Settle down for this long read that comes to our blog all the way from the Phillipines.

It’s 7:30AM in Antipolo, Rizal, a suburban city in the Philippines, and Saida D. is on her knees, polishing the production floor of the four-storey office building where she works as a cleaning lady and messenger. In a few minutes, the employees will start to arrive one by one to fulfill Localization and Translation projects for companies and governments around the world.

Saida took over the job from her mother, Aida, herself a career househelp. In the Philippines, the wages for domestic help can be as low as US$60 a month, and Filipino women especially in the rural areas have very few options aside from working in agriculture — which does not pay well and is subject to uncertainty in a disaster-prone country like the Philippines.

The lack of occupational opportunities is itself a result of an educational system that has faced tremendous challenges in recent times. In 2008, UNESCO reported a drastic decline in participation and achievement rates in basic education in the Philippines: from a high of 96.8 percent in 2000, net enrolment rates at the elementary level dropped back to 84.4 percent in 2005 (even lower than the 85.1 percent in 1991). Education spending as a percentage of overall government expenditures has declined from 18.2 percent in 1998 to 12.4 percent in 2005.

Data from the Philippines Department of Education shows that in 2015, only 3 of every 5 children who enter grade school will graduate from high school. The Philippines' youth literacy rate fell from 96.6 percent in 1990 to 95.1 percent in 2003, making it the only Southeast Asian country to register declining youth literacy rates.

Aida, the retired househelp and Saida's mother, took it upon herself to help her community beat the odds by helping organize a volunteer-run day care center. It is at this day care center where Saida leaves her children in the morning before travelling to work. The day care center relies on donations from parents and is run by a volunteer teacher who does not get a salary.

One day last April, the children at Aida's volunteer-run day care center received visitors who brought books written in Filipino, the national language of the Philippines. The children have received donations of books before, but many of the books were written in English. The books that they received that day were in their native language, and were created through Pratham Books' Storyweaver platform.

 

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A smiling Aida stands in the doorway of her day care centre watching an activity filled classroom. 

For many of these children, the books they received and took home that day were the very first books they will ever own in their lives. Behind the books is a story that has come full circle.

The books were translated, printed and distributed by a group of volunteers led the wife-and-husband team of Judy and Jake Estrada, who is himself a son of a former househelp.

The building -- and the Language company -- where Aida used to work, and where Saida now works, is owned by Jake.

Jake is the founder of  QwertyWorks, a translation enterprise based out of Manila, Philippines. A former freelance translator, Jake has always focused on propagating Tagalog and other Philippine languages through translation and localization work.

“Unlike in India, Europe and East Asia, we actually don't have a considerable localization market in the Philippines, owing to the fact that majority of Filipinos are able to understand and speak English fairly well. This is why our consumer goods are labelled monolingually in English by default, and most of our road signs are in English -- despite the fact that most Filipinos do not "think" in English, but rather in their native tongues (e.g. Tagalog, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, etc.)” shared Jake over email.

“That said, whenever a Filipino reads any material in his or her native language, a deeper emotional attachment is created between that person and the material (or the product). Since no "thought conversion" is involved because the language used is the person's "thinking language", the message becomes more credible, personal and enduring.”

Jake believes that this is especially true for books and literature as one is able to make a deeper connect with stories in one's mother tongue. It was this "native-language human understanding" that served as the underlying purpose at QwertyWorks, the company he founded.

Since 2001, QwertyWorks has grown to become the 'go-to' Philippine-language vendor for companies with a team of more than 50 in-house linguists, Project Managers, business managers and admin staff working out of Manila, plus linguists located in more than 60 countries around the world.

“We've been wanting to pay it forward for sometime now,” Jake shared. “As we entered our 15th year of operation in 2016, we decided to look overseas for collaborations to propagate our language. I was referred to Translators Without Borders (which I joined), then the Rosetta Foundation. It was through Rosetta that I stumbled upon Pratham Books and the StoryWeaver platform.”

Jake translated his first book on StoryWeaver last year ("Bheema the Sleepyhead") and loved the experience. When he shared it with his team at QwertyWorks, they loved the idea too and team members volunteered to translate stories on StoryWeaver in their own time. “Nevertheless, since we do have an established CSR program, the company also allows (and encourages) the linguists to work on select books on company time whenever our workload allows it.” informed Jake.

Till date, the QwertyWorks team has already translated a total of 64 books to Filipino, Cebuano and Cebuano-Davao. 

It was one of these books that his wife Judy brought to Aida's volunteer-run community day care center in late-April, which served as a pilot for what hopes to be a countrywide grassroots book distribution program.

The book had been translated by the QwertyWorks team on StoryWeaver, then Jake and Judy printed the book at home and stapled the pages together.

Here’s an excerpt from Jake's email:

“I just wanted to let you know that one of the several Filipino books we did on Storyweaver has been successfully distributed to a pilot group of 64 children aged 3 to 5 years old.”

 

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Two groups of around 20 children each attend the local summer classes taught by a volunteer teacher. The teacher read the book out loud to the first class of children aged 4-5 years old, and the children participated in the activity by mimicking the characters in the story. Afterwards, they took the book home. The second group (children aged 3-4 years old) came in after an hour, and did the same thing. All of the books were distributed for free at no charge to the recipients nor to the day care center.

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A mother reading with two boys at the session.

“Today's event was a pilot of a program that aims to do 3 things: book creation (digitally), self-printing and self-distribution of printed material. The idea was to jumpstart discovery: by making children and their parents get their hands on the printed versions, we hope to urge them to visit StoryWeaver on their own where more books are available. Today there really was 'a book in every child's hand', at least in this day care center!”

“For many of the children, the book they got today was the very first book they ever took home, as their own. The teacher encouraged the parents to read the book to their children at home, even at bedtime. More importantly, it is written in their native language (Filipino), so this removes some of the common barriers at least here in the Philippines.

We aim to do this more regularly to more communities here, and expand to more languages and provinces in the Philippines.”

“Please do wish us luck as we are a small volunteer team. Yes, we do this all for free -- from translation to printing and distribution -- we do hope that we'll have enough physical, financial and emotional endurance to cover the remaining 7,100 islands of our country :-)

We don't know how we'll do that but we'll take it one day at a time.”

His wife Judy, herself a former private-school teacher, has also launched Libreo.ph, a portal where she is distributing books translated on StoryWeaver. Plans are afoot to translate more Storyweaver books into other Philippine languages (such as Ilokano, Hiligaynon and Pangasinan). QwertyWorks is also onboarding linguists overseas who would be willing to participate in the CSR initiative for Thai, Burmese, Malay, etc.

 

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“I personally "began" translating as a 15-year old, translating books donated by the United Nations from English into Tagalog, for free. It is through translation and books that I found my calling, and my livelihood.”, writes Jake, who along with four other siblings was raised almost single-handedly by his mother Hermelina, who started working as a househelp outside of Manila in the 1960s.

Back at Jake's office building, Saida is finishing up her work so she could go home early to her children. Saida's sister, Czarina, is a product of the community day-care center that their mother Aida helped put up. Today, Czarina is now a teacher herself, having graduated in 2016, the year Aida retired from cleaning the premises of the QwertyWorks office.

While Czarina embarks on being an educator herself, Saida the office-cleaner hopes that her children will someday finish college as well, with far better life options than she ever had. Who knows, one of them might even have their own office building someday, bigger than QwertyWorks's!

All the very best to Jake and his amazing team at QwertyWorks! We’re so lucky to be able to collaborate with passionate language champions such as yourself!

You can read Team QwertWorks' translations on StoryWeaver, here.

If you’re using StoryWeaver to help put ‘a book in every child’s hand’ and would like to share your story, write to us at storyweaver@prathambooks.org!

 

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StoryWeaver Spotlight: Rishi Mathur

Posted by Menaka Raman on January 27, 2017

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

I can read anything that I come across, but content on ‘how things evolve or change’ draws me most, whether it’s covered in philosophy, psychology, spirituality, life sciences, cosmology or for that matter, fiction, which I’m a bit sceptic about, in English.  

Q: Is there a favourite book / author and why is it a favourite?

There are many, but a few of them always figure in my all-time favourite list:  

'The Prophet' by Khalil Gibran for its profound thought on the basics of life, and simplicity of expression. 'Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin for the way he connected his observations with the realities of the natural world bit by bit to create this ‘enormous whole’ of knowledge. 'A Brief History of Time' by Stephen Hawkings for the way complex phenomena are explained with such clarity therein. 'Conversations with God' sequence of books by Neale Donald Walsch for the style and utility as manuals of spiritual understanding. 'Manwatching' by Desmond Morris, whom I’ve always deemed as my master in absentia, for the rich scientific study in non-verbal communication it is. And all the books by Osho, the great master, whom I could never meet. Though I learned a lot from his mate Dowser S Bhan of Nepal.

Q: You have contributed for us immensely. How has the StoryWeaver journey been?

A: Fantastic! Working for the young readers is always a joy! Wish, it continues as long as I can think and see.

Q: How does it feel when your story gets published online?

A: Nice. But, anticipating another one in my inbox for translation feels a lot better!

Q: You have translated / reviewed a handful of stories for us. Which one has been your favourite and why?

A: Ladle ka Dhol, the very first I translated still tops the list of my favourites. Also developed a special relationship with the Brahmaputra, as I travelled into Tibet through its text!

Q: What is your key driver in taking up these translations? 

A: Frankly speaking, being a communicator, I do feel ‘something for all languages,’ but I’m more bent towards the non-verbal aspects, so the key driving force behind translating books or writing something is usually for having the remittances credited into my bank account.

Q: How else do you think we can join hands in taking bigger steps for children’s literature?

A: We can. Through greater and more informal outreach programme. I am really grateful to Pratham Books for giving me an opportunity to interact with young readers in the Pink City during Jaipur Literature Festival. Sharing in person, live interactions by people from the publishing trade can take literature and readership farther than anything else.

Q: How has the overall experience with SW been? 

प्रथम बुक्स और स्टोरी वीवर की श्रेष्ठ बाल कथाएं मूलतः चाहे किसी भाषा में लिखी गयी हों, नन्हें पाठकों की दिलचस्पी बनाए रखने के लिए अनुवादक को भाषा की सीमा से पार जाकर, बालमन की कोमल भावनाओं और कथावस्तु से मेल खाती शब्दावली का ध्यान रखना ज़रूरी होता है। ताकि कहानी परायी सी न लगे। यह चुनौती बार-बार सामने आयी। और कामयाबी के साथ इसका सामना किया जिससे ख़ूब ख़ुशी मिली। रचनात्मकता के ऐसे अवसर एक अनुवादक को लेखक के बिकलकुल क़रीब पहुंचने का एहसास कराता है। दूसरों की कलम की जायी कहानी अपनी सी लगने लगती है। ऐसी दत्तक रचनाओं को पोसने का मौक़ा देने के लिए प्रथम बुक्स और स्टोरी वीवर के संपादक मंडल का आभार। इस सुखद स्वाद में जोश का तड़का लगाने का काम किया प्रथम की युवा संपादक आमना सिंह ने। झटपट काम पूरा करने का दबाव बनाने के लिए छुट्टी के दिन भी ख़ुद लगातार संपर्क बनाए रखकर ऐसी चुनौतीपूर्ण समय सीमा में काम करवाया कि हैरान हूं, पर ख़ुश हूं।

The overall experience was good. It was especially nice, because of the great motivation offered by the Pratham Books' team who sounded hard-pressed for deadlines even on Sundays, making me work odd hours at breakneck speeds, making me feel more alive and kicking than I actually am?

 Q: You wear many hats - which one is your favourite?

A: I’ve always been a nature lover, and will always be one! But being in the field of communication, I had to yield different tools during different phases of my career, more so for survival than anything else; starting with illustration work for a newspaper, to photography, project documentation for NGOs, new-reporting, editing, television production, research, teaching, translations, and even writing SOPs for students applying for overseas education and finally counselling. Working with children is best, and working for them is next!

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An Assamese book in every child's hands

Posted by Menaka Raman on October 18, 2016

 

"যিদিনাই প্ৰত্যেক শিশুৰ হাতত এখন সহজে বুজি পোৱা অসমীয়া কিতাপ থাকিব মোৰ অনুবাদ সফল হ'ব"

 

"My translations will be a success when an Assamese  book with illustrations is in every child's hand."

When we told you in a previous blog post, that Rantu Moni Deka, is a man on a mission, we weren't joking. He's translated 15 stories to Assamese on StoryWeaver, and written the first, orginal Assamese community story too!

Rantu sent us a lovely message on International Translation Day which we wanted to share with our readers.

"First of all Thanks to Pratham Books StoryWeaver for giving us a platform for doing something for the lovely kids. Learning depends on the ability to read. When children have access to enjoyable, enriching stories in their own languages, the transformation in their reading skills are visible. The sheer joy of reading stories that are engaging and capture their imagination can make children become readers. Which in turn, makes them better learners. 

Assam Govt. students have access to libraries in school, but the books are not proper for them and so the children ofcourse are not interested in them. But they love StoryWeaver stories which have been translated to Assamese. The children feel so happy with the colourful illustration and a story that is easily understood by them. If these storybooks are available in their school library and also in the village library where the children meet together in the evening then my dreams will come true.

I will encourage others to use StoryWeaver and will try my best to translate more stories to Assamese so that children can read all the Pratham Books stories in their hands."

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