Teach 75 mothers to read stories to kids in Kenya

by Maria's Libraries
Feb 14, 2014

Maria's Libraries and the Purple Crayon

A screenshot from the Mama Mtoto digital book
A screenshot from the Mama Mtoto digital book

Greetings from New York City! I recently assumed the role of Executive Director at Maria’s Libraries.  I am honored to be working on behalf of their important efforts in Kenya.  A Mama myself, I am especially passionate about our Mama Mtoto story time program. While reviewing what my fellow Mamas in Busia have been working on, I was happy to discover that “Harold and the Purple Crayon” is the English story Mamas most love to read. Harold was my husband’s favorite childhood story time companion, and he is now one of our sons’ favorites too! It struck me as I prepared to write this update that Harold’s story is also a compelling metaphor for our work at Maria’s Libraries.

 Harold started off with a simple goal: a walk in the moonlight. With the help of his trusty purple crayon he drew a moon, and a path, and set out on his course. As his journey unfolded, he discovered a long list of obstacles and needs to address.  He desires a more interesting landscape, so he creates an apple tree.  He worries that his apples might be stolen, so he creates a dragon to guard them. He encounters an ocean, so he creates a sailboat for safe passage.  And so it continues, until he longs for sleep and draws himself safely into his own bed.

Like Harold, we started off with a simple goal: teach mothers to read to their children.  As our journey unfolded we discovered a need for books that captured local children’s stories, in local languages, so we published a collection of four storybooks created by participants from the original Mama Mtoto Story Time Program.  We recognized limitations of printed books in a region with numerous local dialects, so we developed a multi-lingual digital version of the Mama Mtoto storybooks. This technology will enable Mamas to experience stories with their children even if they do not have reading skills themselves.

In the weeks ahead, the Mamas will begin working with this new digital book.  Ariel, our new favorite Swahili storyteller Margaret Ronoh, and Esther, a Librarian from Busia Community Library, have been busily recording audio for this book. Readers will be able to read or listen to in multiple languages including Swahili, Samia, and English. This month we’ll do a quick round of user testing with the book in its current state to get an idea of how readers like the interactive features already included. Ultimately, we’d like this early version of the digital books to feature audio for all the original languages in which they were written, which also includes Kiteso, Maa, and Somali.

 In the meantime, Mamas are focused on learning to use computers and tablets, and reading the digital version of “Harold”.  Mamas told us they are really loving the technology. In addition to enabling them to better support their children’s’ educations, they expressed a number of other important benefits, including:

“Calculating the income and expenses of my business.  I was introduced to a bit of excel.”

“Employment skills. I have not yet got a job but if I continue learning how to use the computer I will be able to get a job…These days its a must to be computer literate”

“Its helping me to revive my knowledge that I acquired during my school days.”

And so plans for expanded technology training begin to take shape in our minds.

With your support, we will continue on our path with our proverbial “purple crayon” until we have created solutions to all of the challenges that mothers (and fathers!) in Kenya are facing. We are grateful for your ongoing commitment to these efforts.  We couldn’t do any of it without you!

Mamas, and a baby, practice working with tablets
Mamas, and a baby, practice working with tablets

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Organization Information

Maria's Libraries

Location: Brooklyn, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.mariaslibraries.org
Maria's Libraries
Project Leader:
Eva Kaplan
Brooklyn, NY Kenya

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