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Initiatives

Making Magic happen: Children's Books

Summary

The Ethiopian Government is committed to a policy of expanding access to education as part of its strategy to promote literacy and to reduce poverty. As more children become independent readers, they require access to a wide range of reading material, including story books. Young children need books that help them to learn to read and encourage them to develop the habit of reading. In Ethiopia, children's literature is greatly lacking at present. There are a few authors – Michael Daniel Ambatchew, Tesfaye Gebre-mariam, Alem Eshetu – but not enough.

The funding I seek is not for study, but for time and space in which to write.

I plan to write and publish culturally-appropriate, affordable books every year to educate and entertain Ethiopian children of various age groups, enriching their lives.

Every day that passes with a child not being able to read a book is an opportunity lost.

reading at home
reading at home


Background

There is a shortage of books for Ethiopian children. Privately-owned bookshops are extremely rare outside Addis Ababa. Gonder is a city with a population of more than 250,000, yet at the local branch of the government-owned bookshop chain Mega, you would be lucky to find ten story books available for children from pre-school (age 3) to secondary level (teenage), although educational textbooks are plentiful.

Half the population of Ethiopia is under the age of 21 – that’s more than 40 million youngsters. Of these, 50% are literate, so 20 million children and teenagers are potential buyers and readers of children's storybooks.

his only book
his only book

As headmistress of Empress Mentewab School, I encourage my pupils to read. Although supporters donate books in English for the school library, and these are helpful in teaching English, what the children really need are culturally-appropriate books in both Amharic (the first language in Ethiopia) and English (the official second language). English is important because all secondary and higher education in Ethiopia is taught in English, not Amharic.

Instead of Peter and Jane, Ethiopian children need Abinet and Almaz. Abinet and Almaz would never buy a doll and a tractor at a local toy shop, but they would run to the local kiosk to buy a bread roll each to have with tea for breakfast. Harry Potter is very appealing to all children, but Ethiopian children need young Ethiopian heroes and heroines to whom they can more directly relate.

boy reading Dusty - the Little Ethiopian Donkey donated by The Donkey Sanctuary
boy reading Dusty - the Little Ethiopian Donkey donated by The Donkey Sanctuary

If you ask an Ethiopian schoolchild what he or she would like to do when he or she grows up, 99 out of 100 will automatically reply: "a doctor". Schoolchildren are not aware of the many interesting careers that are available. I would like to write a series of children's books to educate teenagers about the diverse careers open to them in adulthood.

Books are also important for teaching children good manners and responsible citizenship. Principal characters can be role models for readers. I am interested in the well-being of people, animals and the environment and so I wish to write books that teach Ethiopian children about having compassion and consideration for others and for animals, and caring for the countryside.

Adventure stories for Ethiopian teenagers are virtually non-existent here - a gap in the market I would like to fill, especially as there are about 10 million literate teenagers in Ethiopia who, I believe, would love to read such stories if they were available to them. I am particularly interested in creating strong and capable female characters as role models for Ethiopian girls.

I have numerous ideas for books for children. At present, I have three novels for teenagers, one picture book and three story books as work in progress. I started one of the novels in 2004 but have never had time to finish it. I would very much like to finish all these books and write others.

boy recovering from an operation in Gondar Hospital (he lost a thumb and fingers after playing with a hand grenade left over from the civil war) - Kate gave him a book to read
boy recovering from an operation in Gondar Hospital (he lost a thumb and fingers after playing with a hand grenade left over from the civil war) - Kate gave him a book to read


Plan: Writing Retreat

My plan is to write picture books, story books, readers in English for beginners and older children, and novels for juniors and young teenagers. Most of my books would be in English, but some would be suitable for translation into Amharic.

To write, I need to place myself in a comfortable, quiet location with no distractions whatsoever (no husband, no children, no pets, no school, no Internet!), where I can work uninterrupted and complete a number of typescripts for children’s books in English over a fortnight. The ideal location for me is a hotel where cooking and cleaning are done for me so that I can maximise the time spent thinking and writing daily.

Of course, there are many creative writing courses and retreats in exotic places such as Greece, Thailand and Cuba, but I prefer to find peace and quiet locally, in Ethiopia.

Hotels in Debark, Gonder, Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa are not suitable, as I am known in these places and would be obliged to socialize with friends and my husband’s relatives, and would not get any writing done! No, I need to go on retreat to a remote lodge.

The nearest lodge to me is the Simien Lodge in the Simien Mountains. At an altitude of 3,260 metres, it is the highest hotel in Africa. Alas, much as I would love to be in the Simien Mountains, I would not be able to concentrate on writing because of the cold and the high altitude, which always gives me headaches (the cold is already a problem for me in Debark, which is at an altitude of 2,900 metres).

The next nearest lodge is Gheralta Lodge in Tigray, which is a hot place (I love to be warm). It is a half-day’s drive from Aksum. I can reach Aksum by bus from Dib Bahir in a day. In Aksum I would hire a vehicle to reach Gheralta because it is remote and not served by public transport.

Gheralta Lodge has recently been built by an Italian family. There are several rooms, including one single room, which would suit me. For full board for two weeks, including the return vehicle hire from Aksum and the return bus journey from Dib Bahir (with possible overnight stays in transit), the total cost would be 18,000 birr.

If I can find a sponsor every year, I could make my writing retreat an annual event and produce numerous typescripts each year.


Outcome of the Writing Retreats

With typescripts completed, I would contact publishers in England and meet with illustrators and talk to publishers in Gonder and Addis Ababa before making a decision whether or not to publish the books myself. The Dinkenesh Fund is interested in paying the printing and distribution costs for children’s books that educate children about having compassion for animals.


Qualifications

I am a qualified TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher, having completed a one-year part-time course in England where I was awarded my TESOL certificate with distinction in 1999. I teach English at Empress Mentewab School.

In 2008, I completed the Open College of the Arts Starting to Write course. As a result, creative writing became part of my daily life. I collect and file snippets of information and jot down ideas for stories; I draft rough outlines of books. But I rarely have the peace and quiet I need to finish these stories.

In 2012, I completed the OCA Lifelines:Autobiography course (see my WRITING BLOG). I would also do some work on my memoirs during a writing retreat.


Writing Experience

In the course of my career, I have always written reports, proposals and promotional literature.

I am currently working through Nina Milton’s Enchanted Pen writing for children course and the Fish Flash Fiction course.

In a Leaf Books competition, two pieces of short fiction I submitted were highly commended and included in the anthology of winning entries, Pod, published by Leaf Books in 2010. See my WRITING BLOG for more details.

I have written a number of short stories, including Olive Tree at Sunset, which was on the YouWriteOn website during 2012, where it has received a number of excellent reviews ("beautifully written"). In November 2012 it was rated Number 1 on the website for a time. As a result I took the next step and e-published it at Ether Books - see my WRITING BLOG for full details.


Finance

As explained above, the cost of my going on a fortnight’s writing retreat at Gheralta Lodge would be 18,000 birr (that's £650, 800 euros or US$1,000).


Please help me to contribute to Ethiopian children's literature by sponsoring me to go on an annual writing retreat. Contact me to discuss this further. Funds may be sent direct to me - see GIVE for instructions.

Kate