The owerri children’s book festival aims at bringing children together on art, writing, reading and art. Vanguard Spark interviewed Chidinma Ogarama recently in Owerri about the upcoming children’s book festival.
There has been some literary news going up in some Nigerian blogs about the Children’s book festival in Owerri. How did this come about?
The Owerri children’s book festival has the Read Aloud Foundation and The Bless Children’s foundation as its engineers. These are two foundations that do similar things, that is, working for children in so many different capacities, especially giving more attention to the educational needs of children. The Read Aloud Foundation has visited rural and urban school children, orphanage homes and children centers, donating books, teaching reading, writing and art. Then, there is the Bless Foundation in Italy, providing learning materials to African children only. These two decided to set up an event for school children that will have them realize the needs of education and encourage their success.
The children’s book festival is set up primarily to reward school children, encourage them, and most importantly, bring them together. We are making sure that all the schools we have visited in the past will be present at the event.
Why Owerri? Why not Lagos or Abuja or Portharcourt.
(smiles) Yes, Owerri, because things like this are not seen or heard about in this part of the country and we know the children in this area sometimes lack more than their counterparts in Lagos and Abuja. I don’t mean they lack school uniform and shoes and bags. You should understand what I mean. We actually selected Owerri because we have almost all the Read Aloud Foundation members residing in Owerri and that is where our charity work dances to its best.
What are your plans; is it going to be an annual or biannual programme?
That is where we have a problem. We are not sure yet. We are still thinking about it. We will just get a foundation first before a house. We are not sure if we shall repeat it next year, but next time? Sure. The coming event will determine.
Sorry, I forgot to ask. Who sponsors all these visits, book donations, and the coming event? Any corporate body backing you ?
Nice; this brings us to the main thing. For now, we have ourselves sponsoring us and some few kind hearted people who donate books to the children. Getting a sponsorship from a corporate body or so in this part of Nigeria is ‘wahala’. You draft a letter to a body you should be sure supports an event like this and you have that letter rejected and not even looked at, maybe except you appreciate them, but where in this world does that happen; appreciating to be sponsored or at least, supported. Lantern Books showed a lot of interest in what we are doing and promised to support next time; Alliance Francaise also gave us nothing more than encouragement. Our letter was respected to the highest. Only that alone is support. Channels Book Club of Channels Television was excited about what we are doing for children. They have long wanted to do an interview with us. We are working towards getting the Owerri Children’s event up on Channels. Owerri National Museum is giving us some art materials for the children too. The Bless Children’s Foundation has served as a pillar. We also thank ‘Ala Owerri’- an online newspaper that captures all spheres of life in the town of Owerri, Vanguard Spark, for talking about us, and ‘Smiley Fun House’, for listening to our plans.
I know it’s not an easy thing to organize an event of this kind. So, who are the organizers?
Anyway, the event could be tagged a mini one as we are expecting between 50-60 participants at the event. We have a target and wouldn’t want to exceed it else we encounter a lot of problems we may not be able to solve. Yes, although it is mini, we won’t want our participants or the public to expect excellence in the event as this is our first trial. You talked about the organizers. The children’s book festival is organized by the Read Aloud Foundation. We call ourselves the team, because that is what we are. A team of all wonderful people who will spend to see smiles on the faces of children. An event with no strong team sees itself tumbling down. We are about ten, all university students with some literary styles in their heads.
What is to be expected at the Owerri Children’s Book Festival of this season?
Okay. We would say the event will be a daylong box of children-related activities. We have already tagged our theme ‘What to read and what not to read’ to be handled by one of our guests. There are book sales, book discussions, teachings, creative writing and fine art class and some more. We are giving 100 free books to children and we are rewarding gifts to children who do well in the fine art and creative writing classes and children who have beautiful essays. Entry for children into the event hall is free but for adults? They are paying 1 dollar which gives them access to buy books at our bookstore, access to water, small chops and meet-the-guests. We assure children of security and care. Lunch will be provided by the Read Aloud Foundation.
Who will be your guests at the event?
We shall have teachers, writers, and artists present at the event. Our guests are persons who are into the literary industry and who have worked for children in one way or the other and conversant with issues concerning children, because we want certain things to match. Uche Peter Umez has been twice shortlisted for the NLNG literature prize which happens to be one of the greatest literary prizes in the world, Ayodele Olofintuade is a writer and teacher who has worked for children since thirteen years and also has once been shortlisted for the NLNG prize, Azafi Omoloabi-Ogosi has edited for Farafina Kachifo and now editor for Parresia- a new independent publishing firm in Lagos, Nnenna Ihebom, Chibuihe-light Obi, Chidiebere Enyia and Nnaemeka Akubuo, all will be present at the event. All these people are another set we pay great respect to and appreciate, for accepting us.