Children’s literature is not something many people give thought to. We rarely read books meant for children until we become parents.
Meeting an author in Uganda who has dedicated her writing to children, is rare. Evangeline Barongo is one such author. She has authored fifteen books, her latest title being “Courageous weaverbird”, published in 2015.
I was intrigued by her passion to write for children. I asked her what led to the decision to write for children. She told me that she has had a passion for writing since she was a child. What keeps her writing though, is the desire to preserve our cultures and norms.
In her view, modernity has changed us a lot. We are ashamed of our cultures.
“Someone goes to England for three months and returns with a British accent,” she said. “How is that possible? I am a Munyoro. If I stay in Buganda for five years does that mean that I have forgotten Runyoro? Does my accent change? Someone cannot forget a language they leant in the first five years of their life just like that.”
This in part, explains her commitment to teaching children their norms. She writes stories from oral tradition but with a twist to suit the children. Sometimes she writes new stories.
Her book, “Greedy monkey loses a friend”, is about a friendship between a monkey and a crocodile. It is intended to teach children to share. In the story, the Crocodile brings a monkey fruits. The monkey does not share the fruits with its family. It tells them that it is medicine meant for him.
“When children read this story,” she said, “they learn that it is important to share with other children and not to be greedy.”
Another story, “My name is a street child”, was inspired by an encounter with a street child. The child wanted to read. She approached a reading tent where Barongo and another librarian were in charge. The other librarian chased the girl away because the child was dirty. But Barongo told the girl to seat and gave her a book to read. The girl wanted to take some books. Other people were concerned that she would sell them. Barongo let her take the books provided she would take a bath, first.
She took her to the library from where she had a shower. The girl wore the same dirty dress after the shower. Barongo was forced her to bring her a dress the next day.
When the girl came to the tent, Barongo took her to the library to have a shower and gave her the new dress. People would not tell that it was the street child they had chased the day before, when they returned to the tent.
They developed a friendship with time which led the girl to share her story with Barongo. Barongo was able to convince the girl to return home and leave the streets where life was harsh.
This shows what reading can do for children. If the girl hadn’t shown the desire to read, maybe Barongo would have ignored her. It reaffirms the contribution authors of children’s literature make.
Evangeline Barongo is the chairperson of Uganda Children’s writers and Illustrators Association (UCWIA). She said, one of the challenges the association faces is that few people buy children’s books in Uganda. The other is inadequate funding for the association’s activities. They would have published more books.
She told me that it is easier for some parents to buy mobile phones for their children than to buy books.
“Sitting down to read trains your brain to concentrate,” she said. “Modernity and the gadgets it has brought make it easier for us to perform tasks. But is denies us the chance to concentrate and understand most of them.”
She gave an example of mathematics. If a child has a calculator, it is easier for that child to add two plus two to get four. That child does not have to give the addition some thought. But if the same calculation is illustrated in a book, the child gets a better understanding of the calculation. Take an example of an illustration of the addition of two oranges to two other oranges to get four oranges. The child will understand that better.
I was amazed by Barongo’s zeal. She has been writing for a long time and is still writing more books.
It is important that more writers like Barongo write for children. It is such authors that inspired me to write.
Mulumba Ivan Matthias