The spelling bee champion going head-to-head with illiteracy

 
 
 

Seven letters, two syllables, and Hlulani Baloyi’s ticket to victory. P-H-A-R-A-O-H. The moment she said it, Baloyi became the national champion of the 2018 Mzansi Spelling Bee. The 13-year-old pupil never expected just how far her love of words would take her. Later that year, Baloyi flew to Kenya where she represented her country at the annual African Spelling Bee. However, Baloyi’s experience is an exception. Illiteracy remains a challenge in South Africa. But inspiring a passion for education may expand the possibilities for the youth. 

Learning to read is difficult when you don’t have access to resources. In Baloyi’s class at Magangeni Primary School in Malamulele, 40 children compete for their teacher’s attention. But through innovative educational games and spelling bees, the kids are able to incorporate literacy into their daily lives. This motivates students like Baloyi, who makes the effort to revise her vocabulary at home. “It’s worth the push because I’ve seen the way that spelling and reading has changed my life,” she says. 

Words form the foundation for development. Baloyi breaks them down, letter by letter, enhancing her understanding. “Spelling has made me make sense of the world,” she says. “I think it can help other children too.” But learning is more than memorising the alphabet. Literacy can open doors beyond the classroom, and take us further than we ever imagined.

Images by the Tinyiko Shivuri Foundation were used in the creation of this film