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Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Madi projects

Vervet monkeys

At the launch
In 2011 a Madi (South Sudanese) colleague, Sarafino Enadio, and I were sharing office space. I was aware he had been in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, and had applied to come to Australia because it was too dangerous for him to return to Sudan.  In speaking of his childhood Sarafino explained that the children were responsible for guarding the crops in their families’ garden plots.  It was such a great story I suggested we write a bilingual picture book. I’d had some experience of creating bilingual texts when I was publishing manager of IAD Press in Alice Springs and was already committed to the idea of cultural maintenance and cross-cultural collaborative writing.  The aim of the book would be to show Madi children what life had been like for their parents in Sudan, to introduce some Ma’di language into texts Madi children could share with Australian children, and to send copies of a predominantly English-language book to school children in the Madi homelands.  English is now the language of education in the new republic but most of the extant educational material is in Arabic.

So the aims were cultural maintenance; celebrating Sudanese culture, giving Madi children here pride and visibility, helping to promote cultural interchange with their Australian classmates, and actively assisting Madi families in South Sudan to get an education.

When I Was a Boy in Sudan, based on Sarafino’s narratives, was the first book.  We quickly decided, on the basis of gender equity, that there should be a companion volume, When I Was a Girl in Sudan. The narrator of the girls’ book was Paskalina Eiyo, one of the few Madi elders in Hobart - a wonderful story teller, dancer and singer who told stories enthusiastically, in English at times but mostly in Ma’di.  Sarafino translated them for me. 

We received an initial grant from the Australia Council to create the ms of the first book.  Using the tape transcripts of Sarafino’s and Paskalina’s narratives, three Tasmanian writers, Julie Hunt, Anne Morgan and I, created the print texts. 

We decided to ask Madi children in Hobart to create the illustrations.  To that end we held a workshop with the Madi community.  They enjoyed the workshop immensely and Sarafino and I conducted a follow-up illustration workshop with Madi girls, at the conclusion of which we realised that the Madi children were unable to create authentic illustrations because most of them had never seen their homeland!  We then invited professional children’s illustrator Gay McKinnon to create the pictures.  At her request professional book designer Julie Hawkins donated her time and skills to design both books. 

I went to Melbourne to speak with Allen & Unwin editors, who assured me the picture books were not a commercial publishing prospect, and I also visited the Victorian Education Department’s multicultural materials resource centre in Carlton to look at similar books and to discuss publishing with them.  Chris Gallagher, Tasmanian Writers’ Centre (TWC) director, also researched publishing possibilities.  Finally we decided TWC would seek funding to publish the books, under the imprint Anzoa Books. (Anzoa in Ma’di means joy.)

The issue of creating authentic illustrations for the picture books, and ensuring the narrative in the novel is true to life, given that the writers and illustrators had never set foot in Sudan, became more pressing as we continued.  In the end I decided it was necessary for me to go to South Sudan, on a self-funded research trip.  Sarafino agreed to accompany me, despite his misgivings about returning to face traumatic memories.  On the positive side, it was a chance for him to see family from whom he had been separated more than twenty years earlier.  It was a challenging trip, and both financially and emotionally taxing, but it enabled us to complete the projects successfully and authentically.  For Sarafino it was particularly confronting and traumatic as we revisited war-torn places, but emotionally gratifying for him to be reunited with family.

TWC gained further grants for publication, printing and distribution of the picture book project in 2012 and 2013, from William Booth Foundation, Tas Regional Arts and the Tasmanian Community Fund.  Our projects, which were initiated by an interest in social justice and with the goal of creating educational tools and materials, have also, we feel, created books with strong artistic values and depth and value as Tasmanian literature.

Paskalina dancing

Fetching water in the morning

Terry Whitebeach

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