Governments, civil society, and stakeholders to highlight improvements in world literacy rates, and reflect on the world’s remaining literacy challenges. The issue of literacy is a key component of the United Nation’s (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals and the UN’s2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The theme of this year’s International Literacy Day is ‘Literacy in a Digital World’, (http://www.un.org/en/events/literacyday, 2017).

AGES was invited to deliver a short presentation at a seminar hosted by the Department of Adult Basic Education (ABET) and Youth Development of UNISA in celebration of International Literacy Day. The seminar was hosted at the Sunnyside Campus of UNISA on Thursday 28th September 2017 and was attended by academics, guests, and dignitaries concerned with literacy in Southern Africa.

Why was AGES invited to a literacy symposium you may ask? Well, long ago there was a book … No, actually, AGES as part of the Touching Africa Group was involved in a water supply project in partnership with Bokamoso Impact Investment in a small community in the North West Province, Manyeledi. At first glance, the project at Manyeledi is a gardening project where community members are trained and provided technical resources leading farmers into the small-scale agricultural sector. In partnership with the local tribal authorities, deserving students are given 2 Ha of land on which to start their own garden. The end goal of the project is community development through job creation and food security as farmers gain self-confidence and a sense of worth in the South African economy.

The project is in a large sense, successful because of the expert, technical input that has gone into the development and implementation of the project. Top training programmes and accredited courses are offered to the learners. Agriculturalists from the ARC are involved with soil analysis and with the selection of cultivars suitable for the area, irrigation specialists are involved with the irrigation requirements and plant water demands, and AGES provided input leading to the development of a successful borehole for the garden. The footprint of the project is expanding – from a thriving, successful training venue, graduates are being released from the training center to start their own garden and businesses.

As you can probably guess, when community development is on the agenda, a much wider range of community challenges is exposed. One of these challenges is the high rates of illiteracy in the rural communities. With this in mind, Bokamoso Impact Investment joined into a partnership with the Department of Adult Basic Education and Youth Development of UNISA to introduce literacy programmes as part of integrated community development. And so, the specialist fields of water supply and literacy meet – literally around the cabbage patch – or in this case watermelons, onions, and spinach…..

While at the symposium, I had the opportunity to reflect on the similarities between water supply and literacy. Listening to the academics speaking with great passion about literacy and the evils of illiteracy in Africa, I was reminded that literacy is the door that opens a whole new world to the reader. While arguably you could survive illiterate, you cannot live without water, the increasing reality in the technical and digital world in which we live is that while you may survive illiterate – you will never thrive.

It was an amazing opportunity to share with the delegates at the symposium, not only our compassion for people that drives us, but also for the hope that we have in seeing the light come into the eyes and hearts of, what Jesus called, a troubled and helpless multitude. Being part of sharing our technical skill on this project is now part of the teaching that impacts people’s lives, and this is Touching Africa. Looking forward, I can see great opportunities with the relationships that were established at UNISA to include literacy into the thinking and strategy as we continue to impact people into the digital age.

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