Partnering for Peace Video Production

Executive Summary, January 2018

Partnering For Peace Executive Summary – Download the PDF HERE

Partnering For Peace


Partnering for Peace (P4P) is an organization that brings the Peace Corps and Rotary together in an effort to enhance their mutual goal: peace building and service. In an effort to present a model for successful initiatives, we will be filming a documentary on Souns, a unique early childhood literacy program in South Africa that meets our criteria for sustainable P4P projects. Rotarians from Atlanta, Georgia, and Pretoria, South Africa, have worked with Peace Corps volunteers in South Africa continuously since 2011. Our production team will film in three locations: Ashley Kasik, returned PC volunteer and former SA Souns teacher, living in Mechanic Falls, ME; Brenda Erickson, developer of Souns, who is a member of Peachtree City Rotary Club and lives in Fayetteville, GA; and Robin Jones, Rotary Club of Pretoria East, SA, who has spearheaded the Peace Corps/Rotary collaboration.

Goal: $17,660.00
Production: March-May, 2018
Tax deductible donations to: Arts Wisconsin (
Arts Wisconsin, POB 1054, Madison, WI 53701-1054 Attn: Partnering for Peace
Contact: Mark D. Walker, Partnering for Peace Board member and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Guatemala:

“Partnership is not a posture but a process – a continuous process that grows stronger each year as we devote ourselves to common tasks.”
— John F. Kennedy

Souns, The Issue: Illiteracy in South Africa

Souns: Illiteracy in South AfricaA recent international study of literacy levels found that of 50 countries analyzed, South Africa was the worst performing country (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). According to a 2008 paper entitled “National Reading Strategy,” 63% of South Africans were below the required competence for their age level and only 51% of learners were able to read at the age-appropriate level reported. The poor level of teacher training was a basic cause for the poor results, as most teachers who teach beyond the Foundation Phase are not trained to teach basic reading. A basic skill shortage occurs in schools and crèches (day care centers). In addition, 500 crèches in one township in the program area lack resources and skilled trainers.

About Souns: By demonstrating the learning potential of the young child, the Souns early literacy program is revolutionizing the way children are introduced to the symbols of printed language. Souns places specifically designed and sequenced letters into the hands of children. The hands hold and explore the letters. Since each letter is given only one label – the most common sound of that letter – the child slowly builds a base of letter-sound associations for the early stages of writing and reading. Learning becomes incidental, natural – and fun.

While highly valuable for typically-developing children, Souns is an especially powerful tool for special needs children with intellectual, physical and/or developmental disabilities for whom reading is often a challenge. Souns helps children in economically depressed populations become ready for school.

Souns letters are educational aides that can be interacted with by the child and the caregiver as one would with blocks or a ball. Children learn the sounds of letters as incidentally as they learn the names of foods, clothing items, and toys. Early stages of reading begin to emerge within a year in typically developing children using the Souns program.

Souns provides a program that is profoundly simple. Souns is based on the nature of human development. It is unique in that people with different issues can connect to it. Families can learn the tools of print together – parent and child. Souns interfaces with the learning potential in every learner, regardless of age or environmental circumstances.

Peace Corps Collaboration

Peace Corps Collaboration

To date, 97 Peace Corps volunteers from seven groups have received training in the South African Souns program. Between PC volunteers, 105 new sets of materials were distributed and fourteen sets were recycled. One set of materials serves one classroom. In rural areas, a primary school will have at least 30 kids per class. So if all sets were used in primary schools, the program reaches 3,600 kids per year. Peace Corps volunteers placed in private huts in village communities have implemented Souns programs in over 100 communities.

The program has been very popular among Peace Corps volunteers as reflected in this comment of one volunteer who participated in the program:

“Working alongside people who struggle to put food on the table, yet who have welcomed me into their lives and hearts has allowed me to see the great potential in the rural areas, and has motivated me to extend my service beyond the usual two years. As I work to teach new skills, I am learning what it means to be part of a global community that transcends culture, ideologies, and language.”

Rotary International Collaboration

Rotary International

Brenda Erickson’s Rotary Club of Peachtree City and the Rotary Clubs of Smyrna, La Grange, and Henry County in District 6000 have been the key US-based clubs. Landskoon Citadel and Glumslova Rotary Clubs are involved from Sweden, as well as Robin Jones’ Pretoria East Rotary Club in South Africa.

Rotarians provide training to local instructors as well as continued monitoring to assure the long-term success of the program. So far two Global Grants serving South African children have generated $94,325 since 2011 (impacting 472 classrooms, 14,000 children). Such success has led to a new Global Grant proposal to provide Souns literacy materials to 500 classrooms in Gauteng and surrounding Provinces via the University of Pretoria, University of the North West, and the Peace Corps. This new grant will provide materials initially impacting almost 15,000 children through primary schools and preschools, as well as equipping Peace Corps volunteers with Souns materials to better serve them as a resource for their communities.

Since Souns materials are not expendable, the overall impact as the years go by will be accumulative. The Rotary grant provides funds for classroom materials only and is matched almost dollar-for-dollar by experienced Rotarian volunteers training local teachers to implement the program. Teaching teachers ensures long term sustainability.

Partnering for Peace Productions

Partnering For Peace ProductionsThe District 5450 Peace Corps Alliance Committee, focused on connecting local Rotarian RPCVs, formed Partnering for Peace in May 2017 to engage Rotarian RPCVs all around the globe. The purpose of the group is to connect Rotarians, the U.S. Peace Corps communities, and other volunteers of international service organizations to share information on projects we are doing together.

Membership is open to the Rotary community including Rotarians, Rotaractors, Rotary Peace Fellows, the Peace Corps community including Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in the field and former PCVs, staff and families, and volunteers from other international service organizations. We also welcome members of cooperating organizations who are implementing Rotary/Peace Corps supported projects, or projects that partner with Rotary and other international service groups. We are also an affiliate group of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA). Membership in NPCA is free.

As part of this video initiative, we will be choosing successful initiatives to produce “mini-documentaries” that profile Peace Corps volunteers who have demonstrated successful Peace Corps/Rotary collaborations in healthcare, education, and infrastructure development. The videos will be used as informational tools to: 1) alert PC volunteers to Rotary resources; 2) facilitate inter-Rotary club coordination; and 3) be made available for Peace Corps training.

Why Film Souns?
The film is part of Partnering for Peace’s mandate to facilitate collaboration between the Peace Corps and Rotary International. Partnering for Peace, in conjunction with Hal Rifken Productions, plans to identify and film the best quality, most effective examples of joint Peace Corps/Rotary programs around the world. As part of an ongoing vetting process, Partnering for Peace will begin by filming the Souns early literacy program in Peace Corps sites outside Gautang Province, South Africa.

Production Plan/Timeline (Spring, 2018)

Hal RifkinIn addition to core filming in schools, Peace Corps training facilities, and Rotary clubs in and around Pretoria, South Africa, we plan additional interviews and “B” roll production in:

    1) March: Interview Souns developer Brenda Erickson in Atlanta, Georgia. This will include filming and interviews of some of the members of the Peachtree Rotary club.
    2) April: Interview Robin Jones, a RPCV who participated in the program.
    3) April: 7-day shoot in and around Pretoria will include two travel days, five shoot days.
    4) June: The film will be launched at the Rotary International Convention in Toronto, Canada.

Distribution Plan

The ultimate goal will be to launch the film at the Rotary International Convention in Toronto, Canada. Also, Partnering for Peace board and members, as well as the participating Rotary Clubs and RPCV affiliate groups, will disseminate the video on their respective social media platforms, which are extensive. A strategy is being developed to promote the videos on the District Level of Rotary as part of a membership drive to attract Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

Video Production Criteria

The Souns program has passed a process to identify the best quality, most sustainable Peace Corps/Rotary programs abroad to be filmed with the following vetting criteria:

  • Utilize the United Nations Sustainable Development goals as benchmarks to identify the most effective programs to film.
  • Identify and work with strong advocates among in-country Peace Corps volunteers, in-country PC training staff, in-country Rotary Clubs, and U.S. based club(s) interested in promoting Partnering for Peace.
  • Assure that the local representatives can provide the basic logistical support necessary for the film team to successfully film the programs.
  • Reach out to respective developing world governments or NGOs for support.
  • Connect with donors/philanthropists willing and able to underwrite the cost of each production.


Underwriting for these productions will be through individual and foundation support, and crowd-funding initiatives. Arts Wisconsin, a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Madison, Wisconsin, will handle all donations.

The Production Team:

Hal Rifkin

Hal Rifken: Producer/Director
Filmmaker Hal Rifken began his production company in 1989 and has worked continuously for most cable and broadcast networks. His academic background in educational psychology has led to projects that include educational subjects (Considering Waldorf: Changing Perspective in Education), documentaries (Blue Like Me: The Art of Siona Benjamin; Behind The Strings: The Shanghai Quartet; Dixie Queen) and corporate assignments in Europe, Asia and Latin America. For Hal, a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Bolivia30) and a Rotarian, Partnering for Peace is an organization that particularly resonates. He and his family live in Leonia, New Jersey.

Mark Walker

Mark D. Walker: Producer/Production Manager
Mark’s deep understanding of poverty issues comes from over forty years laboring side-by-side with needy people in the developing world starting with the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and later with international relief and development organizations. Mark was the CEO of Hagar, which supports survivors of human trafficking, and has held senior positions with Make-A-Wish International, MAP International, Food for the Hungry, and CARE International, among others. He holds a master’s degree in economics and rural sociology from the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Mark joined Rotary in 1981 in Bogotá, Colombia, and is the recipient of the “Service Above Self” award – the most prestigious recognition of Rotary International. His new book, “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond” was recognized at the Arizona Literary Award ceremony recently. Mark is a board member of Partnering for Peace and Advance Guatemala. Mark’s wife and three children were born in Guatemala.

Brenda Erickson

Brenda Erickson: Developer of Souns.
Brenda developed the Souns program. She’s an Association Montessori International (A.M.I.) certified Montessori Primary teacher with four decades of experience teaching children to read. She is the founder of Counterpane Montessori School in Fayetteville, GA. She was twice the recipient of the North American Literacy Award. A member of the Rotary Club of Peachtree City, she is also an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Pretoria East. Brenda has been the Literacy Chair for her district for five years.

Robin Jones

Robin Jones: Program Trainer
A life scientist by profession, Robin Jones joined the Pretoria Rotary club in 2006 after retiring from the corporate world. In Rotary, education and literacy initiatives became his focus. He has been responsible for a matching grant that supplied books to a township school library. His involvement with Souns and Peace Corps started in 2011 and has grown over the years. He was instrumental in winning two global grants that supplied more than 500 Souns sets to schools and crèches in and around Pretoria, of which about 120 sets were handed out to Peace Corps volunteers, who were typically located in more rural areas. He and his wife, Edie, have trained seven groups (cohorts) of Peace Corps volunteers (about 100 volunteers) in how to use Souns literacy materials before heading out to their assigned villages.


P4P Souns Budget

Partnering For Peace Executive Summary – Download the PDF HERE

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