When Lucy Walker arrived at the Bliss Women and Children Project in Nakuru, Kenya, she discovered the program she had planned to work with, a program of women artisans, was basically non-existent. However, the associated nursery school for disadvantaged children living in Nakuru’s slums seemed to be flourishing, so Walker turned her attention to them.
Observing the amount of rote learning at the school, Walker decided to initiate a project that would flex the children’s creativity. One of her favorite pastimes as a child had been making up and illustrating stories, so she introduced the idea of having the school children create their own picture books.
Walker said the project drew upon the traditions of oral storytelling in Kenyan culture. “And it exposed the kids to English in a way that still honored the Swahili that they spoke,” Walker explained. “They would narrate their stories in Swahili, and the teachers would write the Swahili words at the top of each page with the English translation written in smaller letters at the bottom of the page.”
The children then illustrated the books. The stories were mostly biographical, about traveling beyond their homes or about family members. “Some were very sad,” Walker said.
The school had no picture books, so Walker and the teachers helped the children paint a bookshelf to hold the new children’s books. “It was so special that they were able to fill the school with their own stories,” Walker said.
Walker is now building a website to display each of the books the children made, and is also planning to make community presentations to groups in Brunswick. She also remains in contact with the teachers at Bliss, who are continuing Walker’s project. “By the time I left, the teachers really didn’t need me to be there anymore,” Walker said. “They felt very purposeful about the project and had the experience to continue it.”