We are celebrating International Translation Day, and we are grateful for the support of our wonderful translation partners who help us reach more children, protect linguistic heritage, and build a culture of reading. Here is a post by Archana Nambiar, Research Consultant at Pratham Books. She writes about the work done for the indegenous language, Kora, by Shanto and our friends at Suchana, in West Bengal, India.

Shanto Konra is among the first from his village to have attended college and the first person to have completed a masters education in Bengali. He does not recollect reading any literature in his mother tongue Kora while growing up, let alone children’s books. In 2007 he joined Suchana, a community group working on improving the quality of education to Adivasi children in Birbhum district of West Bengal. Today he is the Secretary of the organization, and works as a translator and development officer for the Kora language.

Suchana’s focus has been on promoting learning through the mother tongue in the early years. The indigenous languages Santali and Kora have a rich oral tradition but no children’s literature. Teachers who teach Santali and Kora children are usually completely bereft of resources for early literacy development. There are very few qualified teachers from these communities who can use their mother tongues in the teaching-learning process. Since 2009, the Suchana team has been developing a series of books in Kora and Santali using the Bengali script that support the multilingual approach to education. By 2014, they had developed 15 books in Kora and Santali that included alphabet primers, number charts, flash cards and storybooks. Shanto was instrumental in developing the first ever primer in Kora language called Allo Pora and a word book.

The collaboration with StoryWeaver changed the way in which Suchana viewed content creation. The StoryWeaver platform allowed them to translate 105 books in Santali and a hundred in Kora within a short span of two years. All these stories are published on StoryWeaver. Suchana has printed 10,000 copies of 20 titles and distributed these books to government schools, pre-schools and other organizations in the region. Both the print and digital stories are incorporated into their mobile library programme which reaches around 3000 children in 25 villages. Librarians from Suchana show the digital stories on laptops to children and conduct read-aloud sessions and related activities. Children are allowed to take the books home to read with their families.

Suchana also works with government schools on using mother tongue based approaches in early years. Santali and Kora books have been shared with teachers from these schools. The books, particularly the bilingual ones, have proven to be great resources for the teachers who are mostly from non-tribal backgrounds, for teaching tribal children. Suchana has recently trained anganwadi workers from 49 anganwadis on using these books and is hoping that these will be adopted for early childhood education.

There is empirical evidence to suggest that learning to read in one’s mother tongue in the early years makes learning more engaging, relevant and enjoyable for children. Children who benefit from mother tongue instruction also learn a second language faster and better. Having access to a variety of books in these languages can help children transition from their mother tongues into Bengali, the state language.

Shanto feels that the storybooks have given certain legitimacy to his language. Until recently, Kora has been outside the realm of literature. He prides himself on his contribution towards preserving a language which might have been on the brink of disappearance. The translation process gave him an opportunity to revive some of the lost words in Kora. People from the Kora community were using several Bengali words instead of the original Kora vocabulary. Together with fellow translators, he re-learnt some of these disappearing Kora words from community elders and included them in the storybooks, wherever possible. Examples of such replaced Kora words are chahalam (tail), jhanahjaha / rik (do things), tayen (alligator), arshi (mirror), taruh (tiger), teyang (brother-in-law), hili (sister-in-law).

‘Cat brushing her teeth and a rat looking in the mirror’ by Rajiv Eipe, ‘Tiger looking at hare’ by Rohan Chakravarty, ‘Tail of a tiger’ by Nirzara Verulkar

Shanto is happy that children from his community can now read in their mother tongue and tell their own stories. He attests to the fact that the storybooks have given children a sense of identity. These books have ensured that Adivasi children can discover the joy of reading. Knowledge of one’s mother tongue is critical to connecting to one’s roots and keeping the cultural heritage alive. StoryWeaver has empowered indigenous writers and creators to create engaging children’s books in their own languages. Shanto is hopeful that he will continue to create more stories for children and is excited about developing his first original story on StoryWeaver.

Watch our interview with Shanto here.


You can read the storybooks translated by Shanto and access StoryWeaver’s Kora library here.

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Written by Kirsty Milward, Founder, Suchana Foundation

Settle down for this long read that comes to our blog from Birbhum, West Bengal.

                                       

Suchana set out in 2005 to try to solve the problem of low learning levels among many adivasi primary school–going children in Birbhum, West Bengal. For part of the solution, we quickly settled on the fact that when Santal and Kora children start school they do not understand much of what they are expected to learn to read, because all teaching, and all learning materials are in Bengali.

But trying to introduce first language / mother tongue methods – or even multilingual methods – in our teaching programme was made hugely challenging by the fact that there were no written materials for children in the languages the children spoke. For Kora, there were no written materials full stop.

The 10 Santali and Kora translators

So we began to make materials. For Santali, this meant getting some guidance from organisations who had already been using Bengali script to write Santali, and then inspiring Santali teachers working in Suchana to tap into their creativity and write. For Kora, this meant generating a discussion among community leaders on how words should be written using the Bengali script; it meant young Kora teachers doing research among elders to re-learn disappearing Kora vocabularies; and it meant getting groups of young people together to write songs, rhymes, stories and a simple tri-lingual word book.

But this creative process took time, and coupled with lengthy printing processes with hideous proofing challenges and equally challenging costs, this meant we could collectively only produce three or four small books a year. By 2014, we had produced 15 books. And meanwhile, the children in the education programmes were growing up. Their young years, in which access to first language materials could be such a critical intervention, were running out.

Then in 2015, in a moment of serendipity, Suchana discovered Storyweaver. With a creative commons platform, a torrent of lovely stories graded into reading levels, and beautiful layouts to use, creating a varied, usable, children’s literature in Santali and Kora, suddenly changed from a daunting task to one within our grasp.

The same young team of fifteen Santali and Kora teachers who had been involved in making books from scratch set to work. Most had acquired some technology skills through Suchana’s other programmes in the intervening years. They shared these skills with those who had not; and themselves learned to use the Suchana platform through a mixture of online tutorials, personalized help from the Storyweaver team, and a fair bit of trial and error.

In their first translation marathon, they translated around 50 stories. Teachers chose freely which stories to translate from a pool of Bengali stories available on the platform, which they could translate from easily. With few options for getting their work formally reviewed and checked, they inserted quality control by creating a peer-review system in which they carefully checked each other’s work before stories were published online.   

We had gone from 15 to 65 in about 3 months.

Concerned about how we would ensure that digital stories would reach the hands of children who had very little access to technology, Suchana arranged to print 20 of these stories. Both print and digital stories were then woven into Suchana’s mobile library programme which reaches about 1500 children. Librarians took laptops to remote mobile library villages and showed Santali and Kora digital stories to library members in read-aloud sessions. Children were then free to take home printed stories available in the library stock, where they could read them again, and read with their families.

Children looking at stories on the computer

For many children with emerging literacy, being offered a chance to read stories in their own languages was like a light switching on. Suddenly, text which usually seemed dense and difficult made sense and fitted together. Now, when they were not sure how a particular letter in a word worked, they could make deductions based on their understanding of the likely word being represented to figure out what the letter was doing. Suddenly, it was possible to have meaning fall into the place of decoded text, and the story rise out.

But even 50 stories – about 25 in each language – can get read quite quickly among a multi-age group with library sessions every week. So in 2018, Suchana joined Storyweaver’s Freedom to Read Campaign and the push to 100 stories in each language. Beyond reaching Santali and Kora stories to children through the mobile library membership, Suchana had just begun to work more consistently with local primary schools and ICDS anganwadis on using mother-tongue methods in early years’ classrooms. Most teachers and anganwadi staff teaching adivasi children do not have the luxury of knowing the languages of the children they are charged to teach, and many are acutely aware of the difficulties this presents. So Suchana’s second translation marathon focused partly on producing bilingual books in Santali-Bengali and Kora-Bengali – with a view to enabling willing teachers to help their Santali and Kora students access stories in their own languages too. Watch this space for more information in a few months on how this initiative goes.

This week we crossed 212 stories: just over 100 in Santali; just over 90 in Kora; and 15 stories Suchana had produced from scratch. This feels like a very different place we have arrived at. Several hundred children are now reading a real variety of books in their own languages – from very simple, to more complex ‘Level 4’ books as they progress in their literacy; and books which can help themselves and their teachers transition from their own languages into Bengali, the language of their schools. They read about animals, people, families, friends, trees, maths concepts, science ideas, joy, sadness, and everything in between, in their own languages. The amazing worlds that children’s literature can open up have finally become theirs.

Congratulations for this huge achievement to the Suchana translation team: Bhabini Baski, Churki Hansda, Komola Murmu, Sova Tudu, Lakshman Hembram, Subhadra Murmu, Narayan Hembram, Shanto Kora, Kumkum Kora, Debika Kora, Kalicharan Kora, Rajesh Kora, Pathik Kora, Nobin Kora, Anjana Kora and Krishna Kora.

We have not finished, but Storyweaver has started something, and we are on the way.

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