This week, I am pre-publishing the “master” copy of a true labor of love — a picture book that tells the stories and shows the pictures of the visions and accomplishments of a group of extraordinary girls and their families in rural Uganda.
Who Should Read This Book? My goal is that this book (or subsequent leaner versions thereof) will find its way into the hands of kids, teachers, and parents all over the world. As they learn about the journeys of the Ugandan girls, I’m hoping they’ll contribute their own stories and pictures about their journeys and their successes in improving their own lives and the lives of their families and their communities. We plan to launch a Web site that will encourage kids to post their own pictures and stories.
About This Book. This book was written and illustrated by the girls themselves. My role was midwife, curator, and editor. These remarkable young women tell the stories about how they’ve become role models and change agents and produced dramatic results in the lives of their families and their communities. They’ve done all of this in a culture in which girls are under-appreciated, under-educated, and marginalized. And, in doing so, they’ve earned the respect and admiration of village leaders, their families, and their peers.
What I like about the book is that, even though it focuses on the girls’ own stories, the structure of the URDT Girls’ School’s unique and innovative curriculum comes through. You watch as the girls learn, teach, and empower their families and their communities to improve sanitation, nutrition, income, and create peace and prosperity in their homes and villages. They do this by creating and actualizing shared visions through leadership, learning by doing, teaching their parents, and by mobilizing their families in home improvement and income-generation projects. They hone their communication skills by debating, producing radio programs, writing, producing, and delivering plays at community crossroads, and by teaching, sensitizing, and mobilizing people in their communities. I believe that the structure and principles of the ecosystem that URDT has created to empower and support these girls and their families can and should be replicated in other parts of the world — with boys as well as girls; in urban, as well as rural settings; in different cultures.
This preliminary version is long for a kids’ picture book. It’s over 100 pages of stories and pictures and heart-rending snapshots of the lives of these incredible young women. It includes a set of questions for kids and other readers so they can apply the learnings from these stories to their own lives.
How This Book Is Being Developed
In February, 2010, I spent a week on the campus of the URDT Girls’ School in western Uganda. Since I have visited the campus several times before, I was familiar with the parent organization (Uganda Rural Development and Training Programme). I know the founders and many of the staff members, and I’m familiar with many of the organizations and programs on the 80-acre campus (Vocational Institute, University, Radio Station, Demonstration Farm, Internet Café, Library, Social and Land Rights counseling, etc.) But this was the first visit on which I’d really focused on learning about the Girls’ School. (I had led a teachers’ workshop in the Fall of 2009 during which I began to understand more about what’s really unique about the Girls’ School and its sister community schools.
Before my visit, I had planted the idea of getting the 240 girls at the school to write and illustrate a children’s book — a book written by them for other children. The principal, co-founder, and teachers at the school were very supportive, particularly since this Spring marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the URDT Girls’ School. But nobody had had the time to mobilize the girls to start writing their stories and drawing pictures.
I gave myself a week to either gather enough materials for this book, or to table the project. Alida Bakema Boon, the co-founder of the Girls’ School, was generous with her time and her coaching. We began together by meeting with the teachers to explain the project to them. Then I met with all of the girls in their early morning group assembly, told them about the book project, and asked for their help. The teachers turned over some of their class time to me, so I was able to meet for about 90 minutes with each (but not all) of the girls’ classes, from Primary 4 (equivalent of our 4th grade) to Senior 6 (equivalent to our first year of college). The classes varied in size from 16 girls to close to 30 girls.
I asked the students in each class to write stories and to draw pictures about their “Back Home” projects — the projects that they and their families carry out at home while the girls are at their boarding school. At first, the essays weren’t very imaginative. They were just writing down basic facts. An American colleague, Susan Warshauer, who had been living and working at URDT for several months, reminded me that theirs is an oral culture. So, I began asking them to just stand up and tell their stories to their classmates. I asked clarifying questions as they did. Then, after several girls in each class had told their stories, I asked them to write them down. And I asked the other girls to write their own stories as if they were telling their friends. This seemed to work better.
For the illustrations, I handed out colored felt tip pens and pads of paper and asked the girls to either illustrate the stories they had told, or to draw a picture of their vision, their current reality/vision/and action steps they were taking, and/or to illustrate something that they had learned to do — like how to raise chickens or perform in a play, or present a radio program.
The drawings and essays you’ll find in this book were all first drafts. I didn’t want to impose upon the girls’ time during a busy week in which they were also preparing for their exams to revise, rewrite, or perfect their drawings. So I used these quickly produced essays and drawings for this book. I find the drawings beautiful and compelling and the girls’ own words moving. I hope you will too.
Used Tikatok to Produce This First Version. About two years ago, I learned and wrote about Tikatok, a Web site that is designed for kids to create and publish their own books. Since this is a book written by kids for kids, I decided to use Tikatok.com to create this initial version of the girls’ book. It has been a really rewarding experience. I have been amazed by how easy it has been to upload and position pictures on a page and to create, edit, and format blocks of text, and to produce countless previews and PDFs to print and revise. I kept expecting to run into limitations in the number of drawings or pages I could have, but there are none. I expected the Web-based application to freeze up or crash, or for something to get corrupted or to go awry. But each time I have come back to revise the book in progress, I have been rewarded with an easy-to-use, stable and consistent experience. When I had questions, Neal, Tikatok’s tireless architect and customer support guru, would email me an answer within 24 hours. I found the fact that Tikatok’s formatting options are limited was a good thing. It meant that I didn’t waste too much time fiddling with special effects.
The only feature I wish that Tikatok offered is the ability to create multiple versions, by copying the original and then editing it to produce a different version of the book. I know this book will continue to evolve. This is the first version that I am sending to Uganda for the girls to see. I’m sure they’ll have changes and suggestions and additional material to add. And I’d like to create a version that is better suited to younger kids, one for teachers, one for parents, and one for potential donors. Right now, my only choice is to start over and recreate each new version from scratch, or to save each version as a downloaded PDF and then edit the single original.
You Can Download, Enjoy, and Share the PDF. This first version of the book is quite large — over 100 pages. Future versions will be smaller and hence easier to share with friends and family members. There’s not that much text, but there are a lot of pictures. I recommend that you download it and read it electronically. You should assume that it may take a few minutes to download. If it takes too long to download from our Web site, we offer an alternative download experience from Pando.
Purchasing Bound Copies. I will be using Tikatok to print soft cover and hard cover versions of this book and its next versions. I am happy to offer bound printed copies to anyone who would like to purchase them. The proceeds (beyond the printing and shipping costs) will go directly to the URDT Girls School for their scholarship program. (Tuition and room and board are provided free of charge for the 240 girls who live and study at the Girls School.)It Takes a Child to Raise a Village
How We Became
Change Agents—Improving Our Families’ Incomes and Lives—and Role Models
in Our Communities
By Patricia B. Seybold, CEO and Sr. Consultant, Patricia Seybold Group, May 20, 2010