African tales for the Diaspora
Failing to find Namibian toddler books for her children inspired Helvi Itenge-Wheeler to start publishing her own children`s books.
Itenge-Wheeler (34), a mother of two, wanted Oshiwambo toddler books for bedtime stories to read to her children in 2007 while she was living and studying in the United States.
She could not find such books in Namibia to take with to the US.
“As a mother, it is my responsibility to teach my children their mother-tongue. Being so far from home, where everyone spoke English, it was quite hard, because there was no one to converse with in my home language and I was afraid my children would lose their culture by not being able to speak my mother-tongue. When my family and friends failed to get me books from home, I then decided to write a book called Lilyo Yolutu (Body Parts), using my own kids’ pictures,” Helvi says with a gloating expression.
She then shared this book online with her Namibian friends in USA and Europe, most of whom bought a copy each, hence realising that there was a need for such books for those who do not live in Namibia.
Itenge-Wheeler who holds a Masters Degree in Human Resource Education, decided in 2009 to start Yambeka Children Media, with the aim of promoting African languages and tales with emphasis placed on the Namibian languages.
She creates a line of educational print and multimedia products and toys that specialise in interactive activities for children between the ages of 2 and 9.
She has published children`s books; written and translated to English-Oshiwambo and English–Swahili.
Some of her published books include Linamwenyo, Wanyama, Princess Makena, Mrs Kangaroo visits Namibia.
Having lived in Kenya, she also encountered the same lack of real African children’s books. So she decided to write vibrant colourful books for children and translated them from Swahili to English.
Baby’s First Kiswahili Book is one of the books she wrote and published; it cost N$40 and she has managed to sell over 2 000 books, in 52 libraries across Kenya and are still being sold in the major libraries in Kenya.
To start up her business, Itenge-Wheeler says that: “I used my savings as I could not get any funding, which was a challenge because printing is quite expensive in Namibia,” she says. However, she adds that she has been lucky to have recently received sponsorship from the National Arts Council of Namibia; an amount from which she intends to publish three children’s book early next year based on Namibian traditional tales (Nehoya and the Crocodile, Kishikishi the bad Monster and The Jackal and Hyena).
Looking back on her childhood Itenge-Wheeler lived in exile in an Angolan refugee camp whereby she experienced the lack of proper educational books fit for her age, especially ones written in Oshiwambo, which today helped shape her desire in writing children’s educational books.
“My dad was the one who taught me how to write and read Oshiwambo, as everything was taught in English in the camp. He later told me that I used to assemble children and teach or tell them tales when I was a kid, which led him to think that I could become a teacher when I grew up,” she recalls.
She believes that her background gave her a vision of what she wanted to focus on later on in life and she feels that it is her role to keep alive the real African tales she was told while still a child.
“Our children know about Cinderella and many other European fairly tales but how about our African tales? African children need to learn about our African languages and stories,” she says.
Her ambition is to keep her brand growing and she intends to translate her children’s books in all Namibian indigenous languages. In addition to her book collections, she will be adding educational music CDs, story DVDs and educational toys. She further wants to see her books turned into cartoons for children to enjoy more.
Her books cost between N$50 and N$80 and are found in bookshops, such as Book Den and will be available very soon in Edumeds.
Itenge-Wheeler tried to approach CNA to sell her books but was told that the bookshop does not sell local books.
The books can also be purchased online on Amazon.com while orders can also be placed at firstname.lastname@example.org