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.
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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.Be the first to comment.
Every year, StoryWeaver marks International Mother Language Day (IMLD) to remind us all that learning to read in one’s mother tongue early in school makes education more engaging, meaningful and enjoyable for children.
Suzanne Singh, Chairperson, Pratham Books, says: “Children love stories and they are an important part of a child’s growth and development. Children need storybooks that they can relate to and that are in languages that they speak and understand. Through StoryWeaver, we are trying to address the inequity in the availability of reading resources by providing open and free access to over 18,000 storybooks in 224 languages and fostering the respect for cultural and linguistic diversity.”
In 2020, we're ringing in International Mother Language Day by helping volunteers conduct more than 1000 reading sessions for children in over 60 languages! This week, volunteers from around the world are using StoryWeaver’s digital repository of multilingual storybooks to read to children in several languages, including mainstream Indian languages (Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu), indigenous languages (Kuvi, Pawari, Santali), vulnerable languages (Gondi, Korku), classical languages (Sanskrit) and other languages from around the world (Arabic, Igbo, Nepali).
30,000 schools in the state of Chhattisgarh, India (of which 15,000 are in tribal areas) have been encouraged to celebrate International Mother Language Day with StoryWeaver by giving children access to books and storytelling in indigenous languages like Gondi, Kurukh, Sadri and many more. Says Dr. M. Sudhish, Samagra Shiksha Chhattisgarh: “On January 26, the Honorable Chief Minister of Chattisgarh announced the use of mother tongue languages while teaching in classrooms. When we heard about StoryWeaver’s IMLD initiative, we felt that this was a great opportunity to take the Chief Minister’s mandate forward and bring mother tongue storytelling into the classroom.”
Additionally, we're also thrilled to announce the launch of open digital libraries in 16 underserved languages, marking the culmination of our Freedom to Read 2020 campaign, which aimed to create digital books in languages that have limited or no children’s books. Through our campaign, over 500 storybooks have been translated into languages such as Amharic (Ethiopia), Basa Jawa (Indonesia), Bodo, Tangkhul (vulnerable languages from North-East India), Kolami (vulnerable indigenous language from Maharashtra), Kochila Tharu and Rana Tharu (spoken in Nepal), Sindhi, and bilingual books in English-Surjapuri, to name a few.
These libraries have been co-created in collaboration with our partner organisations:
And our Language Champions:
A huge shout-out to our Freedom to Read partner organisations, Language Champions, and IMLD reading volunteers! Your efforts will go a long way in helping put a book in every child's hand. THANK YOU!
Stay tuned for more stories from the IMLD reading sessions and our Freedom to Read partners!
In the meanwhile, here are some happy moments from our ongoing International Mother Language Day celebrations:
From a reading session in English-Surjapuri conducted by Azad India Foundation in Kishanganj, Bihar
From a reading session in Arabic conducted at the Qatar National Library
From a reading session in Kolami, conducted at DIET Yavatmal to mark the launch of an open digital library of 100 Kolami storybooks, created by Institute for Multilingual Education (IMLi) and StoryWeaver
From a reading session in Maithili conducted by Aripana Foundation at Gyan Niketan Public School, Darbhanga, Bihar
From a reading session in Amharic, by Ras Abebe Aregay Library in Ethiopia
From a reading session in Karbi, conducted by Pragyam Foundation at Parijat Academy, Guwahati, Assam
From a reading session in Marwari conducted by SNS Foundation, Rajasthan
From a Nepali reading session conducted by Nepali Rana Tharu Samaj
From a reading session conducted in Mayurbhanj, Odisha