The project that made me want to write for children

I was going through some old files this week from past travels, and I came across this little book that I compiled as part of a literacy project in Peace Corps. It's called Samba the Brave and Other Stories, and I wanted to share this with you, since this is the project that made me want to be a children's book writer.

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I lived in Senegal, in a tiny village called Ngekhokh, and a short donkey cart ride away was another even smaller village called Pethe. A fellow volunteer and I worked on a few projects in Pethe because it was a great, friendly little place, and one day one of the school teachers asked us about helping him collect folk stories. Since Serere isn't traditionally a written language, many of the old folk tales told by village elders were in danger of disappearing. So my fellow volunteer and I copied down all the folk tales, and the school teacher translated them into French (the language used for most written communication), and then a second school teacher offered to illustrate the volume. He was a brilliant artist, only working with pencil by candlelight (no electricity in this village), and no formal training. 

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Once the stories and illustrations were ready, my fellow volunteer and I laid them out (this is in rural Africa, mind you, so it was cut-and-paste with scissors and glue, not Photoshop), into a simple book, and had it printed and bound at a copy shop in the closest city. Then we distributed the book to local schools.

The school libraries were meager, and most books they had were European fairy tales that village children struggled to relate to. So Samba the Brave gave them some reading material that was based in their own culture. Through compiling this little book, I started to remember how much I love fairy tales and folk stories, and how I used to come up with stories in my head all the time, and cut to a few years later...I write stories for a living!

School students at village of Ngekhokh

School students at village of Ngekhokh