Writer, translator, editor and poet Agnes N.S. Nyendwa has always been best friends with books — right from her days as a warehouse clerk where she read up all the books in stock to her rise to an editor with publishing houses. Along the way, she was always passionate about her mother tongue Chinyanja, a language belonging to the Bantu language system of Africa and spoken widely across Malawi, Zambia and the Mozambique. Agnes is translating books on the StoryWeaver platform to her mother tongue and tells us in an email interview on why children need to read more stories in Chinyanja in her country and how she plans to make sure that more of them have access to these books.

Tell us a bit about yourself? 

I am a writer, translator, editor, poet (English and Chinyanja), president of the Zambia Women Writers Association and Vice chairman of the National Arts Council, and have been in publishing circles since 1994. I started off as a Warehousing clerk being the first employee to have been engaged in that position at Macmillan Publishers Zambia Limited. I studied Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) and emerged as best student in the field. In my job as a warehouse clerk, I became friends with a bunch of books which I took time to read and enjoy. I cultivated the culture of reading each and every book that was in the warehouse. I later knew each book by its content and what to present if anyone wanted to buy any book in any field. I made it a point after that to read any new title as it came.

Due to the immense interest that I had in books, I was promoted to be Assistant Editor when the Zambia curriculum transitioned into a new one. My first assignment was to handle local languages because the whole project was a challenge. I managed to have the project take off and in the process I was seconded for an in-house training at Oxford Macmillan Education in the UK, which later catapulted me to be an Editor of the organisation back home. 

What is your personal relationship to Chinyanja and to translation?

Apart from learning the language at school, Chinyanja/Chichewa is actually my mother’s language. As it is truly my mother’s tongue – my parents (my mother being a teacher by profession) made sure we honed the skill of speaking and writing it. They would not allow us to mix any other language when speaking with them, let alone writing to them. We were encouraged to read Chinyanja/Chichewa books, which I certainly do even now. This made us know the language without measure. Our home was our training ground for the local language where neighbours would be amazed at how we spoke it even when we grew up in a low density area where only people with high education lived. Friends would laugh at our tongue because sometimes they would request us to interpret the words we spoke. 

Later in life I still had a challenge convincing my husband that the words I spoke were actual Chinyanja/Chichewa. He thought that as a family we had developed a language that we alone would understand not until I bought a dictionary from a bookstore in Malawi. He took time to refer to it on every word that he thought was specific to my family. He was amazed to have found the very words in the dictionary. 

That is the power of teaching a child her mother tongue. It is easy for me to understand other languages because I can relate them to my own. I now thank my parents for imparting that priceless skill to me. I look at myself as one of those who is open to learning and embraces criticisms when it comes to the local languages. I have written and translated a number of books that are currently being read in schools.

You have been translating STEM stories. Describe the process to us. Would this process be different for a joyful picture book?

The process is not easy when you are just starting as a translator of STEM books. The process is quite challenging because of the absence of indigenous terminologies for certain concepts and words in general. STEM books have a lot of these non-indigenous terms. But by using the meaning approach and transliteration, the challenge is quite eased. I actually enjoy translating them because I get to understand and impart the terms in a way that are simple to grasp. 

I don’t find picture books to be any different from other story books because each book presents its own challenges, some may be grammatical or orthographical but rising to the challenge is what makes translating any book unique and adventurous. 

How do you plan to take the Chinyanja stories to the children?

In our society, doing a venture totally free can be quite challenging because the conveyor of the message needs finances to operate. I would love to have every child who is stationed in a Chinyanja belt to get hold of these wonderful stories. It is a fact that a bigger chunk of my country cannot access internet which can be a transmission port for these books. I need them printed in hard copies so that they are distributed for children to have and read wherever they are, with friends and family. 

My plan is to raise funds that can allow me to print and probably sell at a nominal price and for them to be spread where their relevance is. If I can find funds that can allow me to print and transport the books, I don’t think there will be any need to sell them but to distribute them to libraries and have them approved for use in schools. For those who are able to browse on the internet, sending the link to people I know and other official arts and educational platforms is helping to spread the books. I have actually started sending the link and people are reading them. 

What do you usually read? Which language do you prefer to read in? 

Yes I do read quite a lot. A good story is what prompts my language of preference.  I do read in Chinyanja and English as well as other Zambian languages that I have quite a considerable amount of knowledge.

A glimpse of the stories Agnes is translating to Chinyanja on StoryWeaver. You can read these stories here.

Thank you Agnes! May your tribe increase!

Write in to us at [email protected] if you want us to add your native language.

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Azad India Foundation (AIF) was founded by Yuman Hussain in 1998 to seed initiatives in education & primary health care. The organisaton's activities reach out to marginalised women, adolescents and underserved children from rural and urban areas of Kishanganj district in Bihar. AIF has learning centres at 73 villages in three blocks of Pothia, Kishanganj and Thakurganj in Kishanganjimpacting 3,500 + children directly in the area. The children in AIF's centres are aged between 6-9 yeas and are either school dropouts or attending Madrassas. The centre's syllabus includes Hindi, English, Science and Maths. The main aim of the initiative is to ensure that children are ready to merge with mainstream education in state-run schools by grade 4. 

AIF is also our first partner translator to have completed its goal of translating 100 StoryWeaver books into Surjapuri. Surjapuri is spoken in pockets of Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh by 1.2 million people. In Bihar, the language is spoken in Koshanganj, Katihar, Purnia and Araria districts. In an email interview Yuman Hussain tells us why creating a hyperlocal library in Surjapuri is important and how AIF managed to reach its goal of 100 books in collaboration with its project and cluster coordinators. 

Tell us more about Azad India Foundation? 

Azad India Foundation (AIF) has been working in Kishanganj district of Bihar from 2001. It started its activities with a non-formal education and vocational training centre for women. Over the years, AIF’s focus has been on the development of poor and marginalized children, adolescents and women. Our activities are in the fields of women’s literacy, formal school education, non-formal education, rural employment, income generating skills, SHG formation, and community health programmes. Currently, we are directly working with 3,500 children in the primary classes through learning centres in 73 villages of four blocks — Kochadaman, Pothia, Kishanganj and Thakurganj. 

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?

Surjapuri is local language spoken among a large section of people in the Seemanchal area (Kishanganj, Araria, Purea and Katihar) of Bihar. Unfortunately, we have not seen any books or resources available in the local language for the children. There is a possibility that these languages will be lost over a period of time as more and more people now speak Hindi. In fact, when we started translating books in Surjapuri and shared them with the children and community members they were unable to recognize their own written language.

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

Creating a hyperlocal library at StoryWeaver will help our children have access to and preserve Surjapuri as their language. It would also enable them develop their reading skills and enjoy stories from all over the world in their own dialect. The digital library is free besides being easily accessible to every one. The mobile friendly feature has made it possible for the books to reach even remote corners of the country.

 

Tell us more about your team of conributors and how you managed to translate and publish the 100 Surjapuri stories? 

The stories were translated by the team of project Badhte Kadam comprising cluster coordinators Aslam, Chand, Juhi and teachers. They were really excited about creating Surjapuri stories as it gave them an opportunity to contribute to the preservation of their own language. Muzzamil, who is the project head, reviewed the stories. The stories were chosen according to the themes and levels of the children accessing them. The toughest part was the typing and uploading of the stories that was done diligently by Saqlain, our computer operator. AIF is really proud and thankful to its team members for completing this programme within the stipulated time period with sincerity and enthusiasm. We will continue adding more stories and hope to bring the joy of reading to all children.

 

AIF's Team Badhte Kadam

How does Azad India Foundation plan to use this digital library of a 100 books?

AIF plans to introduce these stories among the children at our learning centres. We are also spreading the message through social media about the StoryWeaver platform so that the community can access, use these stories and help in building this digital library further with many more books. This is a small step towards the preservation of local languages for which we are grateful to the StoryWeaver platform.

You can read the Surjapuri stories translated by  Azad India Foundation here

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Update: StoryWeaver Freedom to Read 2019

Posted by Amna Singh on December 27, 2018

Written by Amna Singh

StoryWeaver believes that every child deserves to have access to joyful reading material in her mother tongue. In November 2018, we opened applications to educators, translators, literacy organisations, and everyone else working with children to promote reading -- in our quest for partners to help build a 100 local language libraries of children’s books in underserved languages by International Mother Language Day on February 21, 2019 .

We were seeking partners with relevance of work and expertise in language and translations, and above all, a shared vision of equity in access for all. We got over 225 applications from all over the globe – each application inspiring us with their exemplar work in the field of literacy and language for the under-represented communities.

Based on our guidelines, relevance of work and a rigorous evaluation, we have selected 16 organisations and 28 individual language champions to partner with us to build these digital local libraries.

Selected Organisations: Target Languages

  1. Azad India Foundation: Surjapuri

  2. BookDash: 11 official South African languages

  3. SNS Foundation: Marwari

  4. CODE- Ethiopia: Amharic, Afaan Oromoo

  5. African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AfLIA): Igbo, Hausa, Fante, Ewe, Yoruba, Kikiyu, Luganda and Swahili

  6. Global Forum 4 Literacy: Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Tswana and Arabic

  7. Suchana Uttor Chandipur Community Society: Santali, Kora, Bilinguals

  8. Aripana Foundation: Maithili

  9. Little Readers' Nook: Tulu, Kutchi, Marwari …

  10. Unnati Institute for Social and Educational Change: Korku

  11. North East Educational Trust: Assamese, Bodo

  12. Brightstart Pre Primary school and Learning Centre : Marwari

  13. Libreo.ph: Tagalog, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Tausug/Maranao and Ilokano

  14. Darakht-e Danesh Library: Pashto

  15. Every English: Brazilian Portuguese

  16. REHMA: English-Urdu bilinguals

The selected language champions will help build local libraries across 24 languages.

Target Languages: Selected Language Champions:

  1. Amharic: Kaleab

  2. Bambara: Kirsty Paxton

  3. Basa Jawa (Javanese): Maharani Aulia

  4. Bundelkhandi: Ankit Dwivedi, Krishna Murary Upadhyay

  5. Chinyanja: Agnes Nankhoma Singine Nyendwa

  6. Dari: Aisha

  7. Filipino: Kaye

  8. Garhwali: Shweta Rawat

  9. GSB Konkani: Sujith Kamath

  10. Kirundi: Melchiade Ntibazonkiza, Adolphe Ndagijimana

  11. Kui: Shruti

  12. Kumaoni: Somya Budhori , Richa Pathak Pant,

  13. Kuvi/Jatapu: Markose K C

  14. Malay: David Loiuson

  15. Malvani: Rupali Bodekar

  16. Malvi: Omprakash Kshatriya

  17. Ndebele: Ntando Titus Ntaka

  18. Pawari: Amit Dudave

  19. Pashto: Nighat Kamdar

  20. Sanskrit: Meenakshi Sundaram K B, Priya Bhakthan

  21. Serbian: Ana Jovic

  22. Sindhi (Devanagari Script): Bharti

  23. Sindhi (Arabic Script): Zaib-un-Nisa

  24. Vietnamese: Nguyen Dac Thai Hang

 

Thank you for your initiative, we will get in touch with all selected partners for the next steps.

And a BIG thank you to everyone who applied. StoryWeaver is truly a result of your constant support, and contributions. We will do our best to reach out to you and explore alternate ways to collaborate. Thank you, again, and happy holidays!


 

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