Friday, April 25, 2008

Reading Stories in Kenya

Mleta wa Hadithi is what we are calling the literacy project I am working on with Amesbury for Africa. That’s Swahili for Stories are Coming. Oldest daughters of a family are being trained as Hadithi (story) girls who will read aloud from storybooks to young children in their homes.
Our friends in Esabalu recommend that the books be in Swahili and dialects of Luhya, the mother tongue for village children.
Children in Amesbury schools have held a fund raiser. They have sold bracelets that say, One Book because the purchase of a bracelet will raise funds for a book for the literacy project. Amesbury for Africa will send the money to the village for the committee to purchase storybooks.

I am thinking about languages because I am reading the Kenyan writer, Ngugi. He wrote his first novels in English, but later wrote only in his own language, Kikuyu, saying that “Africa needs back its economy, its politics, its culture, its languages…” I’ve read passionate pleas to protect and champion native languages and ensure that African children grow up learning them. The Mleta wa Hadithi are reading stories in the mother tongue because the young children don’t know English. Village children don’t study English until their third year of school. I’m glad the project will do two things then: give kids a chance to hold books in their hands and begin reading, and also to see their own language in print.

Have you grown up with two or more languages? Have you had experience with children writing their own books in a native dialect and creating their own written literature? Have you done this yourself? The elephantrag WANTS YOUR experiences and ideas. Writeon!

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