Iphupha Lam Fights Illiteracy Among South African Children.

Author: Siya Mahomba
Photos: Bulumko Gana

According to a report released by the 2030 Reading Panel in February, basic literacy among South African children has further deteriorated. A staggering 82% of Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning. This rate went up from 78% pre-pandemic. Lack of access to reading materials and other necessities such as school uniforms contributes to this predicament. 

Educational experts reckon resolving this literacy crisis requires a collaborative effort by various role-players across different fields. This recently came into fruition when ikeja Wireless, in partnership with PEP Stores and Hungry Lion lent a helping hand to the learners of Isiphiwo Primary School in Harare, Khayelitsha. 

At a fun-filled event held on Friday, 14 April by Iphupha Lam Social Welfare Organisation as part of their ‘Dress A Child’ campaign, 98 learners from Isiphiwo Primary School received full school uniforms and shoes courtesy of PEP Stores. ikeja Wireless made the donation possible after receiving a plea for support from social activist and founder of Iphupha Lam, Asanda Tshendu. 

Matthew Symonds, Chief Operating Officer of ikeja Wireless said not only do they have a corporate and moral responsibility to plough back into the communities they serve, but supporting projects that are focused on literacy and education such as Iphupha Lam is in the best interests of South Africa’s future. 

“We strive to be more than a high-quality, cost-effective internet access service provider to South African townships. So, we are continuously seeking more ways to invest and drive positive change in these communities. With that said, we were very pleased to be able to assist Iphupha Lam in their quest to change the trajectory of children from the communities we support,” he explained.  

A not-for-profit organisation, Iphupha Lam (IsiXhosa for ‘My Dream’) provides social support to children in Harare and the surrounding. They run an after-school programme where children are assisted with their schoolwork, participate in various mural activities, and receive counselling and mentorship. 

“I started the organisation in 2019 after identifying a need to keep kids active beyond school time. I felt this would prevent them from getting entangled in the life of crime and drugs that riddles our communities. Also, it’s important to note that not all children are academically talented. Some need more guidance than others. So, I wanted to create a platform to help them with their studies while developing their talents and skills. I hope they will use these talents and skills one day to earn an honest living,” said Tshendu. 

The platform she created grew to be an essential pillar of the community. Currently, Iphupha Lam supports more than 1200 children of varying ages from Harare, Khayelitsha and surrounding communities. Tshendu works with a team of volunteers to facilitate after-school lessons, assist learners with their homework, host various talent development classes such as visual and performance art, and hold counselling sessions for the children and their families. They operate from the grounds of Isiphiwo Primary School in a structure provided by the school. 

Some of the volunteers at Iphupha Lam, such as Mava Mtyana, are parents of the children supported by the project. Mtyana, who was present at the handover event, is a self-employed single father of two children aged 6 and 14. As a single parent and due to the demanding nature of his work, he sometimes struggles to find time to support his children’s literacy development. 

“Iphupha Lam has played an instrumental role in shaping my kids’ literacy skills. In today’s world, parents must be very hands-on with their children’s education. Though this is good for the child’s development, it is unfortunately not always possible for some single parents like me. When I cannot assist my kids, I know Asanda will step in. I am very grateful for their work, and I hope more companies like ikeja Wireless can come on board and support the project,” said Mtyana. 

Tshendu said one of the prominent challenges that they face is irregular school attendance, which is often due to a lack of required resources like stationery and school uniform: “Most of the children that are enrolled in my programme are from impoverished backgrounds or homes that are affected by drugs and alcohol. This often means that their needs are either neglected or their caregivers simply struggle to make ends meet, leading to days and sometimes weeks of missing school.” 

Iphupha Lam completely relies on donations and sponsorships to carry out their operations. They appeal to different companies to fund their initiatives, and for their ‘Dress a Child’ campaign, they contacted ikeja Wireless for support.

 “Iphupha Lam’s plea for assistance came as an opportunity for us to put our money where our mouth is. We are invested in developing communities, one of many ways we can help. We spoke to our friends at PEP Stores, and they were generous enough to donate 98 full school uniforms including shoes! We needed to make this donation a little more special, so we reached out to Hungry Lion who provided yummy meals for today’s event,” said Symonds. 

The children of the Iphupha Lam after-school programme welcomed the donation with beaming smiles. They expressed their appreciation in a carefully choreographed set of songs and dances. For eleven-year-old Sesethu Donga*, a new school uniform means she will no longer feel like an outsider. “I am very happy with my new uniform because I will finally look like the rest of my classmates. Since we opened schools in January, I have been coming to school without a proper uniform. Sometimes I would not come to school because I would feel ashamed,” she said. 

Expressing her gratitude, Tshendu said she hoped this donation of school uniforms would lessen the rate of school nonattendance and that the children in her programme would be motivated to work harder towards achieving their dreams. “May this begin an ongoing collaboration between Iphupha Lam, ikeja Wireless, PEP Stores and other donors to nurture and protect our children? Developing and shaping children to be functioning members of society is an investment towards the future of our country,” she said.