The bush telegraph in Tsumkwe is as fast as the internet is slow. Within one day of starting my pop-up creative writing workshop in the children’s section of the Tsumkwe public library, the number of participants doubled, then doubled again.
The small space, supervised by the charming, young Administrative Assistant called N#aisa Ghauz, soon filled to capacity with primary- and secondary-school-aged children from the town’s multi-ethnic population. True, I’d brought along a giant box of crayons and some sweet fruit treats, but it was the origami device I made that kept them intrigued.
This was an early prototype of the Story Starter and featured numerals and words, the words written in Ju|’hoan. (Problematic, as it turned out the majority of children weren’t Ju|’hoan. I saw for myself what educationalist had reported, viz. that Ju|’hoan children are reluctant to mix with their multi-ethnic peers; the few that approached the teaching table were soon elbowed out by physically bigger and more confident kids. I have sympathy for the repeated requests by the Ju|’hoan community for a mother-tongue school in the town. However, it’s contrary to Namibia’s laudable inclusion policy. Clearly, attitudes on both sides need to change – the San need to build confidence, their neighbours need to gain respect for them. Hearteningly, the Director-General of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation mentioned something to me that just might help in this regard. More about that when I blog about my new project idea.)
In the meantime, I was here to investigate local literacy levels, so I switched to oral teaching using English, Afrikaans and illustrations to explain building a story together from chosen elements on the device. Lots of paper-folding, drawing and laughing later, one group of youngsters did produce a tale, much to N#aisa’s surprise. “The children come to the library after school,” she explained, “but most just look at the pictures in the books. They don’t like to read or write.”
Yes, few wrote, but all wanted to draw and proved excellent copyists when I demo-ed cartooning (to the best of my limited ability) the various animals they chose as story protagonists. One group of youngsters dictated a short but complete story, which they called Oscar and the Snake*. See it here. It’s been translated into Ju|’hoan by a local interpreter, !Ui Charlie Ngeisi. Once he uploads this will be the first, original, stakeholder-created Ju|’hoan story on the site. But upload could take a while. Participating in the digital world is a challenge when one lives as remotely as !Ui Charlie and the people of Nyae Nyae do.