The Linguist

The Linguist 52,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES Local heroes By publishing in local languages, Room to Read is setting children up for success, says Jessica Moore he American novelist Danielle Steel is best known for romantic fiction. She has written about a great many steamy relationships – and has probably inspired at least as many. She is, however, an unlikely catalyst for a global child literacy initiative and a minority-language publishing venture. But for former Microsoft high-flyer John Wood, her role was pivotal to launching both. This story starts in 1998. Having taken a career break to go backpacking in Nepal, Wood found himself visiting a village school at the foot of the Himalayas. There, he saw a dilapidated and under-resourced classroom, and a well-thumbed Steel romp. It was one of a few books the school owned, alongside The Rough Guide to Mongolia and a few other backpacker cast-offs. These books were the school's pride and joy. And, as such, they were kept under lock and key – well out of the reach of the children. Wood couldn't get Steel – or, more accurately, the school's lack of appropriate, accessible books – out of his head. So he emailed friends and family, asking them for donations. Within two months, he had collected more than 3,000 books. The following year, he returned to Nepal with six book-bearing donkeys. Then, in late 1999, he left Microsoft to start Books for Nepal, a charity that worked with rural communities to build schools and libraries, particularly supporting girls' education. By 2003, Books for Nepal – by then renamed Room to Read – had expanded into Vietnam, Cambodia and India. Its role had changed too. 'Children weren't reading the English-language books that were being donated,' explains Wilfredo Pascual, who works at the charity's San Francisco HQ. 'Those books were not culturally relevant, they were not linguistically relevant.' And there was T 18 The Linguist another problem. 'We couldn't find anything in the local languages.' So Room to Read launched a publishing programme, working with local writers, illustrators and publishers. 'I remember [before we started] there was a book that was about celebrating a birthday and cutting a cake,' says Sunisha Ahuja, former Country Director for Room to Read India. 'Children here might celebrate a birthday by going to the temple – but a cake doesn't fit into that context at all.' Instead, Ahuja believes it is important to choose subjects that resonate locally. 'Children have to be taken along the continuum – so you give them exposure to aeroplanes and computers, but you start with what they have around them.' Today, Room to Read operates in ten countries, having added Bangladesh, Laos, Tanzania, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Zambia to its number. The charity has published more than 850 titles across 27 languages, printing more than eight million copies. Operations are run entirely by local staff who, like Ahuja, are familiar with their community's challenges, customs and languages. Book development is overseen by a committee, composed of Room to Read staff, representatives from the local publishing industry, established local writers and linguists, university professors, illustrators and artists. AUGUST/SEPTEMBER © SUSIE CUSHNER Books are sometimes commissioned from local authors, but most are developed through Room to Read's writers' and illustrators' workshops. 'Most of the people who attend are from the local university, NGO workers, curriculum developers, some are teachers and some are just writers who want the opportunity to start publishing children's books,' explains Pascual, Global Programme Officer of the book publishing programme. Vasanthy Thayavaran is one such author, based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. 'It's one of the happiest moments of my life, to see my books being read,' she says. But beyond personal fulfilment, Thayavaran sees a broader value in bringing localised, contexualised children's books to her country. 'Stories have a major role in human history. In Eastern culture, grandmas sat grandchildren on their lap and The books children want to read are storydriven… It's about making the child the central character

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