The Fofa Communication Empowerment Programme aims at giving young people between the age of 18 and 30 who experience severe speech difficulties an opportunity to improve their communication skills. Fofa is the Northern Sotho word which means “to fly.” This concept is at the heart of the programme, and is also reflected in the logo, which depicts an eagle. Eagles are powerful birds that bring images of strength, courage, dignity and freedom to mind. The aim of the programme is to enable young adults who cannot speak to find their voice through AAC, and to start participating actively and as independently as possible in their contexts. Through access to communication, these young adults can start to soar above their challenges and circumstances, experiencing greater freedom and agency, akin to the eagle soaring in the sky. The programme started in 2005 and more than 20 young adults who use AAC have benefitted and are still benefitting from the programme. Of these, 15 come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Fofa training program is based on the Augmentative Communication and Empowerment Supports (ACES) model developed at Temple University, Philadelphia, as a method to teach participants about AAC and disability rights (Bryen, Sleseransky & Baker, 1995). This program has been adapted for the South African context.
Each year, eight young adults from all over South Africa, together with their personal assistants, are selected to attend the Fofa Communication Empowerment Programme. They are hosted at the University of Pretoria for a week. Their assistive technology solutions (such as speech generating devices and applications and access technology) are evaluated and, where possible, optimized. They also attend daily seminars and training workshops at the Centre for AAC, and then have the opportunity to practice their new-found communication skills by interacting with students and staff from different university departments, taking part in campus life and visiting community settings such as the local cinema. The culmination of the training week is the formal presentation by participants on the final day of the training week. Here they have the platform to demonstrate the skills they gained through the training and also inform the audience about their experiences, their new discoveries and future dreams. In this way, they not only focus on their own empowerment and growth, but contribute their voices to raising awareness and advocating for positive change for people with different abilities. The yearly training session is followed up by support through email, sms and Whatsapp contact.
Participants typically participate in the programme for three consecutive years. Thereafter, some of them become mentors and are invited as needed to attend the one-week training as a mentor to the current participants.
Over the three years, the programme focuses on the following aspects:
- Year 1: Communication competence and daring to dream (empowerment and goal
- Year 2: Community participation and networking
- Year 3: Advocacy and entrepreneurship
After completion of training the participants are able to:
- take leadership in advocacy programs for youth with disabilities in their own communities;
- demonstrate increased knowledge and skills in accessing social networks for training and support through governmental and non-governmental organisations;
- demonstrate increased ability in the use of their communication system;
- demonstrate increased skill in developing entrepreneurial options within their context.
Training is presented by staff at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, disability stakeholders, and relevant government departments to ensure attendants’ exposure to relevant networks and skills development.
Click on the Fofa video below which features some of the participants of the Fofa project and gives a valuable insight into the lives of people who are unable to speak and who use AAC to communicate.