Friday, August 21, 2009

FAVL Blog has Moved!

We're moving! The FAVL blog is moving to a new blog that is more integrated with our new website, which offers a cleaner presentation of basic information about FAVL. To RSS/Atom the new blog, or update your Reader, please enter the following address, or click the on the Blue Feed Subscription in the browsers address bar.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Does your president pay his taxes?

Wonderful 'direct talk" from writer Alain Mabanckou...
Avril 2009 : tous les américains ont pu lire la feuille de déclaration des revenus de la famille Obama. Le président américain et son épouse ont déclaré des revenus annuels d’un peu plus de 2. 650.000 dollars. Le couple a ainsi payé plus de 850,000 dollars à l’Etat fédéral et près de 78,000 dollars à l’Etat de l’Illinois… (cf. lien en fin de cette chronique)

Obama millionnaire ? Ce sont les droits d’auteur des deux livres publiés par le président qui ont « gonflé » les revenus du foyer. On ne devient pas président dans le dessein de s’enrichir ! En regardant de près cette déclaration des revenus, j’ai songé aux présidents africains. Quel africain en effet a déjà « vu de ses propres yeux » la déclaration d’impôts de son président ? Mystère… Payent-ils vraiment les impôts, nos présidents des tropiques ? Si oui - parce qu’il faut en tout temps accorder le bénéfice de la bonne foi - comment alors se calculerait leur assiette d’imposition si leur fortune personnelle correspond au centime près à la richesse entière de leur pays ?

Payer les impôts signifie déclarer ce qu’on a. Or depuis « les soleils des indépendances » le dirigeant politique africain pratique l’opacité absolue des revenus. Les taxes et autres contributions payées par les populations viennent gonfler une « caisse noire » dans laquelle les ministres et le président puisent sans vergogne.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Let's digress... Economics and modeling

Lee over at RovingBandit had some discussion of the value of economists making assumptions that people are rational and self-interested (as opposed to ordinary humans who are far more complex). I wrote a longish comment. Today I just happened to be reading an abstract of a new paper (see below) and the thought occurred to me: regardless of whether you think their results are simply an interesting math problem or some serious deep insight, the simple likelihood is that only the rational and self-interested assumption lets you do this kind of modeling. Anything else is simply too complex at this time! And the math results that come from this modeling form the stepping stones for more complex modeling that will happen when some math-oriented breakthrough economist comes up with clever algorithms or theorems (there's one in economics that was revolutionary, called the "revelation principle") so that we can model people who are bounded in their rationality, emotional, and often weird.

So both camps can be right at the same time- most models of rational self-interested actors are just sometimes fun sometimes boring math problems, but solving thousands of those math problems generates tools that will be useful down the road, and is the only way to generate the tools, and they are probably better in the meantime than just repeating "in my opinion based on what I had for lunch today" stories back and forth.
Foreign Influence and Welfare
Pol Antràs
Harvard University and NBER
Gerard Padró i Miquel
London School of Economics and NBER
February 4, 2009
How do foreign interests influence the policy determination process? How is trade policy affected? What are the welfare implications of such foreign influence? In this paper we develop a model of foreign influence and apply it to the study of optimal tariffs. We develop a two-country voting model of electoral competition, where we allow the incumbent party in each country to take costly actions that probabilistically affect the electoral outcome in the other country. We show that policies end up maximizing a weighted sum of domestic and foreign welfare, and we study the determinants of this weight. We show that foreign influence may be welfare-enhancing from the point of view of aggregate world welfare because it helps alleviate externalities arising from crossborder effects of policies. Foreign influence can however prove harmful in the presence of large imbalances in influence power across countries. We apply our model of foreign influence to the study of optimal trade policy. We derive a modified formula for the optimal import tariff and show that a country’s import tariff is more distorted whenever the influenced country is small relative to the influencing country and whenever natural trade barriers between the two countries are small. We also show that the viability of free trade agreements can be hampered by large imbalances in power across countries.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

African crime literature... calling Ro Harris!

Rosemary Harris, a major force behind Chalula community library in Tanzania, is also a mystery novel writer... she would have enjoyed this conference I'm sure... but it was back in 2008. Still, really interesting suggestions for books...
African crime fiction represents a comparatively new literary genre and an even newer topic in the critical study of African literatures. On the surface, crime fiction is concerned with the detection of crimes (petty as well as large scale), with corruption or political conspiracies. Its capacity for bloodcurdling mystery accounts for part of its popularity. Just as much, however, African crime fiction is concerned with a whole lot of other aspects, such as questions of authority and power within a postcolonial context against potential projections of a (neo-)imperial West; with working up the past of African nations and grappling with order and disorder in postcolonial societies; and with the renegotiation of gender and race relationships. Many authors have thus broadened the theme of investigation to address issues of community, beliefs and identity con­structions across geographic and national boundaries. Others have broadened the genre by in­venting recognisable sub-categories which relate to the social, politi­cal and historical formations of their specific African postcolonies. Dealing with such “serious” issues in a complex manner has long been regarded as the prerogative of African literary works aimed at elite readerships. Today, however, crime fiction has become one of the most active and ambitious sites of literary investigation. Contemporary African authors deliberately employ the immense popularity of the genre to reach readers from all walks of life. To borrow from an essay on multicultural detective narratives, African crime fiction ingeniously represents “murder with a message” (Gosselin 1999).

White Teeth, by Okot p'Bitek

This short novel from 1953 is very poignant, and translated in 1988 from Acoli it reads well. The story is a commonplace- the young man wants to marry, but his father has died, so he must leave for Kampala to earn money. The descriptions of the village boy heading out into the world, woefully unprepared, ironically makes the case for reading itself, even though "the city" is responsible for the boy's woes. The thought experiment: if every village boy in Africa read White Teeth, would Africa be a better place? Clearly, to me, the answer is yes. But better enough to justify the 50 cents per child to get a copy "readable" to each child... now we are talking about something interesting.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Promoting a reading culture in Kenya

Nice blog posting by Konrad Glogowski:
...While I agree that it is challenging to encourage students to use English outside of school where they seem perfectly happy communicating in their mother tongue or Kiswahili, it is imperative that the use of English in school change from purely formal and transactional to more expressive, interactive, and socially meaningful. One of the main barriers that has traditionally made this shift impossible is that teaching in Kenya is very teacher-centred. In addition, instruction in an English classroom is often limited to cloze tests, reading comprehension exercises, and short answer questions. Students are generally not given opportunities to express their opinions or engage in class discussions or debates. Chalk and talk dominates classroom interactions.

But, how do we encourage teachers in Kenya to adopt a more student-centred approach? How can we support them in this shift to a more participatory environment?

I think that the small, gradual steps - the approach we used this past summer - are necessary to help teachers move out of their current comfort zone and test themselves using a different teaching methodology. According to Commeyras and Inyega (2007), two research-based Kenyan documents (MOEST, 2001; Willis, 1988) suggest that teachers can promote greater interest in reading by reading aloud to their students. Furthermore, talking with students about the texts as preparation for independent reading can also be very effective (Willis, 1988). Of course, the challenge here is that this approach requires that the teachers themselves be committed and enthusiastic readers willing to share their personal stories and reactions with their students. I believe that the students need to see in their teachers a high level of authentic engagement with a text in order to be encouraged by this approach. Teachers need to learn how to communicate their passion for reading and they need support in learning how to initiate and sustain meaningful conversations about texts in their classrooms. This is not an easy task for a teacher who is used to lecturing and who every day walks into a classroom where the students have been conditioned to sit quietly and listen
Read the full post here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sticker supply boost thanks to Debbie Tanzer's book, Do One Nice Thing

FAVL has received many lovely stickers for our child readers upon a recommendation contained in Debbie Tanzer's book, Do One Nice Thing. She included a wonderful 2-pg write-up of our work and how individuals could help incentivize our reading program by sending cute stickers. We've received 5 packets, the most recent a delightful sticker and bookmark collection prepared by a grandmother and her grandkids as a summer project. The accompanying notes are heartwarming, too.

Overachieving kids are the same the world over, even in Darfur refugee camps!

He sure could use a library, but unfortunately at this time FAVL has no plans to expand to Darfur refugee camps, though we would certainly love to if a major donor wanted to fund that (but we're talking major here!)

Rahma Profile from iActivism on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Ding dong the 990's done...

Every small non-profit dreads the day of the IRS form 990... and last May we dreaded so much we just applied for automatic extension. yesterday FAVL Treasurer sat down for five hours and completed all the forms. Yaay! Big THANK YOU to Deb... without dedicated people like her, willing to spend five hours on a gorgeous Saturday morning here in San Jose, FAVL would not be able to implement the libraries and reading programs that our generous donors help fund.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

FORGE library for refugees in Zambia

A long time ago... FAVL made a financial contribution to help this library get established...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"learn earn return" or "concern learn return" or "earn learn return"

As a college professor, students are always engaging me in discussions about what the better strategy is. Especially the ones going to law school. There are all kinds of maxims out there, and the only wisdom I feel I ever impart is for students to not be over-optimistic about their ability to retain their former self present in their future mind. And sometimes that former self might even be subject to insult by the future mind... "What were you thinking.. you were a total idiot!" I do tell the story of Andrew Carnegie, who as he saw that he was going to be capable of becoming very wealthy, wrote himself a letter to remind himself to give his fortune away and help the less fortunate. And that is what he did... though he postponed until he was well into older age. he sold out to J.P. Morgan and gave his fortune (though critics accuse of self-serving giving).

FAVLers and others passionate about helping kids read... a mystery in terms of how it fits into a coherent life philosophy.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Why read when you can twitter?

A hilarious (to me) posting from ugandan insomniac on "what if" Museveni were twittering...
Had a rough nite. Mbwenu journalists are giving me grief 4 ordering the arrest of errant policemen in Nateete. They say it’s an attempt @ cheap popularity. As if!

Who Controls African Literature?

FAVL friend Chelby Daigle send us this editorial by Tolu Ogunlesi:

LAGOS: The literary world is once again shining a spotlight on Africa. There are new prizes: the South Africa-based PEN Studzinski Literary Award for short stories, and the Penguin Prize for African Writing, a pan-African prize covering both fiction and non-fiction genres. There’s a new book series, the “Penguin African Writers Series,” which will include not only new books from emerging writers, but also classics taken over from the defunct Heinemann African Writers Series. And next year South Africa will be featured as the “Market Focus country” at the 2010 London Book Fair and African writing will be showcased at the Gothenburg Book Fair.

The African ‘Greats’–Ngugi, Soyinka, Gordimer, Okot p’Bitek– have given way to a new roster of names — Chimamanda Adichie, Chris Abani, Helon Habila, Binyavanga Wainaina, Sefi Atta, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Chika Unigwe, Brian Chikwava — who have become the new faces of contemporary African writing.

This explosion of literary talent and publishing opportunities might be likened to a similar one that accompanied the heady post-independence days of the 1960s. But in spite of all the inspiring and exciting happenings of recent years, there still remain nagging questions regarding who exactly are the proper ‘gatekeepers’ of African literary tradition and production.

Read the full article "Who Controls African Literature" here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ricky Alexander report from Chalula library

The food situation is more than satisfactory. Henry is coordinating things on that front for me in the village as Aaron is busy with some local government business and has been ill with the flu the past week or so on top of it. Henry has been great, making sure I'm satisfied with everything and the food is great! I'm sure going to miss ugali and mchuzi when I get back to the US! haha Henry set me up very nicely in the guesthouse adjacent to the school and library and I'm sleeping there with the company of a few children who are very sweet. It works out well...I tutor them in English and they help me learn Swahili. So food/lodging are great! (Joseph has been very helpful with escorting me to and from transportation and helping me while I'm in town at Dodoma. He lives here in Dodoma and works with Habitat for Humanity but is very much in touch with Henry and Aaron and very helpful and responsible. He is a great contact and knowledgeable about development in rural areas in Tanzania.)

The library is a wonderful place for the children to read during school breaks and after classes get out for the day. It is a nice structure and the bookshelves and tables/chairs are in good condition. What is lacking are resources (as I'm guessing is the case with most if not all FAVL libraries and other educational facilities in sub-Saharan Africa). The 200 or so Swahili children's books are tattered from overuse and many are falling apart and need to be taped together. The English books do not get used much as the nearest secondary school is quite far and the teenagers rarely walk the distance to the library. (Also, many are not culturally relevant as they are American/Euro-centric). So...what is needed are more children's books in Swahili, beginners/intermediate level English-learning books, rudimentary English stories, bilingual materials would be ideal, and a comprehensive Swahili-English dictionary would be great. I look forward to discussing possibilities for utilizing FAVL funds and/or fundraising to send some of these resources to the Chalula library when I return.

While resources is the main issue, usage is very high. The library is usually very full with all the tables and chairs full and scores of children sitting on the floor/along the walls. The children understand the importance of education/literacy and seek it, when the facilities and encouragement are there to promote it.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Three Cups of Tea... over coffee

I spent the last four days up in the Sierras at San Jose Family Camp (our city's socialized but market-priced camp site), blissfully reading Three Cups of Tea in between poker matches with kids, beautiful hikes with friends into the Hetch Hetchy/Yosemite watersheds... and lots of coffee (in socialism, bad coffee will be available for free in copious quantities, as long as policemen's pensions can be capped at under 95% of salary...that last strictly for San Jose insiders).

Anyways, odd that the two premier development blogs (Blattman and Easterly) apparently have never mentioned Mortenson (at least a search of the blogs was empty on both sites). Too bad, because it's a good book, with lots to discuss, and more importantly, is probably the single most widely read "tract" about development aid in the last decade, and so what it says, or does not say, is probably shaping the perceptions of millions of persons around the globe, far more than the development studies academics' wishy-washy "we don't know the answers" style.

So just so you know the book's main message: heroes are taking care of the problems, just like they always did. Sure, things were smelly in the Augean stables, but Hercules was ready! So here comes Mortenson, ready to tackle world poverty (one girl at a timeTM).

So I'll say up front that while I obviously find Mortenson's work and devotion and success very inspirational and fantastic and laudable, I find the book raises all kinds of interesting questions, and raising those questions will inevitably make me appear less laudable than Mortenson. But hell, I'm an academic and the whole schtick is to raise questions.

And questions to be raised, there are. Only two paragraphs in the 330 page book are "questioning," in the sense that they diverge from the standard 40-something-American "it's all good" refrain, and these deal with an important issue, non-profit governance. Otherwise there is nary a questioning attitude to be seen. Weird, cause the guy writing it is a journalist (David Oliver Relin, who keeps himself completely out of the text, but must have insisted on inserting two photos of himself that make no sense at all... the captions just use his last name, and for 2/3 of the book I thought the guy in the pictures was some Pakistani dude who would be introduced later on).

So we have a book about a hero. It's a thrilling book, but it brings to mind the Brecht line (yes, Michael Watts did influence my reading habits...) from his play Galileo: “ANDREA: Unhappy the land that has no heroes! . . . GALILEO: No, unhappy the land that needs heroes.”

I could go into literary analysis- what is a hero and all that... but since this blog is about development and literacy, better to focus on that. Mortenson is basically doing what FAVL would have been doing if someone had given *us* a million dollars! So of course one can't help the sour grapes. But I do feel that gives me a rather unique perspective. Most people reading the book probably feel unqualified to be critical. They have never slept with a yak, nor befriended an authentic representative of "The Other"... Haji Ali. Of course, Haji Ali turns out to be Yoda, a very nice, reasonably wise uncle figure prone to platitudes about listening to the wind. Anecdotes and trials and tribulations are played to maximum effect... and some are downright bizarre- Mortenson's "bodyguard" beats up someone leering at his wife breastfeeding. A Pakistani general cowboying around with Mortenson in a helicopter buzzes "like an angry bee" the compound of some local chief who's fallen afoul of Mortenson. These anecdotes, and much of the book, serve to make clear to the reader that there are good guys (hero allies) and bad guys (hero enemies) and the hero can tell the difference (loyalty... everyone is ready to "give their life for Mortenson") except when the hero is tricked. Oops, no more literary analysis!

One more aside. My overall impression is that Relin was more interested in name-dropping mountaineers killed here and there than Pakistanis or Afghans killed during the various stages of the wars in the region. The brand-name turn in American literature is there, instead of riding around in an "old helicopter" it has to be an Alouettte. Instead of wearing an "old parka," he has to give the brand name. I confess I never understood the reader interest inknowing the brands of their book-characters, but then again, I wear a cheap watch, cheap pants, and cheap shoes.

As you can see, I am meandering around my thoughts, and it is now late, so I'll come back to the development and literacy stuff tomorrow.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Civic engagements...

SCU student Louise O'Rourke will be spending the Fall in Burkina on the Santa Clara University study abroad program Reading West Africa, that is operating in partnership with the FAVL libraries... Nice article about her and her sister in the Bellevue Reporter.

Summer reading camp in Bereba village... photo: Madelyn Bagby

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What is development studies good for?

Most people who come to the topic of development studies do so because they are interested in a particular region or problem. They realize that sometimes it is useful to have exposure to both broader views and narrower perspectives and analyses. For example, someone visits Ghana and becomes interested in learning more about why the people of Ghana are so much poorer than people in the developed countries (the broad view), and also whether spending two weeks volunteering on a Habitat for Humanity building site in Tamale, Ghana, would be a worthwhile way to spend their time (the narrow view).

The broad view enhances the contextual knowledge required to be a person of solidarity operating in a globalizing environment of increasing connections and significant inequality. Certainly we would think it somewhat arrogant to express opinions about poverty in Ghana and know nothing about how the economy and society of Ghana functioned. The minimum we might expect from a person interested in poverty in Ghana would be the capacity to fit Ghana into a broad schema, or model, of the essential features of developing countries. Such a schema or model makes generalizations about the multitude of regions that one might think of grouping under the rubric of “developing.” Some of the generalizations might be commonplaces: “In Ghana as elsewhere, people are motivated by a mix of material incentives and non-material goals.” Analyzing these commonplace generalizations is important, because often newcomers to development studies fall into the lazy trap of thinking that poverty is due to an indecipherable “culture.” A good chunk of the work in mounting a general schema is in leveraging people’s intuitive sense that culture matters into a more nuanced sense of how cultures matter.

The narrow view develops the analytical tools and experiences that enable a person of solidarity to be an effective agent of change. We should not applaud the do-gooder who botches a job, even as we acknowledge that botching a job is an important way that people learn! Some due diligence should happen before a job is undertaken. All sorts of examples come to mind. Some are simple common sense, involving learning from the experiences of others. Should a small village library classify books according to the complicated Dewey Decimal System? When installing a borehole well, will the villagers have the ability to maintain and repair the mechanical parts? Others are more complex and have to be thought about. When installing the borehole well, should it be the private property of a villager or should it be owned collectively? In setting up a computer lab where digitally-challenged villagers will pay a small fee for use, what incentives guide the computer lab manager in straddling the challenge of ensuring lots of users and minimizing costly breakdowns?

As these questions illustrate, some of the reflections in the broad approach (about what motivates people) are important for the narrow view (how to structure a contract to ensure long-term success).

Fille des crocodiles Auteur : Marie-Florence Ehret

From publisher Ricochet-jeunes...
Fanta vit dans un village du Burkina-Faso avec sa grand-mère Mâ, tandis que sa mère Delphine garde des enfants blancs en France pour gagner un peu plus d’argent. Les deux femmes sont modernes au regard des autres habitants : elles refusent que la petite fille soit excisée, projettent pour elle des études… Mais Fanta, à qui on n’a pas demandé son avis, est un peu perdue.

A rebours des romans qui mettent d’habitude en scène des enfants immigrés en France, l’auteur a choisi de faire rester son héroïne dans son pays d’origine. Mieux, de le lui faire aimer, au point d’hésiter à partir vers l’Eldorado occidental ! Une attitude atypique, qui nous permet de pénétrer dans l’intimité d’une Afrique rurale à mi-chemin entre traditions et progrès. La vie quotidienne est dure, tendue vers l’autosuffisance avec le travail des champs. Le puits conserve une place centrale, qui possède une moto ou un téléphone portable est considéré comme riche. A côté de ce qui semble archaïque, la vie est aussi simple, socialement plus active. Les hommes se retrouvent pour boire un verre le soir, tandis que les enfants écoutent le conteur refaire le monde. Les fêtes durent plusieurs jours, la religion se partage sans heurts entre islam et animisme (voir les ancêtres crocodiles). Marie-Florence Ehret sait faire vivre ces aspects positifs, mais s’attaque sans complaisance à la réalité de la vie des femmes : d’abord l’excision, puis le mariage, enfin les enfants.

Une des tantes de Fanta n’a que quelques années de plus qu’elle, et la petite fille a peur de ne pas trouver d’époux quand sa grand-mère s’oppose à son excision. Cette décision choque d’ailleurs le reste du village, la vieille femme, revenue de la ville à la mort de son mari, n’est pas comme les autres. Fanta, si elle ne mesure pas sa chance à ce moment précis (elle regrette plutôt de ne pas avoir de robe neuve comme ses amies), sent bien le statut particulier accordé à sa famille ouverte sur le monde : mère exilée qui fait bouillir la marmite des oncles, sœur aînée partie étudier à la capitale.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ethics of libraries... are people opposed to reading?

Violence in northern Nigeria has left hundreds dead, and some stories suggest that a militant Islamic group is largely responsible, having raised a cry against "western education." This extract from a New York Times article I thought revealing:

A more mainstream Islamic group in Nigeria, the Jamaat Nasr al-Islam, or J.N.I., on Tuesday condemned the militants, known as Boko Haram, a Hausa expression meaning “Western education is prohibited.”

J.N.I. said through its acting secretary general, Abdulkarim Muazu, that the attacks on the police were “criminal.” Mr. Muazu added that “nobody is against Western education.”

“The first injunction is to read so that you improve on your life,” he added.
I can't help but think that Boko is a dervied Hausa word for book... so "Forbid Book" would be the better translation? But a little web research (amazing, this "western education" suggests that boko Hausa refers to writing Hausa language using Latin alphabet), and this posting tells the sorry tale of British responsibility during colonial rule for setting in motion the backlash.

Reading in the village... photo Madelyn Bagby

Monday, July 27, 2009

Community Libraries in Pakistan

One of my colleague's here at Ashoka sent me a profile of an Ashoka fellow in Pakistan that she thought I would be interested in. His name is Asad Danish and he is doing peace-building work, with one of his main outlets in addressing the population: rural community libraries!

Asad Danish is doing peace-building along with development work in Afghanistan. He is addressing the urban Afghan immigrant community and publishing literary and knowledge books. Asad is promoting education and establishing libraries in rural and urban schools by encouraging a book-reading culture and increasing the literacy rate.

The Idea:

Asad is working towards bringing harmony to war-torn Afghanistan and the Pushtoon tribal belt in and along Pakistan in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). He is focusing on education and learning using publishing, creating libraries and getting to the illiterate masses through radio. His publishing house prints ‘knowledge’ books including dictionaries, how-to books, translations and magazines that bring local wisdom and global knowledge to the Pushtoon people in their own language. He is also distributing popular and easy-to-read publications among the communities.

Asad has established libraries in small towns in Afghanistan, especially in schools. He has introduced the concept of the “Dynamic Librarian”; these librarians are creating reading circles to promote education in local communities. The libraries mobilize government and community resources and the books are donated by Asad’s Danish Publication Association. Asad established the publication house as a for-profit venture that supports him and helps him invest in rebuilding Afghanistan through various community projects. The publishing house targets Pushtoon and other communities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and does outreach to Afghan and Pakistani communities in Europe, North America and the Middle East. This helps mobilize resources for development in rebuilding Afghanistan.

This sounds like quite an initiative, and it is exciting that the concept of community libraries is proving to be effective, globally.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

What should we do...

Technology could really help with improving one of the most important cognitive skills of the human brain, which is how to process the written word quickly and effectively. What I mean is, how could we enable children to more quickly and effectively learn to read well. Well means both understanding the correct sense of the word they are reading, and also the sense of the entire passage they are reading.

This is especially challenging in a text-scarce environment like an African village. There are few signs, no newspapers lying around, the packages in little boutiques are "behind the counter", there are no Sears catalogues, no Boy's Life, etc.

So, should we choose One Laptop per Child, or a printed book, at this juncture, 2009?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The continuing saga of the One Laptop per Child....

Just send a $250 donation to FAVL, please... we'll get it into libraries straightaway...

Courtesy of Michele ODI blogger, in Ghana:
Five 1.5 squared meters boxes containing 600 OLPC computers each, for a total of 3000 OLPC computers, were delivered yesterday at the ministry unbeknown to most.

OLPCs are supposed to cost $100 each, but according to my ICT technician their cost is more like $250 - $270. Summing up to the handsome expenditure of $750.000 - $810.000, excluding shipment. And their impact on educational outcomes has never been evaluated.

Two children's books from T. Obinkaram Echewa

These stories are very nice, as are the illustration. I heartily recommend! The illustrations in The Ancestor Tree are by Christy Hale. Those in The Magic Tree are by E.B. Lewis. Echewa teaches at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

African langugage books online....

Sent in by Kim Dionne :
More Swahili, Kikuyu, Dholuo
and other African Languages in Google Books via Official Google Africa
Blog by Julie on 7/21/09
En Français

We've always said that with Google Books we want to bring more books to
more people in more languages. Today we're truly delighted to announce
that we're making progress, and getting closer to making this true for
more users in Africa. In a partnership with the East African
Educational Publishers
(EAEP) we're working to bring more books in
African languages to our index. From Swahili, to Kikuyu, to Dholuo and
Acholi, but also including oral languages such as Mbeere and Maasai,
the thousands of titles published by EAEP will be digitized and indexed
on Google’s search engine and become available to users in Kenya and
around the world in the next several months.

Google Books helps users discover books. It exposes readers to
information they might not otherwise see, and it provides authors and
publishers with a new way to be found. We truly believe that Google
Books benefits anyone who reads, writes, publishes and sells books.
It's good news for people who read books because they can more easily
discover books that are of interest to them, and where to buy them; it
is good news for authors because it makes it easier for more people to
discover find their work; it is good news for publishers because they
can more easily reach a wider audience; it is good news for booksellers
because readers are directed to the bookshops where they can buy
interesting publications; and it is good news for libraries because it
means more people can discover the books on their shelves.

The EAEP is one of over 25 000 publishers worldwide, to join the Google
Books Publisher Program. Google Books has over 10 million books in the
index. It includes works in over a 100 languages, and is currently
available in 142 countries.

Posted by Santiago de la Mora, Head of Partnerships for Google Books in
Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Monday, July 20, 2009

Inspiring a reading culture in Burkina Faso..

While sorting through Ashoka Fellows involved in rural development today at work, I happened upon Dieudonné Par, an Ashoka Fellow, passionate about inspiring a culture of reading in Burkina Faso!
"Dieudonné Paré has created a culture of reading in Burkina Faso through his community-led book program. By first rehabilitating discarded books and those no longer in circulation, he brings refurbished materials to rural areas through his “books-on-bikes/motorcycle” program. Providing books for rent to rural and urban youth who lack access to reading materials and libraries, Dieudonné encourages learning, reflection and an understanding of the importance of the written word as a tool for effective citizenry. " (Ashoka Website)
Read more about his idea and strategy here: It is a unique, sustainable and scalable model! It'd be interesting to get a list of the books he rehabilitates and shares.

What do you think?
From Ugandan Insomniac... (HT Kim Dionne)
If you are a fan of Chimamanda Ngonzi Adichie’s books, you have to download the BBC World Book Club podcast in which she discusses Half of a Yellow Sun.

One of things that struck a chord for me was Chimamanda’s revelation that for the first years of her life she thought about the world through the prism of Europe and America because of the books she read. For a while all her short stories were about British people and an unhealthy obsession with ginger beer.

Until I was about 9, I didn’t know it was okay to write about people like me.


I have a friend who is writing a book set in Eastern Europe with eastern European characters. He’s a Ugandan man who until a few years ago lived no where else but here. Oh, and he’s never been to Eastern Europe.

While I may be completely wrong in relating his work to what Chimamanda said, it reminded me of stuff. Like how many books by African writers must have a white man or woman in order to ‘make sense’ to the rest of the world. Like how descriptions of ourselves are not informed by what we know about our villages, our countries or our continent, but what the rest of the world thinks of us.

I am one to talk.

Looking around my house as I write this, I see that I am no different. I’ve tried to make my house as ‘African’ as possible – tribal masks from Congo and Rwanda, Masaai sculptures, Kiganda baskets, Ghanaian printed reed chairs, cow skin pouf, large picture of African setting sun … These are things I have been told by interior design magazines are elements of ‘colonial’ design and ‘safari’ living. I would never decorate my home the way my grandmother did. That’s too rural for me.

Yeah, I’m a hypocrite.


Chimamanda said what I already knew, but hearing it again, a loud brought it home.

The power of literature … stories inform how you see yourself and what you think of yourself. I often ask my friends, ‘What are your kids reading?’ It’s important to have children see that their stories are worthy of literature. It’s okay for them to read Enid Blyton, but have them read Nigerian literature as well.

Wow... what a photo! I love it... by Amy Reggio