As part of StoryWeaver’s Freedom to Read 2020, the Institute for Multilingual Education (IMLi) has translated and created an open digital library of 100 storybooks in Kolami - a vulnerable indigenous language from Maharashtra. These books include bilingual Kolami-Marathi books. The digital storybooks were launched at the District Institute for Education and Teacher Training (DIET), Yavatmal on February 17, 2020, with chief guest Hon. Shri. Dipak Chavne (District Education Officer, Yavatmal) and keynote speaker, Dr. Prashant Gawande (Senior Lecturer, DIET, Yavatmal). Certificates were handed out to the educators who participated in the translation process and a reading session was conducted for Kolami children from schools in the district.

Here is an interview with Alaknanda Sanap, the founder of IMLi.

Do tell us about the IMLi - Institute of Multilingual Education, its vision, and the communities that you engage with.

The Institute for Multilingual Education (IMLi) is a registered trust working towards education and language education in India. While it has been active since 2017, it has been registered in 2018 by a group of social activists. They believe in the vision of the organization ‘to support and promote reading and multilingual education in the country with a view to promoting children's learning, engaging with community knowledge and culture and all-round development’. They believe this can be achieved through both academic pursuits such as research in language development, or through creation of multilingual books for children and through programmatic interventions such as teacher capacity building programs and advocacy. 

IMLi has helped set up mini-libraries in anganwadis and school in Baramati district of Pune and trained anganwadi (pre-school) teachers on early childhood education and early literacy. They have created videos for readlongs for select books, and are in the process of creating supportive material for teachers to adopt MLE better in schools. 

How did you come across StoryWeaver? What prompted you to enter into a collaboration?

IMLi had collaborated with a few organizations in Maharashtra who had translated books for tribal children and it was seen that these played a very good role in improving children's engagement with books and reading. When the Freedom to Read campaign was announced, it was felt that a similar effort could be undertaken for languages which really needed more books. 

Do tell us about the Kolam community and their language. What resources are currently available? What are the challenges faced by Kolami children when they enter school?

The Kolams are a relatively small tribal group, spread across 4 states of south central India i.e. Andhra  Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Until as recently as the 1940s, they typically practiced slash and burn farming and foraging, and were reluctant in intermingling or settling down. As such, in Maharashtra, they are part of the subcategory of particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG), that are accorded more attention and support from the government for many welfare schemes. They are renowned for their familiarity with the jungle and skill in divination and the propitiation of local gods, particularly gods holding sway over forests and hills. Now, most of them are found in villages and plains where they work as tenant farmers or agricultural labourers, and a very small number of Kolams live in hill settlements. Some of them own the land they cultivate. They are scattered over a large area.

The Kolami language is part of the Dravidian language families, and as such, bears little to no resemblance with the state language of Marathi. Kolami children face a steep challenge when they enter formal centers of education such as anganwadi or school, as simple instructional words are also different. 

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

If Kolami children get child-friendly reading material in addition to the syllabus, such as songs and stories, they will happily and easily familiarize themselves with Marathi letters and words. We have created and published bilingual books in Kolami-Marathi and books in Kolami on StoryWeaver. 

Within Maharashtra, the Kolams are spread over three districts, and there are close to 200 primary schools with predominantly Kolami speaking children across the districts of Yavatmal, Chandrapur and Nanded, with close to 3500 children. These Kolami bilingual books can be used by teachers to support early literacy skills, and reading and writing instruction in classrooms

Photos from a Kolami reading session at DIET Yavatmal, held to mark the launch of an open digital library of 100 Kolami storybooks.

Tell us about the process of translation, and about the team that worked on this project.

IMLi reached out to the government teachers from the Kolam community, through the District Institute of Education and teacher training. The teachers were very happy to be part of such an initiative and enthusiastically agreed as this "was for the benefit of our children". Teachers passed on the word and referred each other and eventually 10 teachers were finalized to be part of the first workshop. While the initial plan was to translate the 100 books in phases, the enthusiastic support of the teachers made it possible to undertake the entire translation in one go, over the course of 2 workshops in a week. IMLi shared the importance of multilingual storybooks and helped the teachers understand the key points for translating for children. The workshop happened in mid September and was spread over a week. 

Many of the teachers had translated the school textbooks in Kolami and had been part of other translation and literature collecting efforts in the community. Another round of review workshops was held in October when four of these senior teachers were invited to review the translations. These 2 workshops were also held across a week. 

The translation team of educators at work, giving children access to storybooks in Kolami - a vulnerable indigenous language of Maharashtra.

After this, the reviewed translations were typed and first drafts of all books were prepared. After discussions, it was decided that most of the books should adopt a Marathi-Kolami layout and only a few books should be made in purely Kolami. 

The draft Kolami books were then proofread with a team of volunteers who are working on a field research project on the Kolam community. Thus, after many rounds, the final books were prepared. 

Storybooks in Kolami and Marathi-Kolami translated by Team IMLi

How do you hope to reach more children through your books in Kolami? How do you see the books being used by educators?

We plan to reach out to the Education Department and the Tribal Department to explore opportunities of collaboration. The Departments support publication and dissemination of books and story-readers for children in their respective schools. IMLi can also support the adoption of these books with teacher training sessions on pedagogy for integrating books in language learning.

Thank you so much, Alaknanda and Team IMLi, for giving children the #FreedomToRead in Kolami! 


You can read the storybooks translated by IMLi 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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Theresia Alit is a freelance translator, who translates books from English-Javanese to Bahasa Indonesia-Javanese and vice versa. She is passionate about creating a repository of storybooks in her mother tongue, Basa Jawa, as she feels that the number of people who tell children's stories in Basa Jawa is decreasing. Previously, she has worked on translating stories into Javanese for a project called Serat Kancil. As part of the Freedom To Read 2020 campaign, she has created a digital library of 50 storybooks in Basa Jawa. 

In this email interview, Theresia writes about translating books into her mother tongue and the importance of creating children's books in the Basa Jawa.

Do tell us about yourself, your interests, your work.

My name is Theresia Alit, and I am from Indonesia. I am a freelance translator, and I work on translations from English-Javanese to Bahasa Indonesia-Javanese and vice versa. Speaking of interests, I am very interested in traditional culture, languages and people.

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

I am a native speaker of Basa Jawa, and was raised speaking the language. I find it sad that a lot of people in the younger generation of today do not really speak or understand Basa Jawa, despite it being their mother tongue.

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

I came to know about StoryWeaver and your Freedom to Read campaign on Twitter, from a retweet by the Wikitongues account.

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

I feel that it is extremely important for the younger generation to learn and read Basa Jawa. In fact, yesterday, I did a campaign with a community of small children, and they were really enthusiastic about reading stories in the language!

Theresia Alit conducts reading sessions for children in Basa Jawa in Indonesia

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

I really enjoyed the book, Bayi gajah kang penasaran. It's so funny!

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

Some of my favourite books are The Little Prince, Asterix and Obelix, Uthak-uthak Ugel (folktale), etc. When I read a book, I feel that I am moving into another world altogether. (just like Puchku!)


You can read all of Theresia Alit's translated storybooks 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: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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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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