This initiative began as part of Read to Succeed, a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded project implemented by Creative, which aims to improve early-grade learner performance in reading.

Already, 335 schools involved in Read to Succeed have received Reading Tools in a Box thanks to support from the Zambia National Commercial Bank and the Kansanshi Foundation. Many have hung them from a basket under their reading trees, a space reserved for reading where children gather in their free time to sit around the tree, practice reading and discuss stories.

To develop and distribute these new boxes, Creative leveraged generous cash and in-kind donations from Finance Bank Zambia, Professional Insurance and Malden Publishing House.

“We’re very excited about this public private partnership,” said USAID/Zambia Deputy Mission Director Ryan Washburn. “With this Reading Tools in a Box project, 100,000 additional children will have access to reading materials.”

Reading Tools in a Box’s efforts to build reading skills among Zambian learners is critically needed: According to Read to Succeed’s baseline early grade reading assessment, more than 89% of second graders and more than 80% of third grade readers can’t read.

Currently, Zambia features the lowest reading achievement scores within the 15-country Southern African Development Community, according to Athanasias Mulenga, Director of Open and Distance Education with Zambia’s Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education (MESVTEE).

It’s with open arms, therefore, that the Zambian government welcomes public-private partnerships to support initiatives such as Reading Tools in a Box.

“Reading is the key to acquiring new knowledge,” said Mulenga at the event announcing the program’s expansion. Besides being critical to language development, she said reading “opens up new worlds, both imagined and real.”

Reading Tools in a Box complements Read to Succeed’s additional efforts to build literacy in more than 1,300 basic schools in Zambia. Since its 2012 inception, Creative’s project has trained more than 4,500 first and second grade teachers in key literacy teaching skills based on the Zambian National Literacy Framework.

Sara Melillo is an Associate for Health in Creative’s Education for Development Division.