Sahara Abdi is an author and the founding director of Northern Voice Trust, an organization dedicated to creating a reading culture among pastoralist children in Northern Kenya. Through Northern Voice Trust, Sahara has delivered thousands of books to public primary schools in Mandera and Marsabit, Kenya, sharing the wonders of worlds that books deliver to a new generation. She has since published three children’s books: Araweelo, A Boy Named Salah and My Brother With The Colorful Brain. Her other works include short stories, Uncurse Us, Remembering, and We Are Stories.
Good morning, Sahara Abdi
A very good morning to you!
What motivates you to write for children?
There is a background story as to how I found myself writing for children. I grew up in a home surrounded by books, at a time when children like me didn’t have the privilege; that is, having a book. I developed reading skills at a young age and found a world of wonder in books and stories.
However, I recall reading books that felt so out of touch with my own world. I was a child surrounded by camels and cows and my people’s way of life. But the books I could read, and those which were available, were all from a white society. They talked of snow, princesses, and Christmas trees that I never till date can relate with.
So when I started my organization for literacy, some decades later, I came to find that the challenge was still very much present; that these children, who look like me, and perhaps loved reading like me, still couldn’t hold or find one storybook that related to them; to their world. That is when I took it upon myself to write those books myself—the ones I would have loved to read as a child. That is why my first two books are customized for the pastoralist children, to give them representation, and to make them feel that they too can belong to a book. That is my how and why for writing for children. It is more of a responsibility than anything.
What do you want to demonstrate through My Brother With The Colourful Brain ?
My Brother With The Colourful Brain is a book on neurodiversity, and it was inspired by my own son, the experiences I have had with him, and the questions my daughter was asking me: “What is wrong with my brother?”, “Why are we always visiting the hospital with him?”
In an attempt to answer her, (that there was nothing wrong with her brother, but he lived with a condition she needed to know and understand in order to get along with him easily) I birthed the book.
Neurodiversity is a big word for children – even for adults, to be honest. So I used the idea of a colourful brain to make the understanding light, so children can explore and interact with the concept.
I also, through experience, learned that as a society, we only know black and white. We know nothing in between; only two sides, two extreme ends. That is why it is so easy for us to label what we don’t understand instead of finding out. I feel that our neurodiverse children come with very colorful brains we do not understand as a society, and because we only know white and black, we find it hard to understand their world.
I would hope to inspire the world to walk into the world of these children and immerse ourselves in it; to meet them where they are, instead of expecting them to fit into our world. That is what I want to demonstrate to the world.
What are your plans for children’s literature and education?
I will obviously continue writing for children – a duty first, because I have two young children of my own – and not just write, but write the right stories for children of the African continent to relate with, and see themselves in.
Photo credit: Sahara Abdi
My biggest goal now is to write in local languages and to ensure our heritage is preserved through these books. And as an organization, my commitment is to put a book in every child’s hands. I dream that I will be able to read a book to a child in Sudan, in Cameroon, in Tanzania, deep in Ethiopia as well; to play with them, and to show them they too can dream, and hope, and be.
What message would you like to pass on to your young readers?
Read, and read more, and even if you read already, read more. There is a world out there that you only find in reading, and that opens up your world. Reading gives you a freedom no other thing can give you. It unlocks your imaginative power, and gives you a foundation to build on.
We can only be free as a continent when we think, and we can only think by reading first, and then writing. Let us reclaim our power that was taken away, by rewriting the narrative.
Any last words?
The only power that no one can take away from you is your story, ensure you own it. You tell it only how you can tell it. Do not believe one that is not invented by you. Do not die with your story.