Meet Mary Tsebe, Regional Program Director, Southern Africa
Dr. Mary Tsebe plays a crucial role for Room to Read in southern Africa, particularly as our work there begins to expand. In her pivotal role as Regional Program Director for southern Africa, Mary brings an extensive educational background designing and implementing high-impact literacy projects for several non-governmental organizations in South Africa. Mary holds several bachelors’ degrees, as well as a master’s degree in education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in education from Boston University. In the following conversation, Mary gives her insights on the direction Room to Read is taking to improve the literacy rates of children in southern Africa.
Q. Mary, you’ve been a teacher, trainer and administrator before coming to Room to Read. As Room to Read southern Africa now begins to pilot literacy programs to complement our library, school and book programs, what do you believe are the most important elements for program design?
One major area we really need to think about is professional development for teachers. Teachers are the keys to the success of our literacy pilots. Let us prepare them well and offer effective on-site support throughout to enhance classroom instruction.
The other area is supplementing existing material or providing relevant instructional materials. In southern Africa, there are few guidelines on teaching literacy. We will need to support teacher development in this area and then provide the materials in the language of instruction.
Q. Through UNESCO’s Education for All initiative, governments in Africa are committed to educating its children, but they may not have the resources, teachers or infrastructure to implement education programs. How does Room to Read fit in – and how will Room to Read be supported by the government?
The government in South Africa has reacted very positively to our literacy pilots. In Mpumalanga in particular, the provincial department of education and the district managers have both volunteered to be part of the working committee to develop literacy pilots. We’re also working with curriculum advisors to monitor our program implementation and with teachers in those pilot schools who are being granted time to attend the training and workshops that are arranged by Room to Read.
In Zambia, we have the support and blessings of the Minister of Education. Negotiations for areas of responsibility are still taking place but the reaction to the move toward literacy enhancement has been welcomed by government.
Q. What excites you most about Room to Read’s new focus on literacy and your role in this new initiative?
We have ultimately hit the right note. Without the ability to read, children will not learn. I am excited about being part of an organization that will bring substantial change to millions of children by offering them the gift of books and skills for reading that book. I am excited in particular for Africa. It will change from a continent dimmed by poverty and illiteracy to a continent sparkling with light. Indeed, we are building reading communities.
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Nokia Conspiracy: Social Networking Meets Philanthropy
It was part theater, part computer game and part social networking – but the end result will be five very real Room to Read libraries in Zambia. Spearheaded by Nokia, “Conspiracy for Good,” an experiential philanthropic initiative, was the brainchild of Tim Kring, who bestowed super powers to ordinary people in his Emmy-Award winning television series, “Heroes.”
Since June, thousands of enthusiastic followers from 165 countries regularly logged on to www.conspiracyforgood.com to participate in the interactive mystery about a school library in the village of Chataika, Zambia, where a teacher named Nadirah went missing, a shipment of books was hijacked and a shady corporation was likely behind it all. The plot thickened and took a myriad of twists and turns as over 4,000 users followed along and uncovered clues online that furthered the narrative. Room to Read’s own John Wood even had a cameo part in the fun. The project required the creative efforts of 130 experts in the field and was an innovative blend of music, apps, mobile games, alternate reality gaming, live events and interactive theater.
True to Hollywood form, there was a happy ending: the teacher was found, as were the books – and, best of all, thanks to the generosity of Nokia, five real libraries in Zambia will be built and the shelves of the libraries will be filled with a variety of books, including some from a shipment of 10,000 books generously donated by the Pearson Foundation to our Zambia program.
In addition, one year of holistic education for 50 girls in Zambia will be fully funded through Conspiracy for Good’s partner donations.
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Fourteen-year-old Quentin Moropodi was acknowledged to be the fifth grade class bully at Khombindlela Primary School in South Africa. His teachers were challenged by his aggressive behavior and his lack of interest in school.
One day, during a teachers’ meeting, as they discussed Quentin and how best to handle him, the school librarian, Ms. Edith Shabangu, proposed trying to engage Quentin in the library. When Quentin took her up on her invitation to come inside the library to explore, an amazing thing happened – Quentin immediately fell in love with books and started spending many hours in the library, putting his energy into reading rather than toward troublesome behavior. Soon, his reading and comprehension skills improved, and teachers enjoyed having him in their classrooms.
Recently, when the library was remodeled, Quentin played a vital role in painting the South African national symbols on the walls and helping to make the library a more welcoming place – for himself and future students who will discover the power of books and learning.
Learn more about our Reading Room program »