Blind Leading the Blind…? Why not!?

Blind Leading the Blind…? Why not!?

Joyce Lopez works as the head of the Life Transformation Department at Resources for the Blind Inc. (RBI) in the Philippines. Although her siblings have moved to the United States, she remains in the country of her birth, living with her parents about forty-five minutes (by public transport) from the RBI offices in Manila and working to provide visually impaired students with the opportunity to discover their full potential. Joyce oversees the blind pastors that RBI sends to schools to work with blind children, she writes proposals, and from time to time she speaks as an advocate for the blind. When she’s not at work with RBI, she sometimes teaches computer tutorials for blind students. Joyce is a remarkable, bright young woman.

Joyce is also completely blind, and has been from birth…

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A Bridge to Other Worlds

A Bridge to Other Worlds

Imagine for a moment that you’re a small child with a love of books. We may be biased, but we think that makes you pretty much “a small child,” period, because we believe that all children love books! Anyway, imagine we bring you, a small child, into a vast library filled with hundreds or even thousands of brightly colored books.

The colors! The pictures! The beautiful words!

You’ve heard about books. Someone has told you of the worlds these books will open up to you, so you head for the closest shelf and pluck off a promising title with an intriguing cover image of a baby cradling a giant grasshopper. What a mysterious image! …

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Bloom in Kenya - A Teacher’s Story

Bloom in Kenya - A Teacher’s Story

Wawerũ Mwangi is a high school teacher who lives and works in Naiyasha, Kenya. He’s a linguist by training and has written numerous high school textbooks, as well as vernacular texts for primary schools and a teacher’s guide in the Kikuyu language, which have been approved by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD).

All this would be quite enough to keep anyone busy, but Mr. Mwangi also loves to write stories…

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In the paper Learning to Live Together, Margaret Sinclair and Jean Bernard tackle the question,  “What can education systems do to build mind-sets supportive of peace, tolerance, respect for diversity and responsible citizenship.” As part of their approach, they advocate for the use of stories to teach ‘learning to live together’ themes: “There is substantial research to support the impact of carefully crafted, relevant stories on listeners in terms of bringing about associated behavioural change” (p.9).

In Annex 1 of their paper, ‘Some underpinnings of the use of stories,’ they discuss why stories are such vehicles for building important social and emotional skills. They list 5 characteristics of stories:

  1. Emotional impact of stories

  2. The role of empathy

  3. Narrative transportation

  4. Neural coupling

  5. Making it stick

Stories touch our emotions: “We have moist eyes after a sad film, or sometimes after a happy ending…At night…we dream in stories; that is part of how our brains work.” As we enter into the story, we have the opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes and gain empathy for them. As we listen to a story, we are mentally ‘transported’ into the story’s world. We also begin to mentally track together with the teller. Stories that are “simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, [and] emotional” stick with us, as do the messages they teach. (See the paper for references.)

One of SIL International’s most effective teaching narratives is Kande’s Story: How a community can love and care for people affected by AIDS. The book tells the story of a little African girl, Kande, whose parents both die from AIDS, leaving her and her brother orphans. Critical information about HIV and AIDS are embedded in the story line. Stigma, marginalization, and exploitation are depicted, but also how to care for someone with AIDS and ways that a community can come around those who suffer.

At last count, Kande’s Story has been translated into 222 languages. That would place it at 12th on the Wikipedia list of the world’s most translated books! (It would be 4th, on this list and 8th on this one.)

Do you want to translate Kande’s Story into your language? You can find it in the Bloom Book Library. Download Bloom software and Kande’s Story and get to work

Here is our original blog post about Kande’s Story.


Working Under the Shade of a Mango Tree


Last month near Pucallpa, Peru, our partner organization AIDI (Asociación Indígena de Desarrollo Integral) sponsored a Grade 2 primer development workshop with the participation of teams from six minority language communities. Four of the languages are the most spoken indigenous languages in the Peruvian Amazon—Asháninka, Awajún, Shipibo, and Matsigenka.

Map shows where the participants language groups are located in Peru. 

Map shows where the participants language groups are located in Peru. 

Dr. Patricia Davis led the this four-week long workshop. The workshop was designed to develop Reading Primers for Grade 2 and also provided a short training session on how the primer lessons should be taught. Dr. Davis and her Peruvian assistant, Eva Mamaní, supervised drafting and checked the materials as the authors progressed. In addition to the six language teams, another team finished a textbook for teaching Spanish in Grades 1 and 2. Two additional participants arrived unexpectedly to complete a Kindergarten Workbook in the Shipibo language. Iris and Mercy heard about the workshop and wanted to complete this desperately needed workbook.

Access to books in this area is a challenge that AIDI  has worked earnestly to overcome.AIDI and numerous other indigenous organizations are banding together to petition for the printing of the books and seek new sources of funding. (Until the indigenous organizations began to support the project this year, AIDI had not been successful in finding funding.) In the second week of the workshop, reports of the workshop were broadcast by radio to over 400 Shipibo communities. These broadcasts resulted in requests for books in that language. This was good news given the concerns that the Shipibo workshop participants have about the fate of their language.


Excitement was tangible among the workshop participants, although the work was hard and the weather warm, despite the shade of a large mango tree covering the working space. Dr. Davis wrote that she is grateful for the friendship and loyalty of these capable people. They demonstrated the heart of International Mother Language Day, whose theme this year is “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education”.


On its web page dedicated to this day, UNESCO writes, “It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.” So this year as we celebrate International Mother Language Day, we reflect on the positive impact multilingual education has for millions of indigenous language speakers around the world. The workshop led by Dr. Davis is a wonderful example of this. We applaud the commitment and hard work of Dr. Davis and the educators from these six minority language groups.

As the participants from this workshop return home, they are anxious to use the books in their schools and to continue promoting mother tongue education. Because of the month spent learning together, they feel they know how to teach better and look forward to passing on to others what they have learned.

SIL LEAD partners with AIDI to provide scholarships to indigenous teachers in the Peruvian Amazon. Through their sponsorship of and participation in the workshop, their knowledge of and commitment to multilingual education was also strengthened.

When Children Need Books: Part 2

SIL LEAD is dedicated to helping communities use their languages to improve their quality of life. One way that we do that is by helping children learn to read in those languages. We are not alone in this work, and this post, the second of three, will focus on the second project that helps children read in a variety of languages by providing them with greater access to books.

The African Storybook Project

There is a severe lack of children’s literature in African languages, and that can hinder children from gaining enough reading practice to be fluent readers. The African Storybook Project (ASP) seeks to remedy that by creating a collection of simple, interesting stories to help African children develop a love for reading. It began in 2013 with funding from the UK-based organization Comic Relief, and is hosted by the South African Institute for Distance Education (Saide). The project is partnering with organizations in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, and Haiti to create stories in languages and contexts that will be familiar to African children.

The project’s main goal is to create early reading books in local African languages. The website features folktales, stories set in contemporary Africa, songs, poems, riddles, and rhymes, with an emphasis on stories. The target audience is children ages 2–10, so all stories on the website are illustrated because of the crucial role pictures play in supporting early reading. The project focuses on very early reading books that feature a single word per page up to two to three paragraphs per page, as this is where the need is greatest

The library function enables users to sort the site’s books by language, reading level, or literary category. The variety of languages is impressive, with African languages composing about 75% of the collection. The five most common languages include English (498), Afrikaans (250), isiZulu (105), Kiswahili (121), and Luganda (103). English is the official language of several African countries, and stories in languages such as English and French provide a useful foundation for later translations into other African languages.

Beyond simply serving as a library, the site provides tools for creating and deriving new stories.  Easy templates are available for authors to use in writing and illustrating children’s stories. I’ve tried this and was able to create a simple, illustrated story in less than an hour. Once the books are written, authors can upload the books to the website to be published under a Creative Commons license.  Stories that are already available on the website can be downloaded, translated into other African languages, and uploaded to the website for further use. The templates also allow for stories to be published at different grade levels by varying the number of words per page. Access to the website is free, but users are responsible for their own distribution process, whether digital or on paper.

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The site has seen impressive growth in the number of books available. In April of 2015, there were 1,399 books available in 41 languages. Now, just four months later, there are 2,412 books available in 58 languages, a growth of 72% and 41% respectively. Given the versioning tools on the website, many of these may be adaptations rather than new works, but the capacity for growth is encouraging. If you’re a writer or illustrator with an African story to tell, or can translate stories into an African language, you can be part of this movement to provide books for African children. The project has even grown beyond the continent to the Global African Storybook Project, where stories from the website are translated into languages from other regions.

You can read about a similar project in the first part of When Children Need Books. And come back soon for the final post, which will compare them side-by-side.

Thank you to our contributing author Megan Sutton Mercado.