Founded by Ms Elinor Sisulu, PUKU (a Northern Sotho word for book), is a digital reading promotion and book development organisation to promote the reading and writing of children’s books in indigenous languages to preserve these languages.
PUKU first received funding from the National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC) through the Art Organisation Support Funding (AOSF) from 2015 to 2017. AOSF, also known as Company Funding, is a three-year funding call for art or culture organisations. This funding helped the organisation establish itself in the sector. Through the funding, they attended the Makhanda Festival, previously known as the Grahamstown Festival, for five years. This was done through partnerships with Rhodes University, Amaswi, National English Language Museum, Fort Hare University and others.
Later on, the organisational strategy shifted from a literature festival organisation to creating a digital platform that caters to all indigenous languages as well as curating content for children’s festivals.
The change in organisational strategy compelled them to solicit another funding to meet their objectives. Following their consistent exceptional work in the sector, in 2020 PUKU was awarded funding through the NAC’s Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP1 ) for their ‘Language of my soul’ project. PESP is a special government initiative geared towards employment creation for artists, creatives, heritage sector workers and cultural workers following the impact of COVID-19 in the sector.
This NAC-funded project was well implemented in a way that it gained local and international recognition. One of the most recognisable achievements of the project was receiving the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize 2021 award from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The award was for the use of ‘digital technologies to promote children’s literature in South Africa’s indigenous languages’ through webinars held in nine South African indigenous languages. These webinars aimed to spearhead the discussion on children’s literature in indigenous languages. The main topic was the creation of children’s literature content in indigenous languages as opposed to content that is translated from English.
Through this project, PUKU also offered an online course on how to review books in indigenous languages which received a positive uptake.
Amid all the achievements, PUKU’s activities were in line with the NAC’s 6 critical focus areas such as creating the much-needed employment opportunities for young people who were employed to manage the webinars which cover the Focus area of Addressing social ills through the creation of employment and Supporting vulnerable groups by providing employment opportunities for the youth to manage and produce webinars who we deem as vulnerable groups in the NAC mandate due to high unemployment rate amongst the youth.
The webinar held and the creation of digital books activities was in line with the New Works and Digital Arts since it involves the use of technology to advance the arts and expose children to digital art. The use of indigenous languages to write and narrate stories in the books covered the focus area of promoting Marginalised and Indigenous Arts. Lastly, the project conformed to Capacity Building through the creation of book review courses to enable the review of indigenous literature.
These were among the other reasons the organisation was successfully funded by the NAC, including their track record of good artistic merit and ability to sustain themselves.
In her closing, Ms Elinor Sisulu expressed a message of gratitude for the continued partnership and stimulus in the form of funding PUKU has received from the NAC and commended the NAC for the impactful work they are doing for arts organisations such as PUKU.
More information about PUKU Children’s Literature Foundation can be found on www.puku.co.za as well as on their social media platform or at +27 87 148 9418