The Literacy Initiative began in 2007, when our Ugandan counterparts at Kasiisi told us that a reading culture is critically important for academic progress. In 2009 we carried out a formal survey in the Kasiisi-related primary schools to help guide our literacy efforts. In response to the input, we are building school lending libraries, training teachers in literacy instruction, and sponsoring women’s groups that focus on learning and literacy among pre-schoolers in their homes.

Our first lending library opened in 2009 at Kasiisi Primary School, with over 3,000 books in English and Rutooro, the local language. We carefully select books that align with the Ugandan national curriculum and are relevant to African life and culture. Where possible we purchase locally in Uganda, to help the local economy. Encyclopedias have turned out to be highly popular and important for both teachers and students. The Kasiisi library has been expanding since its inception and now houses approximately 5,000 books. In 2011 we established our second lending library, at Kyanyawara Primary School near the entrance to Kibale Park. Additional libraries are planned for the new pre-school at Kasiisi School, and for the other Kasiisi-related primary schools.

In parallel with libraries, work is underway to provide reading and study materials through computers, cell phones and other handheld devices. With electricity now at Kasiisi School, new possibilities are opening up to integrate electronic learning with book and classroom learning.

Since 2009, we have worked with Ugandan colleagues to provide professional development focused on advancing literacy and a reading culture, with ongoing support and guidance from Kasiisi School Head Teacher Elizabeth Kasenene and Kyanyawara School Head Teacher Josephine Kemigisa. We have established book discussion groups – also called literature circles – for teachers and students; these are a powerful way of generating involvement and engagement with reading and critical thinking. Kasiisi School and Kyanyawara School now carry out book discussions regularly.

In 2011, the combined faculties of Kasiisi and Kyanyawara Schools participated in a day-long workshop focused on comprehension of nonfiction texts. We plan to expand this instruction, and additional related techniques, to the other Kasiisi Project schools in conjunction with new lending libraries.

Our first women’s group started at Kasiisi School in 2010. The group includes mothers and grandmothers of pre-school children, plus an occasional father or grandfather. Being read to and told stories from a very early age correlates strongly with better literacy sooner in life. We seek to maximize leverage at the earliest possible childhood age, to accelerate advances in literacy at all of the Kasiisi-related schools and in the surrounding communities. We are collaborating with other volunteer groups to collect and publish folk tales in the local language, and to translate and publish them in English as well, as another avenue of promoting a reading culture in Uganda.