Literacy Support PDF  | Print |  E-mail

The need to combine literacy learning with income generation and food security is stronger in rural literacy classes than in urban classes, perhaps because rural people do not live in as literate an environment as urban dwellers. Operation Upgrade has found that many literacy learners leave their classes with mother-tongue literacy only. They show little interest in learning English, which is of less relevance than the pressing need to improve family income. Our rural classes in KwaNibela are based on an integrated approach to literacy. Rural classes may deal with very practical matters, like the dipping of cattle, or growing spinach for sale. The literacy lessons will be based on these topics.




The KwaNibela Project is set in rural KwaZulu-Natal, (which is the province of the Zulu people in South Africa), in an isolated area north of Hluhluwe. It is a tribal area. The area has seen little development for its 26000 people. There are 4 clinics and a courthouse, but the nearest hospital is 80 kilometres away.

There is little water, and the people are poor: a few have cattle and goats, but most are dependent on social grants. There are no shops. Where there are roads, they are gravel, which makes travel difficult. There is no electricity. Almost 2 million people in KwaZulu- Natal cannot read or write. Operation Upgrade has been working in KwaNibela since 2004, initially with literacy classes, which were later expanded to include HIV and AIDS information and support.

In addition Operation Upgrade, working with the classes, set up 28 food tunnels. Water is a constant challenge for the tunnel groups and the community in general, and livelihoods are hard to establish.

The Project is funded largely by Oxfam Australia through its JOHAP Project, and Rotary District 9720 has been a strong supporter of the KwaNibela project, making it possible to provide learning materials for the classes, tunnels and more water.

There are over 430 adult literacy learners in 28 classes in KwaNibela. Only 112 of these are men.


learn_name tell_time
Learning to write her name She can tell the time now ….


Vegetable tunnels:
Each class last year had a vegetable tunnel. The classes were given project management training, and the tunnels have largely done very well. The groups have sold some of the spinach, so that the tunnels make a small livelihood for them, and they have taken the rest of the food to their families. They have given some of the spinach to families seriously affected by AIDS. A vegetable tunnel is a structure made of shade cloth stretched over a frame of plastic piping. Inside the tunnel are small black plastic bags filled with wood shavings.

tunnel_people tennell_three

A tunnel accommodates 350 such bags. In each bag, 3 vegetable seedlings are planted, most frequently spinach. Each tunnel has over 1000 spinach plants. The spinach is watered by hand one or twice a day. Into the water go small amounts of two nutrients (fertilizer). The leaves can be reaped every week for food, or to sell, and the plants will produce leaves for 6 months. The tunnels do contribute to food security and livelihoods, and there is a demand for more. Rotary Umhlanga have donated all the tunnels. Children from the community help to plant the spinach inside a tunnel.


One literacy group runs a nursery project to supply seedlings to the other literacy groups and to community people who have started their own vegetable gardens.

The nursery is now a small business. Leather craft Three of the KwaNibela men have been trained to make leather goods – belts, Bible covers and other items – and all are working to meet local orders.

This is the beginning of income generation through small business.


The area is in its 8th year of drought. Operation Upgrade with help from the Rotary Club of Durban and major support from Oxfam Australia (JOHAP) has
been able to provide measures to help local people:

Guttering and water tanks to harvest rainwater from the roofs of huts 
Bio-sand filters to purify water from dams and stagnant pools 
Water rollers so that people do not have to carry great buckets of water on their heads
Larger tanks near the tunnel farms
The water relief activities are ongoing. 

Taking a hippo water roller to ease the physical stress of carrying water for a long way.

Installing guttering and a tank for a rural home, to catch rainwater.

It works! Water on tap for a literacy learner with a rainwater harvesting unit

hivHIV and AIDS are prevalent in KwaNibela. When the project started in 2004, people in the classes thought that the high number of deaths in the area could be due to witchcraft. It seemed essential that some action was taken to inform people about HIV and AIDS and to give them some resources for coping with its effects – on themselves and on their families. Operation Upgrade’s AIDS programme for KwaNibela has been a combination of prevention education and coping strategies. The literacy educators have all been trained as AIDS educators, counselors and home care givers. Learning to give a bed bath as part of basic home care – the KwaNibela literacy educators will teach this to their literacy learners The educators’ major role has been to make sure that all literacy learners are knowledgeable about HIV and AIDS. They include topics – from what the disease is and how it is spread to caring for AIDS orphans and managing anti-retroviral treatment – in their literacy lessons. In addition they have helped Operation Upgrade to call AIDS focus men’s meetings and women’s meetings, to further spread information about AIDS. Stigma about HIV and AIDS, and the resulting pattern of secrecy, help to spread the disease.

To help learners and their community, in 2007 Operation Upgrade taught the educators to use drama and song as educational tools. Each class developed a piece of theatre and a song about HIV and AIDS. There was a competition, watched by community members, which was very successful. The learners have asked that it be made an annual event. Learner enrolment in class went up as the classes created and practiced their own plays and songs. Literacy learners in traditional dress sing about HIV and its effects. KwaNibela literacy learners developed their own dramas about HIV and AIDS, and about using the clinic for help.

Here one literacy class shows a drama to a clinic’s staff and patients. Vegetable seedlings for sale from the literacy learner group that runs a seedling nursery for the area Leather goods and beadwork items for sale – literacy groups display their goods In July and August 2008 two Rotary International Volunteers, Dr Frances Jeffries and Linda Tracey-Clifton, visited 5 literacy groups in KwaNibela as part of their research into the effects of participation in literacy classes. They reported that they found learners to be strong and confident people who are able to plan their future – we are encouraged by this and we look forward to the research report when it is ready. We report with pride that Operation Upgrade and the KwaNibela Project has been awarded the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy and Health for 2008. We are grateful to all the donors that have helped us take the KwaNibela Project this far, and who will continue to support it in the future.

books2Operation Upgrade, contracted by Project Literacy, is one of the partners tasked with rolling out the Department of Labour Project in KwaZulu-Natal. We set out
to establish and administer 60 rural adult classes with a combined number of 1200 adult learners. The initial phase of the Department of Labour Project began in September 2008 with the recruitment of 14 educators in Hlabisa, 6 Educators in Nongoma and 5 educators in Melmoth. In October 2008, we recruited a further 35 educators in the nodal areas of the eThekwini region.

The Project provides adult classes to 1200 learners in two learning areas:
• 900 learners in Level 1 English and Numeracy;
• 300 learners in Level 2 English and Numeracy.

While the Project focuses only on pure ABET, (Adult basic Education and Training) Operation Upgrade has decided to stay true to its mission by adding a
developmental aspect. We have secured funding to provide 40 classes (800 learners) with food tunnels. This intervention has seen learner numbers swell and
has stemmed the initial learner dropout rate. Learners in Isipingo have erected their own food tunnel and planted a vegetable garden

She can tell the time now ….


HIV and AIDS and literacy learning

The educators in training on the HIV and AIDS course make a list of the AIDS topics they want to cover in literacy lessons.  Then in groups they plan lessons on the basis outlined above.  After the course they make their own lesson plans that incorporate some of the HIV/AIDS topics.

EMSENI Community Centre

We have set up a community centre in KwaNibela, called Emseni Community Centre. (“Emseni” means Place of Kindness.) We have built two large rondavels there, one to accommodate our staff and visitors, and one for storage.

The UNESCO Confucius Prize

“The UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy was awarded to Operation Upgrade of South Africa, for the “KwaNibela Project”, and continues the Organisation’s 40-year history of commitment and change.  Website Hosted by Pro Hosting Internet Services