When famed Cape Town poet and novelist, James Matthews, was a young boy, he wrote a composition that his teacher so loved, she gave him 21/20 for it.

Matthews came from a poor background. His father was illiterate and their home had no shelves stacked with books.

But chance encounters – the teacher who saw his skills with the written word and the journalist who sent him to find books at the library, thus revealing to him a world of wonderful prose – set Matthews on the path to a life of poetry and storytelling.

Though his story is now decades old, Matthews’s upbringing is familiar to many South Africans. A love of reading is something that too many children won’t cultivate because their families and communities don’t have the means.

This is where Shine Literacy, an award winning non-profit organisation, has stepped in. Shine was started in 2000 by former teacher Maurita Weissenberg at a school in Observatory, Cape Town.

Shine Literacy focuses on developing the reading, writing and speaking skills of Grade Two and Three children from low-income communities.

With the help of a network of over 900 volunteers working towards building a nation of readers, Shine Literacy programmes are used in 66 schools and serve over 4 500 children across South Africa.

With a focus on foundation phase teaching and reading, Shine’s team doesn’t simply read to children. It fosters in them a love for words and reveals the possibilities of worlds they never imagined before.  

Statistics prove the strategy is effective: In 2016, 70% of children attending Shine’s centres were at risk in terms of their literacy. Six months later that figure dropped to 17%.

“Increasingly, there is a national awareness that without a strong foundation in early literacy, children will be unable to thrive, and Shine fills this gap very effectively. Our focus on social franchising through partnerships will ensure that our reach continues to grow, ensuring more children are given the gift of literacy,” says the NPO’s chairperson, Kathryn Torres.

As the school year draws to a close, Shine has teamed up with The Relate Trust to sell two hand-woven Relate bracelets to fund the literacy outreach group’s work and help its light reach more communities.

These Shine Literacy Relate bracelets are available from selected Woolworths stores nationwide. The retailer supports initiatives like Shine Literacy as part of their “Good Business Journey”, aimed at increasing awareness of the social issues in South Africa, while actively supporting social upliftment projects in South Africa.

The weaved design of the bracelets is a first for Woolworths, who have supported many causes through the sale of Relate’s beaded bracelets. This makes Woolworths the first official retailer to sell one of Relate’s new range of products.

Funding received from bracelet sales will directly contribute towards programme materials to facilitate the Shine Literacy Hour programme in 2018. Schools will also receive additional books in an ongoing effort to provide children with access to vibrant and exciting resources, thereby encouraging a love of reading.

“We’re proud to have had Shine as a partner for many years. The work that they do is critical and has made a tangible impact to thousands of children. We hope that these new bracelets will enable them to help many more,” says Relate Trust CEO Neil Robinson.

“Look at the example of Lufefe Kwetshube. He graduated from the Shine programme in 2009.  He’s now in matric and is hoping to study Chartered Accounting at UCT next year. He’s an inspiration to us all.”

When he started with Shine, Kwetshube was too shy to speak. But he says his Shine partner, “wonderful” volunteer Leigh-Anne, helped him to open up.

“It was scary at first, but then it was good. It’s nice to know there are people who care about you. What I learned in Shine showed in my other school work. I was much more prepared and able to keep up because of Shine,” Kwetshube explains.

Kwetshube says he would like to continue his studies, but he also hopes to pay it forward by helping other children going through Shine - enabling them to reach their full potential.

By buying a Shine Literacy Relate bracelet, you can too! Available from selected Woolworths stores nationwide.