Bharti Menghani is a translator and storyteller, who loves creating storybooks in her mother tongue, Sindhi. Bharti aims to help revitalise the language by contributing to literature in Sindhi. As part of the Freedom To Read 2020 campaign, she has created a digital library of 50 storybooks in Sindhi. 

In this email interview, Bharti writes about her love for her mother tongue and the importance of creating children's books in Sindhi.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your interests and your work?

I am an HR professional working in a corporate.

Reading stories has always been my passion. I have grown up reading and discussing stories with my mother, and I feel that stories have shaped my personality as they have always acted as a torchbearer for me, showing me how to face real life issues. I love to read children's stories, motivational books, spiritual stories, folk tales and stories from the Panchtantra.

We would love to learn about your personal relationship with Sindhi - do tell us about it.

Sindhi is my mother tongue. I grew up speaking and reading in Sindhi. As I did my schooling from a school where Sindhi was a compulsory subject, I started writing in Sindhi from grade 4 and simply loved it.

How did you come across StoryWeaver and the Freedom to Read campaign?

In 2016, I did a course in storytelling from a renowned institute. Most of my batchmates were teachers and I came to know about Pratham Books' Storyweaver through them. When I visited the website, I was amazed to see the vast repository of storybooks in a variety of languages and more importantly, created with the noble cause of providing reading material to children as their basic right. I followed StoryWeaver on social media and kept receiving notifications from time to time. Though one such notification, I came to know about International Mother Language Day and the Freedom to Read campaign.

Bharti has translated 50 storybooks into Sindhi on StoryWeaver

Why do you think is it important to have children’s books in Sindhi?

In 1967, Sindhi was added to the constitution, as an official language of the Republic of India. However, like many other regional languages today, Sindhi is facing the danger of becoming extinct.

There are two sets of children in the Sindhi community. One – those who have the means to afford books and other reading material in Sindhi, but do not do so, as their parents want them to learn to read and write in English. For these children, their interaction with the Sindhi language only comes from speaking it at home. The second set comprises those children who speak in Sindhi, but being from an economically weaker background, they are unable to buy Sindhi books for reading. Hence, it is important to have children's books in Sindhi to cater to the needs of both the sections. I feel that Storyweaver is one such platform which fulfills this criteria.

Of the 50 storybooks that you translated, which story would be your favourite and why?

Gully Jo Gazab Jo Pitaro would definitely be my favourite. This book is about an intelligent child who is passionate about helping and solving everybody’s problem instantly, and for this he keep collecting things - which could have gone into the waste - and makes the best use of them to help anyone in need.

What are some of your favourite books from childhood? Is there any memorable reading moment that you would like to share?

My favourite book from childhood is a storybook called “Hansti Duniya”. It is children's book that is published every month by the Nirankari Mission and features stories, poetry, and sections on science facts, quizzes, puzzles, mythology, and so on.

Another favourite from childhood is Chacha Chaudhry and the Panchtantra tales.

What is your favourite word / phrase / quote in Sindhi? 

Here's a poem about my love for my mother tongue:

सिंधी भाषा  प्यारी भाषा,
हर भाषा खां न्यारी भाषा,
प्यार अमड़ि जो जंहिंमें पातुम,
अहिड़े थदड़नि ठारी भाषा,

मिठड़ी ॿोली ऐं लफ़्ज़ मिठा,
आहे भाॻनि  वारी भाषा,
अखरनि में वडी॒ सभिन खां,
सिंधियत जी अवतारी भाषा,

कन्हैया आहूजा,हास्य ,व्यंग्य कवि, बिलासपुर

You can read all the storybooks translated by Bharti Menghani here.

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Azad India Foundation (AIF) was founded by Yuman Hussain in 1998 to seed initiatives in education & primary health care. The organisation's activities reach out to marginalised women, adolescents and underserved children from rural and urban areas of the Kishanganj district in Bihar. 

We are delighted that AIF is participating in our Freedom to Read campaign for the second year in a row. They are also our first partner-translator this year to have completed their goal of translating 70+ Surjapuri bilingual books (English-Surjapuri and Hindi-Surjapuri). In an email interview, Yuman Hussain, Executive Director of Azad India Foundation, tells us about the importance of bilingual books and how these books have helped children read and  learn in their mother tongue.

The Azad India Foundation team and the children in their learning centre in Bihar

“Azad India Foundation is delighted to be part of the #FreedomToRead campaign for the second year in a row. Foundational learning skills like reading are essential for a child’s  progress. StoryWeaver is a unique platform that allows children to learn these skills joyfully in their mother tongue.”

- Yuman Hussain, Executive Director, Azad India Foundation

We are delighted that Azad India Foundation has participated in the Freedom to Read campaign for the second year in a row! How does it feel to be a part of the campaign for the second time?

It feels great to be part of the Freedom to Read campaign once again and to complete the translations well before time! The credit goes to the team. It was quite challenging this year as we chose to create bilingual books in English-Surjapuri.

Do tell us about the Surjapuri community and language: What is the mother tongue footprint and what resources are currently available? What are the challenges faced by Surjapuri children when they enter school? 

Surjapuri is a dialect that is spoken in the Seemanchal area comprising Kishanganj, Araria, Katihar and Purnia of Bihar, and with minor variations in some parts of Bengal, neighboring Kishanganj.

I am currently not aware of any resources that are available for children in the local dialect of Surjapuri. In most schools, children learn in Hindi. In some schools, they are also taught in Urdu.

Can you tell us a little bit about how the Surjapuri books created from last year’s campaign are being used? Do the children have any favorites?

We have taken printouts of the Surjapuri books from last year’s Freedom to Read campaign and these are being used in classrooms for supplemental reading. Some of the STEM books are being used to explain maths and science concepts. The kids really like Gappu Can’t Dance (Gappu nachwa ne sakche)  and enjoy enacting it in class. However, Fat King Thin Dog (Moto Raja Patla Kutta) is their all-time favourite!

This year, you’ve chosen to create bilingual books in English-Surjapuri and Hindi-Surjapuri. Could you tell us about the need and benefits of these books? 

Bilingual books help children understand concepts easily, and if created in the local dialect, then it becomes so much easier for children to learn. The English-Surjapuri books are great teacher learning material (TLM) for non-Hindi or English speakers. Through StoryWeaver, we have access to thousands of free storybooks. We are aiming to create at least 200 books in Surjapuri on the platform.

We do not have reading material/storybooks in English for our children, so these bilingual books for level 1 and 2 are helping our children learn and read English. Aakansha, our India Fellow at AIF, helps with the reading sessions in English–Surjapuri.

Do tell us about your team who worked to create these 70+ Surjapuri bilingual books, and how they went about the translation process.

We have an enthusiastic young team of translators: Chand Quasar, Juhi and Saqlain, supervised by Muzzamil, who rose to the challenge once again. First, they translated storybooks from Hindi to Surjapuri. Then, I added the English version and uploaded the books on StoryWeaver. It was slightly challenging finding the corresponding words/sentences in English that matched the Surjapuri version, but it was fun.

Azad India Foundation's Team Badhte Kadam

Thank you so much, Azad India Foundation, for giving children the #FreedomToRead in Surjapuri! 

You can read all the storybooks translated by Azad India Foundation here

Read more about the organisation here.

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Ras Abebe Aregay Library is a library based in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia. They host storybook writing workshops for children. In the past, they have collaborated with the African Storybook Initiative to host workshops and get more storybooks written and translated. They distribute digital storybooks to agencies and regional bureaus of education and are able to reach children in Ethiopia through their network of schools, parents and NGOs across the country.  

In this email interview, Mezemir Girma, General Manager of Ras Abebe Aregay Library tells us about his #FreedomToRead experience, and the process of creating a digital library of 40 storybooks in Amharic.

Do tell us about the Ras Abebe Aregay Library, its vision, and the communities that you engage with.

Ras Abebe Aregay Library envisions creating a generation of readers in Ethiopia. We engage with the community in Debre Birhan town, Amhara National Regional State through our library. Our involvement in making learning materials and knowledge accessible online to the wider Ethiopian community results in our library serving more people in Ethiopia. 

What are the long-term effects of a lack of easy access to resources in mother tongue languages for the communities that you work with?

In Ethiopia, there is a shortage of storybooks, as well as textbooks. The lack of easy access to resources in mother tongue languages for Ethiopian students perpetuates the vicious circle of illiteracy and poverty.

How did you come across StoryWeaver and the Freedom to Read campaign? What prompted you to participate in the campaign?

Our library took part in an African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA) meeting in Accra in October 2019. At that event, we spoke to the participants about the African Storybook Initiative. A representative from Uganda asked if that was like StoryWeaver. That was the first time we heard about StoryWeaver. Later, we visited the StoryWeaver website and followed them on social media. Then, on Twitter we learned about the Freedom to Read campaign. We applied to translate storybooks to Amharic. After the selection process, our library was among the six organizations chosen globally to take part in the translation project.

What are the benefits of creating a local digital library of joyful storybooks in Amharic?

As we are working on reading and literacy, we understand how storybooks are helpful to children in our communities. When one gets the opportunity to translate quality picture storybooks into one’s mother tongue, one should not miss the opportunity. As we wish to help this generation get better opportunities than ours, we seized this opportunity and took StoryWeaver‘s online training via Skype.

Local digital storybooks in Amharic are helpful as there is a shortage of storybooks in the country. As a lecturer in English Literature at one of the public universities in Ethiopia, I was not aware of storybooks until 2014 when an American Peace Corps Volunteer, Benjamin Rearick, introduced me to the African Storybook Initiative (ASb) and their wonderful translation system. By the way, I felt really happy when I found the storybooks I translated for ASb on the StoryWeaver website. Therefore, in a country where children have little access to storybooks, the role that the translation project may have is beyond words.

Tell us a bit about your process of translation. Were there any challenges you faced while translating to Amharic?

The translation process was a bit challenging. At first, our plan was to engage library readers and volunteers in the activity. However, they found it hard to get time to involve themselves in the translation project. Therefore, being the manager of the library, it was up to me to work on the translation. The translation was a bit difficult because I was not familiar with the website. It took me a while to get used to it. The online training helped me. The number of holidays that Ethiopia celebrated in the last few weeks kept me away from the university where I could get internet connection. As much as possible I used the time I had to translate.  After I went half way, I learned that I could use Google Translate. Earlier I didn’t rely on google’s Amharic translation system as I heard people say it is inaccurate. Now I am using it even if their Amharic translation requires more editing work.

How do you hope to reach more children through your books in Amharic?

Once the translation is over, distribution is another challenge. As I know from experience, the community lacks access to the internet. At our library, we will display the storybooks to children using our projector and laptop. We will also download and disseminate in nearby schools. Other areas of the country could be reached with social media and regional education bureaus.

The logo of our library was designed by our IT volunteer Mr Tesfamicael Hailu and we would love to thank him as he filled that gap and helped our library appear on the storybooks we translate!

Thank you everyone at StoryWeaver for the opportunity you gave us!  

Mezemir Girma from Ras Abebe Aregay Library, Ethiopia

Mezemir Girma conducts reads a storybook in Amharic with children in Ethiopia

Storybooks translated by Ras Abebe Aregay Library into Amharic on StoryWeaver

Thank you, Ras Abebe Aregay Library, for giving children the #FreedomToRead in Amharic!

You can read all the storybooks translated by Ras Abebe Aregay Library here.

Learn more about the organisation and their work here.

Do join the conversation by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below. You can also reach out to us through our social media channels: FacebookTwitter and Instagram

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