Master of Arts in Sustainable International Development

Bringing local-language storybooks to rural African schools

Dorcas Wepukhulu with children holding books

By Bethany Romano, MBA'17

Before joining Heller’s Sustainable International Development (SID) program as a Ford Foundation International Fellow in 2009, Dorcas Wepukhulu, MA SID’11, taught high school for 16 years in rural Kenya. In these arid regions, social services are rare and age-appropriate children’s books in local languages even rarer. While a student at Heller, Wepukhulu met Judith Baker, a Boston classroom teacher who was also concerned with meeting children’s literacy needs in Africa.

Together, in 2011 they conceptualized the African Storybook Project, an organization that provides access to large quantities of age- and language-appropriate digital reading materials for young children in Africa. With funding from Comic Relief and support from the South African Institute of Distance Education, they began a pilot project in four countries: Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Lesotho. Wepukhulu is responsible for the project in Kenya, identifying primary schools in need of local language books and finding development organizations to partner with.

Today, those pilot schools have African Storybook Project laptops, projectors, a camera and a modem. The teachers and librarians are trained to use the African Storybook Project website to download the resources they’ve developed and teach them to students. The organization has also trained these teachers on basic data collection, monitoring and evaluation, and teamwork, building capacity at the local level.

These teachers acknowledge that the African Storybook Project is filling a gap, and they’re motivated to use digital storybooks to teach children reading skills in their local language. The website now has storybooks in 98 languages spoken in Africa, including 15 Kenyan languages. In 2016, the project expanded to Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zambia and Ghana. Wepukhulu says, “We are very optimistic that we’ll get funding to continue to solidify the work we have done so far. This will enable us to concentrate on sustainability, quality and capacity building in the communities that are using these resources.”