When books are not taken for granted
"The World in Books", our tried-and-tested international project to encourage reading, was launched in yet another country in June 2016. In collaboration with terre des hommes switzerland we trained employees of a Mozambican grass-roots organisation as replicators. The aim is to offer activities that encourage reading and writing, on the basis of the local storytelling traditions, in the city of Chimoio, to complement existing educational options for children and youths. The long-term plan is to establish local book production and a library.
Most people here in the Western world take it for granted that we can choose our books from a multitude of publications available in the market. There are subsidies for creating literary works, a still-vibrant publishing industry, critical reception and a dense network of libraries and bookshops. This is not necessarily the case everywhere in the world, not by a long measure, and in Africa in particular there are many countries where there is no book production worth the name, no measures to promote reading and thus no culture of reading either. This state of affairs also applies to Mozambique, on the east coast of Africa. Not only is poverty prevalent in the country, the illiteracy rate is high too, with the opportunity of receiving an education small for the majority of the population.
Prospects for the future for youths
This was confirmed by Marcelino, Santos and Carlitos when they visited Switzerland for "The World in Books" training programme in June 2016. They work in the Centro Aberto de Jesus in the city of Chimoio, one of terre des hommes switzerland's partner organisations. The centre enhances children and youth's prospects for the future by offering training courses in skilled manual trades. By selling their wooden or textile products they can generate a small income. They also support orphans by sewing school uniforms, for example.
The centre consciously focuses on culture and play too, as these contribute in a very fundamental way to the psychosocial health of young people growing up in precarious circumstances. Marcelino, the founder and head of the centre, says that it is important that the various social groupings are included in the process and that they communicate with each other. Mozambican society is highly fragmented; social, political and religious tension is deeply rooted to this day, and there are many social taboos. Carlitos, the centre's programme coordinator, is convinced that literature plays an important role in psychosocial work. "By adding "The World in Books" programme to our services we want to introduce another element to fortify children and youths in their development." That is why he wants to find ways to introduce the world of literature and books to young people in Chimoio.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
"How can I create a book in such a way that it will be understood by my readers?" The question posed on the first day by Santos, the oldest person in the group, hits the nail on the head. An intense working week follows, with the simultaneous translator, a Mozambican herself, enabling more in-depth discussions.
A well-stocked bookshelf is the basis; it offers material for intuitive access as well as sober analysis. The basic principle is: nothing ventured, nothing gained. As early as on the second day the three participants set out to create a story of their own in words and pictures. Later in the week they get to know simple bookbinding techniques. Every day offers new methodological inputs for concepts and creative processes. Each of the three participants tries them out immediately. And if the working day is not long enough, then they sit down again at night in the hotel in order to realise their ideas.
Many stories waiting to be told
Successfully encouraging people to read is always based on a diversity of opportunities. This is why we visit various establishments in Basel, including an intercultural library, a workshop on children's books, and a bookshop, amongst many others. Every station brings forth new aspects – and illustrates that in Switzerland too, people repeatedly have to find new approaches, in order to provide children and youths from various social classes with access to books – frequently without much money and with a lot of honorary work. The three visitors are not only impressed by the bookshelves on wheels, language games or home-made stamps made out of erasers that they meet, but also enthusiastically develop ideas of their own that they want to implement in Chimoio. The centre's own carpentry workshop could make the shelves for future mobile libraries, for example…
There is no dearth of stories. The storytelling tradition is deeply rooted in Mozambique; what is needed now is to find the right form to ensure that this literary treasure is not lost and can be further developed. This too is one of literature's characteristics – it is in a constant state of flux and is always changing, mirroring the society that creates it.
At the end of the week each participant presents his own handmade book – and a jointly-elaborated project plan for the first phase of a scheme to be offered by the Centro Aberto de Jesus. Santos, Carlitos and Marcelino's aims are formulated precisely, and with a lot of enthusiasm. Baobab Books and terre des hommes switzerland will support them in word and deed, with the latter organisation providing seed funding for the implementation of activities. The three men have carefully packed up their books and equipment and have now set off for home. They will have quite a few stories to tell when they get there.
Do you like our work? You too can support our project "The World in Books" with a donation. We are grateful for every contribution.
Text: Sonja Matheson
Photos: Pablo Wünsch Blanco, Manuela Vonwiller, Sonja Matheson
© 2016 Baobab Books