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Book Dash harnesses tech and local talent to bring storybooks to SA children for free.

It's no secret that purchasing books in our country is an expensive affair. For most of South Africa's population, it's prohibitively expensive, which means that millions of children are denied access to storybooks in their formative years. They don't get to experience the wonder of escaping into a story, but, perhaps more worryingly, they don't necessarily associate books with happiness, aren't encouraged to read, and don't start a culture of reading when they are young enough for it to become a lifelong passion.

This is the problem that the Book Dash initiative aims to address. By creating storybooks that can be read, translated, printed and distributed by anyone for free, they hope to put at least 100 storybooks in the hands of every South African child by the time they turn 5. Better yet, the books that are created are uniquely African, meaning that children get to experience stories and characters that reflect aspects of their own lives, and are meaningful to them.

But, you might ask, how is it possible to totally circumvent traditional publishers? Who's creating these free books, and how do they get into the hands of the kids that need them?

Book Dash books are produced by volunteer creatives

Three times every year, Book Dash hosts events around the country for volunteer creatives to attend. They team up in groups of three (one writer, one illustrator, and one designer) and, together, create an African storybook in just 12 hours. They are supported by volunteer editors, and technical and art directors. It's as simple as that. 

Book Dash saves the books on their website

Anyone can access the Book Dash website and can then choose which books they'd like to download. Choose between downloading a low-res PDF (if you're just downloading for yourself or your kids to read on your computer or tablet), and source and print-ready files (if you'd like to print and distribute the books to those in need, or as a gift). The site tells you which languages the book is available in, and you can browse through each book's illustrations before you download, to help you make your choice. Remember, this is all completely free.

Go here to select from the long list of books available to read, download, print and distribute for free »

And they are accessible through the Android app

Alternatively, you can read the books on your Android smartphone or tablet using the Book Dash open source app. (An iOS version is currently in development.)

How you can get involved

There are many ways for you to help the Book Dash cause. You can share this article, or the Book Dash home page on social media; you can donate money; join a Book Dash day - they welcome amateurs and professionals alike; buy physical copies of the Book Dash books (drop an email to find out which ones they've got in stock); suggest to your employer that they sponsor a Book Dash eventprint run or translation; or start something similar yourself - there's even a manual to help you.

Want to enjoy another way technology has been harnessed to provide children with materials to help them succeed ... for free? Check out the Vodacom e-school offering. It's free for Vodacom customers, and is zero-rated, so you won't use any data when you access it. Find out more » 

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