The Sparkle Interview – The Book Banque is committed to empowering disadvantaged children

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While doing a degree at the London School of Economics, Tobi Jaiyesimi got inspired to set up The Book Banque in order to solve the problem of access the books to disadvantaged children and bridge the knowledge gap that currently exists. In her interview with us, she tells us all about the amazing work The Book Banque is doing. Enjoy!

Can you tell us what The Book Banque is all about?

The Book Banque is an organisation committed to empowering children in disadvantaged communities in Nigeria through education, and enriching Nigerian youths through an appreciation and understanding of cultural heritage.

There are two arms to The Book Banque: the first deals with collecting, sorting, and redistributing academic and non-academic books to select schools, in order to foster learning. The second arm of The Book Banque is a virtual book club. By adopting a multidisciplinary approach to learning, we share and review literature that addresses social, economic, political, and cultural issues in Nigeria, through our social media platforms.

How did you come up with the idea for it?

The Book Banque was birthed by the realisation that opportunity often makes the difference; I am able to think the way I do, make informed decisions, and pursue certain career goals today because I was privileged to have quality education, as well as books and resources to facilitate my learning and development process

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In the case of 10.5 million Nigerian children, however, they lack access to basic education for a number of reasons including the inability of their parents to afford books and other learning materials needed to foster their learning, and consequently excel. The first arm of The Book Banque was thus created to address this issue, and ensure that nothing hinders the invaluable opportunity for children in Nigeria to access quality education.

The second arm of The Book Banque was influenced by the depth of knowledge I acquired while conducting research and writing my dissertation on the political economy of Oil in Nigeria during my undergraduate degree. Even more so, while studying International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), I was intrigued by how much there was to know, not only about Nigeria, but the development of other nations, and how little we were taught at home.

I was completely embarrassed by the fact that I had to learn about my motherland on foreign soil. The Book Banque was thus inspired by the desire to fill the gap in terms of resources and knowledge, in order for Nigerian youth to broaden their horizons, innovatively seek solutions, be more (culturally) aware, and avoid making the same mistakes of our past leaders.

How do you plan to achieve your goal of ensuring that children in disadvantaged communities have access to books?

Our model relies on the generosity of people who donate their used/unused/unread books to us. We then go through the process of sorting the books according to the demographics of students in the select public schools, after which we distribute the books to the schools.

The schools we work with are identified through thorough research and are often schools in areas that are rarely concentrated on, and thus, have a great need for books and other resources. Similarly, we plan to work with private schools that are willing to donate unused material and books, thereby maximising allocative efficiency.

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How has the response been since you started?

The response so far has been exceedingly positive! It is really encouraging to have people who share the vision of engaging, empowering and enriching Nigerian youths through a common yet uncommon medium – that is, reading. We have also had people particularly interested in the second arm of The Book Banque, which is pretty exciting for us!

What challenges have you faced or do you anticipate that you will face?

The main challenge has been getting people to truly understand the concept, the economic and social value of donating books and actively participating in our projects. We however hope that as we grow and share our projects, people would be more receptive and willing to contribute in their own way.

How do you think the reading culture in Nigeria can be improved?

I remember, as a child, my mum required me to read and summarise books in order to score a holiday or hours of playtime! As extreme as it sounds, I must confess it worked! Back in the day, my grandparents made it compulsory for my siblings to read newspapers to them daily, and were willing to correct them and answer questions. This is indeed a fantastic way to instill the spirit of inquisitiveness in children and create a thirst for further knowledge through reading.

Secondly, by integrating book clubs or book reviews into the extracurricular activities of schools, which is something that we work with schools to achieve. The responsibility then lies with the schools to encourage students to read beyond the scope of the curriculum, not simply for exams. This way, people are better able to develop a genuine interest in reading and learning.

Why should people get involved with The Book Banque?

One of the main reasons for the low enrolment rates in Nigeria is the unaffordability of books and other resources, which forces parents to withdraw their children from school. By getting involved with The Book Banque and donating books, we are collectively able to tackle this pressing issue, especially to support the government and other institutions that provide appropriate training for teachers in order to improve the schooling system. This collective approach enables us to positively impact various aspects of students’ lives in such a way that we further reduce underemployment, underdevelopment, and poverty in Nigeria.

On the other hand, getting involved with our book club would be a great way for people to be reconnected with their history and heritage. This would help develop a sense of unity and (national) identity amongst Nigerians, and would better equip people with the knowledge to make the right decisions as citizens of Nigeria and potential future leaders!

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How can people donate books?

By indicating their interest via email and letting us know their location. For Lagos, we have set days for collections for the Mainland and the Island which vary with the projects but are communicated via our social media platforms.

Alternatively, they could drop off the books at our office located in Oregun, Lagos, Monday to Friday, at any time between 12pm and 4pm. We are pretty flexible and are also currently looking to get the diaspora involved. Simply send us an email and we work out the logistics.

What impact would you like The Book Banque to have made in the next five years?

Through the activities of The Book Banque, I would like to see an increase in the number of children attending school in disadvantaged communities across Nigeria, and more importantly, an improvement in the performance and development of students in these schools. We hope to achieve this by partnering with public and private institutions in order to increase the accessibility of books, particularly through the means of free, well-resourced and maintained libraries in communities.

On a larger scale, I would like for The Book Banque to increase the level of engagement young Nigerians across social groups have with social, economic, and political issues in the country. Hopefully, this results in a more empowered youth population continuously seeking to catalyse inclusive development in Nigeria.

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The Sparkle Interview – All you need to know about the Writivism Festival

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We’re so excited about today’s Sparkle Interview because we are moving across Africa to the lovely Kampala, Uganda, where the 4th annual Writivism Festival is taking place. The festival is a 7-day event for all writers across the continent. Find out all you need to know about the event in our interview with the Writivism team. 

Hello. Can you please give us a brief insight into what Writivism Literary Initiative is all about?

Writivism was started in 2012, holding the first festival in 2013 to promote contemporary African Literature, support emerging writers and we have been doing this through workshops, mentoring, prizes, publishing, school visits and the festival. This year, we have even added residencies for writers to our set of activities. We are all about contributing to the building of a literary and arts infrastructure that will make it possible for writers and readers to all play their roles much more easily and conveniently.

So what is the Writivism Festival all about?

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The 4th Writivism Festival (scheduled for August 22 – 28, 2016) will exhibit to a Ugandan and African audience new books, in fiction, poetry, drama, photography and non fiction. 12 new titles will be launched and over 25 books will be featured in various ways. There will be readings, performances, panel discussions, a photography exhibition, a stage play, a film screening, school visits, various workshops, among other events around the theme: Restoring Connections. The festival is aimed at bringing to the fore pan African connections across language lines, generations, and art forms. What does Pan Africanism feel in the contemporary time? That will be the mood of the festival.

Who is this event for?

The event is for everybody, really. Literature and art are for everyone to consume (a terrible word to use), to enjoy, to benefit from. We take care, in our programming to ensure that the event speaks with and to various generations, people of various backgrounds, Africans, people interested in African arts, the writers, publishers and other professionals in the industry as well as those who really just want to enjoy stories, whether in print format, or digital, or even in audio forms. We aim at including everyone in the conversations. And we are very careful about the generational and age differences, so we have events specifically for teenagers for example, and for children. And of course those for adults.

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With all you’ve said, why should people attend the event? 

Wonderful question. People should attend because
a) they will have a great time:
b) it is important for them to be part of these conversations:
c) it is a moment for a wide pan African inter-cultural exchange, many new connections to make, new things to learn, and old things to reminisce about:
d) the festival activities are actually free and open for all: among many other reasons like having a chance to attend launches of new books, have copies autographed, listen to authors speak, watch a play, a film, look at beautiful photographs, all compressed into one week. What is there not to like?

What are the other attractions or highlights of the Writivism Festival?

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We will have specific sessions where emerging authors can pitch book / story ideas to a team of literary agents; there will be a panel on the Miles Morland Foundation Scholarships with past laureates there to talk about their experiences. We are working on wonderful and fun-filled awards events for two of our prizes, the Okot P Bitek and Short Story prizes (lots of wine will be on the house and entertainment as we wait to find out who wins) in collaboration with various publishers like Cassava Republic Press, The Mantle and Bahati. We will also have special book readings, and many autographing sessions and key note addresses by top African authors

To make the week-long set of literary and arts events a worthwhile experience for everyone, the Writivism Team have prepared a residential package for attendees. The package includes decent accommodation (within walking distance of the festival venue), airport / bus stop pick-up and drop-off. Attendees will live in the same residences as the festival speakers and will have access to all festival events.

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Early bird bookings are available at USD $500 from May 23 until June 24, 2016. To reserve a spot, send an email to info@writivism.com or visit their website for more details. 

The Sparkle Interview – Lyght Consult is igniting a passion to read among children and young adults

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We’re pretty excited about today’s Sparkle interview with Lyght Consult Limited, an organisation committed to encouraging the development of good reading habits in the society through events and strategic partnerships. Read more about the great work Lyght Consult is doing in our interview with them.

Can you briefly tell us what Lyght Consult is about?

Lyght Consult Limited is the Human Resources Management arm of Lyght Investments Group. At the core of what we do is the provision of Human Resource solutions in its entirety from trainings to management consulting, hiring etc. The innovation and dynamism of our skilled and passionate workforce is what keeps the wheel of forward advancement spinning.

You organize book swap events; can you tell us what inspired this?

Well, the March 2016 Book Swap Event is the first book swap event we have organized however it is not the first reading-related event we have done. A planned, deliberate attempt to improve the reading culture in Nigeria is what inspired the Book Swap event and all the other events we have organized. Lyght Consult Limited identified the challenge with improving the reading culture especially in rural areas where school libraries are ill-equipped or non-existent. So the Book Swap event was organized to get well-meaning Nigerians to donate books to establish a library this time for Durumi LEA primary school, behind Mpape Hills and subsequently other schools as God gives us grace.

How many of these events have you organized and what has the reception been like?

As we earlier mentioned, this is the first book swap we have organized but not the first reading-related event. The Book Fair held in July of 2015 was the first and the reception, acceptance and support we received both from institutions and individuals has been very encouraging. The 2015 Book Fair which was tagged “Readers are Learners: Are you a Learner” was commended and supported by the Czech Embassy, the Federal Ministry of Education, National Library of Nigeria, FCT National Association of Private Proprietors of Schools, Secondary Education Board, Indomie, Sterling bank, Airtel, 99.9 Kiss FM Abuja, Capital City Magazine; to mention only a few.

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How were you able to get people to donate books for the event?

Publicity! On social media; WOM (Word of Mouth) within our networks. Publicity, repeatedly just aptly describes how we got the general public’s support.

What factors would you say are responsible for the decline of the reading culture in the country?

As discussed in a session of the book swap event, there are a couple of reasons for this decline and they range from poor reading materials to individual laziness. We also talked about the chase or rat race as it is more commonly put; everyone is too busy trying to make ends meet to make out time to read to model the behaviour and encourage children/wards to do same.

How do you think the reading culture in Nigeria can be improved?

There is an urgent need to raise awareness about the decline and also to “Catch them Young”. If we start now to create awareness and be deliberate about inculcating a reading habit in little children, they would grow with the habit and live with it. Statistics have shown that Nigerian adults that like to read started the habit of reading at an early age. A little less television and gadgets and a little more books! This job however cannot be foisted on teachers, schools or the education sector, parents have to be actively involved; they’re the most primary of primary caregivers and the first examples children learn from.

In what ways will Lyght Consult help to improve the reading culture?

As we have been doing, we would keep on raising awareness and encouraging the development of a good reading habit at an early stage. We would also create platforms for idea-sharing for stakeholders in the educational sector. In line with these, we are organizing the International Book Summit in October, a platform for all stakeholders to interface and discuss the way forward for the educational sector as a whole. By stakeholders we mean education administrators which include but are not limited to the minister of education as well as directors in all the education ministries and sub-ministries like SUBEB, LEA, SEB etc, the lawmakers, who are charged with the duty of coming up with innovative legislation to upgrade the sector, the school proprietors and teachers who perform the education function itself, parents, and of course the children too.

What has been Lyght Consult’s major achievement since inception?

Lyght Consult Limited has held trainings within and outside the shores of Nigeria for both the private and the public sector. As a Human Resource Management firm we have, on many occasions, provided our clients with innovative solutions tailor-made to meet their needs. Every project we have undertaken or executed since inception has for us a major achievement and improving the reading culture of Nigeria is one of such achievements.

Can you tell us about the International Book Summit 2016? What is the aim of the event?

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The Lyght Consult Limited International Book Summit happening 25th – 27th of October 2016 is themed Today’s Readers: Tomorrow’s Leaders and the main objectives are:

  • To ignite a passion to read among children and young adults and showcase the ingenuity of the Nigerian child.
  • Create a platform to do a thorough assessment of the educational sector inclusive of policies, challenges, best practice, curriculum, teacher’s roles as well as technology and its effect on teaching and learning.
  • To provide a platform for parents and guardians to interface with policy makers and administrators in the educational sector, receive and give feedback on issues as it affects their children; as well as access educational materials for their children and themselves.
  • To create awareness on the importance of education for the girl child and highlight the educational challenges faced by children in the North East and proffer solutions.

The summit which is a three-day event will include Workshops, Seminars, Spelling Bee competition for primary and secondary schools, Book Fair, Schools Exhibition and an e-Book fair.

If people are interested in being a part of what you do, how can they get involved?

You can email us at info@lyghtinvestmentsgroup.com or call us on 08120922211 or 08120924141.

What should we expect from Lyght Consult in the next 5 years?

Excellence, dynamism, innovation; that puts us on the top rung of the Human Resource Management ladder.

The Sparkle Interview – Samantha Boateng is breeding the next generation of leaders through reading

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At The Sparkle Writers Hub, we are always looking for outstanding individuals and organizations working hard to change their society through writing and reading. Samantha Boateng is one of such individuals. This 16 year old, touched by the need of students in Ghana, started Read 2 Lead to help solve the problem of lack of libraries. Be inspired as you read her interview with us.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us what Read 2 Lead is all about?

My name is Samantha Boateng, I am 16 years old, and I attend Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, VA. Over the summer of 2014, my mother went to Ghana with her organization, Speakwell Foundation, to teach public speaking. As one of the assignments, she told the students to go to a library and write a research paper. They informed her about the lack of libraries in Ghana generally and upon her return to the U.S., she explained the situation to me. I love reading and I visit my local and school libraries very often, so I decided to create Read 2 Lead. Read 2 Lead has the mission of breeding the next generation of leaders through reading. Our goal is to build a library in Accra, Ghana this summer.

That’s really great. How have you been able to gather support for the project?

I started a book drive at my school through the student council and I also began collecting books from my church’s youth group called The Union. We raised over 2,000 books and I began to share the story with others. After sharing Read 2 Lead’s story on Facebook, many people began to reach out and show interest in helping. My mother and I also told many people directly who began to share it with others. Immediately, the students and staff of the New School of Northern VA became involved and 4 students and 4 teachers will be going to Ghana with us. Many people in the Ghanaian and African community in general felt connected with it because they had experienced the problem themselves. Eventually, Read 2 Lead was shared throughout my school community and I was able to gain the support of my entire school and I am so thankful for all the help I have received. With the help of people within the community, my church, Living Faith Church, and many other schools and organizations, I was able to collect over 14,000 books and raise over $6,000. The books were sorted over 2 days at my school with the help of over 60 volunteers in total.

I have also been able to broadcast my information with the help of Mrs. Sarah Sfreddo who filmed all of my videos and took pictures at all of my events and Reinhard Koomson who edited my videos.

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How do you intend to monitor the building process and ensure things are done properly. Will you be going to Ghana or you have a team there ready to work on it?

There will be onsite security at all hours to supervise the library and ensure complete protection. We will hire employees to oversee the library and learning center and all activities that take place and there will also be volunteers, all of whom will be screened and interviewed before working in the library. We will also have 24/7 online access to the library through the use of security cameras.

We will be going to Ghana near the end of June to build the library ourselves along with 8 volunteers from the New School of Northern VA. Everything will be done directly by us, and we will choose employees and volunteers directly as well.

That’s fantastic. You mentioned earlier that you love reading. What role do you believe reading has to play in the development of the society as a whole?

Yes, reading is one of my favorite past times. Reading is a vital key to the development of society because it strengthens minds and provides key skills that are fundamentals to being successful in every way. It also encourages creativity by giving people new outlets and allowing them to explore their imaginations. Reading ensures people have practical skills for life as well as other skills that will help people go above and beyond due to their new, creative, and thoughtful ways of thinking.

What are your future plans for Read 2 Lead?

The goal of Read 2 Lead is to build libraries and learning centers worldwide and we are planning on building one library every year. After this first library is built, we are on track to build a second one in Kumasi, Ghana. We are hoping to expand Read 2 Lead eventually outside of just Ghana and into many other countries.

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If people want to donate towards the project or get involved, how can they do so?

We are collecting donations on Crowdrise: http://www.crowdrise.com/read2lead , Go Fund Me: https://www.gofundme.com/bqtc5r6k , and by mail to: P.O. Box 6385, Woodbridge, VA 22193. All checks can be made out to Speakwell Foundation.

The Sparkle Interview: “No country can be higher or greater than the quality of its education.” – Winnie Aduayi Project, Director Ignite Africa

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What does the future hold for a nation with a large youth population that does not want to read?

The Sparkle Team had the honour of visiting the Ignite Africa Library in Lagos and the experience was phenomenal. During our visit we had an interview with the Project Director of the Foundation, Mrs. Winnie Aduayi.

Her passion for her country and education made her return to Nigeria to contribute her own quota to developing the nation. In this thought provoking interview, Mrs. Aduayi highlights what Ignite Africa is about and how they are influencing the educational sector, one child at a time. Enjoy.

Can you tell us what Ignite Africa is all about?

At Ignite Africa, we’re all about improving the reading culture and building lifetime readers who become intellectually rich enough to envision self and societal development. We have a program, ‘Book-to-Child, which was designed for elementary school kids to teach them how to read. However it was discovered, especially in the villages, that this program should also be taken to high schools. This is because there are quite a number of high school students who do not know to read or comprehend what they read. Wondering how these types of students got to high school in the first place, the Ignite Africa team realised that there was a flaw in the structure of the free education being given to public schools. The students are moved from one class to the next whether they pass or not so that those coming behind can also get in, for the sake of not leaving any child behind. If a student repeats a class, it will prevent those who are coming behind them from getting into that class. That is a very big challenge. This is because these students will later find their way into universities without having a basic understanding of how to read. That is one of the reasons we turn out graduates who are unemployable.

So it’s a problem that goes from generation to generation. The best thing to do is to catch them young. If the older generation cannot be changed, there is still hope for the younger ones. The future of a country is dependent on education. No country can be higher or greater than the quality of its education. Nigeria is the only country that is not committing a large percentage of its income to education. America does 60% while China commits 65%.

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Apart from this library in Lagos what other facility does Ignite Africa own?

The Lagos facility is the only one we have for now. We work with public schools in the villages. We go to each of these schools physically with our materials. We also run summer programs in the schools during the holiday period.

Since you started the book clubs, what has the reaction been like and what results have been achieved so far?

It has been phenomenal. We have seen students who have gone from being struggling readers to becoming fantastic readers. They actually end up enjoying reading books. This improvement extends to their academics. There are these group of girls that we worked with that I am very proud of. I met them at a stage where they were not doing much for themselves. Since we started working with them, they got better and better and now they have graduated from secondary school. We have five books clubs in that particular school and we watched how the lives of these girls got transformed. We always reminded them that they could be anything they wanted to be. Most of our work is about changing the mindset. You can teach as long as you want but if their mindset is still the same, you will not make much progress. So we encouraged them as we taught them how to read.

Are there systems in place to monitor the progress of the students after the end of the program?

This will be the first time that a set of students that we have worked with graduate from school. They are so passionate about what we do with them that they are very interested in continuing what we have started. Some of them come into the library to read frequently. Some of them are taking exams for scholarships and we know when they’re done with that, they will also come to the library from time to time. We want to keep the momentum going.

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In a lot of Nigerian schools, the teachers are not well equipped to teach. How does Ignite Africa intend to do ease this problem?

There is something that we are trying to sell to schools and companies at the moment. Nigeria has a one size fits all way of doing things which is wrong. When training is done, everyone is placed in one batch. How many people in such a training will go back to the office and be able to apply what was taught during that training? However, if they are trained in specific areas that training will be more effective. For example if you have a teacher whose specialty is English, train that teacher in that area. This is how to properly train teachers instead of sending all of them to a general training. We are developing a program that will help train the teachers and we will work with the schools for this.

What is being done to ensure the sustainability of the Ignite Africa Book Club and Library?

We are all about sustainable development. This is one organization that I can assure you won’t start and stop. The library and everything we do at the moment is self-funded. It is run on the basis of passion. We are passionate and motivated by the results we have seen so far. If this fails, a lot of kids fail. In another 5 or 10 years, I know we will still be standing.

To improve the reading culture, the role of the parent is important. How does the book club help kids who have little or no parental support?

We have quite a number of them actually. That is why we try to work with their mindset as we teach them how to read. We want them to know that they have a great future no matter what anybody says to them. We encourage them to do their chores at home and help their parents as much as they can but there must always be that 20 or 30 minutes they set out for reading. The UN advocates reading for at least 20 minutes a day. We also try to educate the parents. What Nigerian parents do not understand is that they have a duty to teach their children how to read. We also encourage parents, especially the mothers, to join our professional library.

Where do you see Ignite Africa Library in the next 5 years?

Our vision is to be the go to brand for everything education. We also want to become a respected advisory board to the government on matters concerning education.

How can people get involved with the book clubs?

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Anyone who wants to become a volunteer or reading partner can go to our website and fill out a form online. The forms are very detailed; it states what is expected from volunteers and what the position is about. After they fill and submit the forms, we will reach out to them. We train our reading partners so usually no prior experience is required. However, we expect that they should at least be graduates. They should also love reading because the reading partners read whatever the kids are reading.