You can take the child out of Africa but you can never take Africa out of the child – Maame Prempeh

Maame Prempeh is an educational consultant, an English-Twi translator and the founder of Diverse Education Consult. She is an advocate for  a diversified and more inclusive education. With a background in literature and as an educationalist, Miss Prempeh is passionate about diversified children’s literature. She has a lovely way of making reading more attractive for children though her crafted books. Join us as we explore the world of Maame Prempeh.

Muna Kalati : Please tell us about yourself; your educational background, childhood experiences including your cultural exposure and your environment. How did your experiences influence your values and perspectives about life? 

Maame Prempeh: I am a mother to two boys, one is 18 and 6. I came to England preteen, my mother left me and my two siblings in the 80s and came back to England to join my older siblings. I was a child who couldn’t be separated from her mother, so this experience was extremely difficult. I blanked out from any learning in school; so when I joined her in the UK, I couldn’t read. I wanted to read so badly, the first book that I learnt to read was a Ladybird publication called Our House. The first line was “this is our house, we live in our house ».

I believe this shaped my attitude to reading. When I was 13, my brother gave me Terry Macmillan’s book Mama. This was my first introduction to black literature.  It was an adult fiction, it titillated a love for black literature. My mum was a proud Ashante woman, who insisted that we must speak Twi at home, these values were vital. She died when I was 15. It was expected that I wouldn’t amount to anything, whilst my friends were reading Judy Blume, I sort refuge in Buchi Emerchetta, Donald Goines and Maya Angelou.

 MK: What were some children’s books you read when you were a child and how did they influence your values and beliefs? Were you privy to have read books written by African authors? What were your thoughts about those books as a child? Did they influence your choice of career?

MP: I didn’t read children’s books as a child apart from the prescribed ones in school and I had no love or attachment to them because they were all books with white characters. I am still trying to find out what my career is lol. I just wanted to do what I love, sometimes our career finds us. It might not necessarily be early on in our lives, it could come from our experiences.  For me, my two boys have been my source of inspiration.

MK:You play a major role in the diversification of the global children’s literature industry by promoting black literature for children. How did you land into this path?

MP: The ability to have access to diverse children’s literature. Children always remember me as being the one who introduced them to black literature and I cherish the feeling. I once worked for my local Council who provided support for EAL students in schools, (English As An Additional Language). They had a great collection of diverse literature, when I entered that space I was like Willy Wonka. I was so excited it changed my life, I had a toddler at the time so I embarked on the lifelong journey.

MK: Why are you passionate about cultural heritage and identity?

MP:I’ve always been of the view that “you can take the child out of Africa but you can never take Africa out of the child”. My favourite book title is “In The Castle of My Skin« , it’s important to have a great sense of identity, knowing who you are, what you are about, where you came from is an integral part of who you’ll become. The richness of our African, black culture is unquestionably beautiful and nothing can be superimposed in front of it.

MK: As a black literature enthusiast, do you think people of colour have done much in the children’s literature industry? If not, what do you think can be done? 

MP: First of all, I don’t see enough children of colour in libraries, whilst we encourage our children for academic pursuits, as a people, pleasure reading is not encouraged enough. This, in turn, becomes a problem because there are not enough demands for black children writers. I spent the summer taking my little boy to Author visits in different spaces this year where I saw very few people of colour,  some of these events were free. 

The politics of supply and demand is very much at play here; and I often upset parents when I promote black literature. They want their children to know the white man’s ways so to speak and not our “primitive ways ». I promote diverse literature vigorously in white schools also, it’s for every child.

 MK: Tell us about your multicultural approach to promote awareness and respect for human difference using children as the target group.

MP: Frederick Douglas said “ it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men ». Children are empty vessels, it is our responsibility to help cultivate and nurture their interests and personalities. I believe every child deserves the right to see themselves, REPRESENTATION is an absolute must, when children begin to reciprocate through representation I find it quite rewarding and satisfying.  

MK: You offer Twi-English, English – Twi translation services, could you please tell us a bit about your work as a translator.? 

MP: I live in Shropshire county, which is in the countryside of the UK. When I moved here from London, I realized  the schools struggled to communicate with some of the newly arrived Ghanaian/African parents. My translation services offer support for parents as well as educators and other agencies who need to communicate and understand our culture. For instance, I got a call from school needing to understand the cultural significance of why a young primary school Ghanaian girl had waist beads.

MK: There is more to learn from you! Could you please tell us more about Diversity Education Consult?  

MP: Diverse Education was born out of the racial trauma that my son experienced after he started primary school in 2020. The school had very little knowledge of racism, or educating black children and white children about diversity. I offer support through diverse literature, representational craft along with various other things.

MK: What are some challenges you have faced in the course of your work and how have you efficiently dealt with them?

MP: Racism is a constant challenge, getting parents of colour to see the importance of what I promote is also another. I stopped working with children of colour and decided to exclusively work with schools where I could create maximum impact and a more lasting effect. As for racism, when I  walk in schools, I present myself in a way that lets people know that I am a no nonsense woman, I expect to be treated with respect and dignity. If anything or anyone makes me feel less, complaints will follow to the senior heads. Self belief in myself is a must, I learnt from business training that “you are your brand ».

MK: What do you think should be done in today’s tech paced world to encourage children of colour to read?

MP: Give them access to diverse literature from a very early age, the colours in these books are so captivating and enriching it’s hard for them to put the books down. Most importantly, if you can buy them gadgets then you can create a home library as well as taking them to the library on a regular basis. Build a love for learning, not just academics but readers become leaders.

MK: What is your vision for the future of children’s literature? 

MP: My vision is to continue to create a passion for reading. I envision a future where all children will have access to books that reflect the global community that we inhabit, this in turn will propel a bigger demand for diverse literature.

MK: Aside from all the work you do, what do you do for fun? Any hobbies you would love to share?

MP: You mean when I am not excited about a new children’s book, a visiting author or just the regular library visits? I live in a library too! I am a passionate gardener, I love nature, not slugs! Am a keen houseplant collector and all things creative.

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