Another Friday, another pick from the web. We call these Fida (Friday) Finds.

Confession: we didn’t have to look very hard for this week’s Fida Find. This African-inspired cartoon project has been on our radar for a while, and first appeared on our Animated Africa Pinterest wall back in January.
But the buzz around Spider Stories has grown louder since its creators John and Charles Agbaje hit their fundraising target on Kickstarter. With $30,000 raised, their production company Central City Tower can now get to work on a pilot episode.
One of the things we love about the Agbaje brothers is that their creativity comes from a story-rich childhood. In an interview with Africa Is A Country, John says that he and Charles began experimenting with writing and drawing at an early age, partly inspired by folktales their parents told:

“There isn’t a turning point that got us into animation and storytelling, it’s more that we never grew out of it. Our parents would also tell us folktales from Nigeria as children. … That has been kept up through reading, watching movies, and trying our hands at the creative process.”

The right time for an African ‘toon
Before Spider Stories the Agbajes created Project 0, a series of graphic novels. The story took place in a beautifully realised sci-fi universe, but like most sci-fi and fantasy it had no clear links with Africa.
By contrast, Spider Stories draws heavily on the brothers’ West African heritage. The main characters are a young warrior princess with a love of technology, a drummer who acts as both ‘spirit guide’ and griot, and a Spider Spirit who is based on the folk character Ananse.
Character artwork for the series blends traditional dress with futuristic weapons and accessories. Drummer Ayan wears a blue and white dashiki, while President Gamba wears an agbada fronted with high-tech armour.

Ayan, a character from Central City Tower's Spider Stories cartoon President Gamba, a character from Central City Tower's Spider Stories cartoon

With so few precedents, what convinced the brothers that an African-inspired cartoon could find a large audience? John explains in an interview with Harbus Online:

“We are at the point where we should start to see more and more of these types of stories. … Now that technology and streaming services are making their way further and further into the African continent, things can really pick up steam and suddenly you’ve tapped into the global African diaspora. You’re not talking about a percentage of the U.S. population anymore, but a global population of nearly 300 million people.”

There are others on the same road. Shrinkfish Animations has created The Legacy of Rubies, a 23-minute animation by Nigerian writer-director Ebele Okoye. Here in Ghana, Otoo Studios delivered a brilliant short cartoon based on the traditional game Chaskele, and subsequently worked with 6miludo Media on an animated music video for Jayso & Sarkodie.

The African cartoons for younger children we have come across include:

So while John and Charles are breaking new ground, they are doing so in good company.
Kickstarter success
When the Agbajes turned to Kickstarter to get Spider Stories up and running, they took it very seriously.
Their campaign gave ample proof of their commitment and artistry – see the clip above – and was kept updated with new rewards and progress reports from the brothers themselves.
Later in the Harbus Online interview, John says: “We did a ton of preparation work [for Kickstarter]. We created a lot of artwork, shot some video, and refined the story.”
What’s more, they didn’t give up when progress seemed slow:

“We went to other conferences, made more phone calls, made frequent updates to the website, developed new rewards for backers, and brought more people into the fold to make them feel like they were part of the pilot.”

As a result, they beat their $25,000 target by an impressive $5,000.
There’s a good lesson here for aspiring creatives: neither raw talent nor online tools guarantee success. Hard work and ‘offline’ networking have to be a part of the mix.
Luckily, the Agbaje brothers seem to have the whole package. We can’t wait to see the pilot, and hope it will prove there is a huge global appetite for animated content set in Africa.
A big ayekoo! (well done!) to John and Chris for taking the project this far.

We plan to bring you regular highlights from our Pinterest boards, which are kept active by a team of ‘virtual volunteers’ in the USA and Ghana. We have our partners Friends of Mmofra to thank for recruiting and managing student ‘pinners’ on our behalf!

Source: flickr.com via Mmofra on Pinterest

Pinned to: Africa Inspirations

This week’s picture comes from the First Lubuto Library in Lusaka, Zambia. But as you’ve probably noticed, it isn’t a picture of the library itself. It doesn’t show shelves, books or children reading. So why have we chosen it?
Let’s look at what it does show. The caption to the original picture is “Insaka, where children wash their hands upon entering.”
An insaka is a round, open-sided meeting place. According to Zambia Vernacular Architecture, the word means ‘place to gather’ in Bemba. So the picture shows that where there is a library, there will be people. Libraries can bring communities together.
Inside the insaka is a tap and basin. We can tell from the faces of the children that they didn’t pose for the picture. Nobody told them to use the washbasin. It is simply part of their visit to the library.
When a library becomes a community meeting place, it also becomes a platform for other things. Here it helps teach children the importance of sanitiation – not just for personal hygiene, but for protecting books that can be damaged by dirty hands.
Lubuto Library Project’s mission statement says:
Lubuto’s full range of preservation, reading promotion, educational and social service activities are a model for the valuable role libraries can play in national development. …. The significance of publicly accessible libraries as a gathering place and safe haven cannot be underestimated.
Reclaiming local literature
As well as establishing community libraries, the Lubuto project helps introduce Zambian kids to the children’s literature of their own country.
Its staff and volunteers hunt down forgotten books in local languages, digitising them and making them available online.
In the video below Mulenga Kapwepwe, the chairperson of Zambia’s National Arts Council, talks about why the project is both important and exciting:

Could Ghana do the same?
If a team of volunteers went in search of Ghanaian children’s books from previous generations, what would they find? Are there forgotten books hidden in your house?
At Mmofra we’ve produced modern versions of our founder’s work for children, including an award-winning illustrated audio- and e-book of Voice in the Forest.

National Museum lectures, 1969-1970
We found this passage in a lecture given at the National Museum of Ghana in 1970. The lecturer was a Mr Ken Akatani, then director of the UN Information Centre in Accra.

“Wherever I travel these days, if I can set aside a few hours I try to do two things. One is to visit the museum and the other is to see the botanical gardens.

By seeing the botanical gardens, I not only enjoy and taste the beauty of the gardens themselves, but I try to sense the love the people have for their nature and the environment.
These are yardsticks which have served me very faithfully in assessing the qualities of the peoples I have visited.”

We’re not sure what conclusions Mr Akatani would draw from the official gardens of Accra – Aburi, Legon or Efua Sutherland Park – today. But if they disappointed him, we hope our plans, or some of the private gardens of our supporters, would renew his faith.
As for the National Museum itself, he would no doubt be encouraged to see groups like Friends of the National Museum and Adventurers in the Diaspora campaigning to keep it on the agenda of the government and the public alike.
The text can be found in an original booklet of 1969 and 1970 lectures given at the museum, issued by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board and printed by Accra Catholic Press. Among other pieces, it also contains an interesting essay on beads and a history of Ghanaian urbanism.
A small number of copies are available in the museum shop at five cedis a copy – which is one more reason to pay the institution a visit.

We plan to bring you regular highlights from our Pinterest boards, which are kept active by a team of ‘virtual volunteers’ in the USA and Ghana. We have our partners Friends of Mmofra to thank for recruiting and managing student ‘pinners’ on our behalf!

What’s special about this tough, colourful rope? It’s made from waste. Over to Random Specific, whose blog we spotted it on:
“Recently in Ahmedabad I got on the hunt for upcycled rope – made from plastic and foil packing waste. … I came across street-side rope spinners, distributors using scooters and rickshaws plus a number of examples of the rope applied to bed bases. At the hands of savvy Indian micro-entrepreneurs, packaging life-cycles are extended and waste is transformed.”
You could think of ‘upcycling’ as recycling with style. Upcycled products start out as waste, but the material isn’t just reused. It is turned into something better.
Sometimes upcycling is an informal street activity, taking place in towns and cities everywhere.  But there are also small and medium-sized businesses doing it, often inspired by ingenious ideas from everyday life.
Check out these examples from Africa:

  • In Ethiopia, Sole Rebels uses old tires for the treads of its Fair Trade-certified shoes. They are made in local communities and shipped all around the world.
  • Here in Ghana, Mmofra Foundation’s near neighbours Trashy Bags make bags, laptop cases, wallets and more out of discarded water sachets and old billboards.

‘Upcycling’ will be a key element of our Playtime in Africa project. Using scrap for seating, shade and other elements will help keep our playspace low-cost and environmentally friendly. It will also help teach our visitors to think creatively about the world around them.
But the benefits don’t stop there. Designs that uses cheap, readily available material are easier for other people to replicate. So if a community far away from Dzorwulu likes the look of what we’ve done, they can build their own version!
This summer we’ll be focusing on reclaimed wood. There is plenty of it in Ghana, and it can be used for both practical and ornamental objects.
Take a look at these bookcases made of disused canoes at a hotel in Madagascar, or these huge slices of tree trunk we spotted hanging at a beach resort in Ghana.

IMG_6840   IMG_6843

There is sensory value in their appearance and texture, and they can also help teach curious kids what the inside of a tree looks like!
If you see any examples of recycled wood, let us know. Email us at info@mmofraghana.org, or @ us on Twitter. We’ll share it with our followers and give you a mention.

We plan to bring you regular highlights from our Pinterest boards, which are kept active by a team of ‘virtual volunteers’ in the USA and Ghana. We have our partners Friends of Mmofra to thank for recruiting and managing student ‘pinners’ on our behalf!

 Pinned to: Galimoto! Self-Made Toys

Our Galimoto! wall is dedicated to homemade toys from Africa. This has to be the most high-tech one we’ve ‘pinned’ yet.
The picture shows 15-year-old Nigerian teenager Odo Gerald with his range of self-built diggers, bulldozers and dumper trucks. But these aren’t just push-toys. Thanks to a sophisticated system of pipes and syringes, these miniature machines really work.
Odo was exhibiting his creations at Maker Faire Africa, an invention and handicraft showcase that came to Lagos in 2012. They caught the eye of African tech writer Erik Hersman, who featured them on the Maker Faire blog:
“Odo has 4 toys he’s made over the last 4 months. They’re made of painted plywood, syringes, wooden pieces, wire, water and small tubes along with a motorcycle battery to run it all. His next big project is to make a small helicopter that he can get off the ground.”
Check out Hersman’s video to see them in action:

Creative play builds real skills
As the Galimoto! gallery shows, ‘play’ is not just a break from the serious business of ‘work’. It can promote ingenuity, experimentation and independent learning.
Who knows where those habits could take you? Check out our post from last year about a 15-year-old radio whizz from Sierra Leone. You might also remember the three Nigerian girls featured in the same post, who designed a urine-powered generator (also exhibited at Maker Faire in Lagos).
Closer to home there is Mmofra Math, a math-focused computer game designed by Accra teenager Leovi Nutakor and tested by kids from our own Language Club.
Boys’ toys?
Part of Mmofra’s mission is to encourage and provide opportunities for creative play. So while we love to see examples of it, we are also interested in challenges to it. Try taking another look at our Galimoto! gallery with these questions in mind:

  • Where are the girls?
    You’ll find some, but they are under-represented. Why? Do they play less? Do they make fewer toys? Or are boys just better at getting in front of the camera?
  • Where are the middle-class children?
    As incomes rise, will hands-on toy-making be replaced with ready-made products? What effect could that have on children’s creativity?

Another Friday, another special pick from the Web by our media volunteers.  We call these Fida (=”Friday”) Finds.
Londoner Kelvin Okafor is an artist whose reputation, to his parents’ relief,  is growing by leaps and bounds.
They were afraid of it not being very lucrative, for me to make a living from it”, he explains, “ but they’ve been very supportive and that’s helped me a lot to build more confidence.”

People seeing Kelvin Okafor’s drawings for the first time can be forgiven for mistaking them for photographs.  Visit his website though, and you’ll learn from the artist himself that he is a Passionate penciled artist.  Highly interested in detail and precision.
Most of his marvelously lifelike drawings, like the one below titled “Timeless”, are in pencil and charcoal.
Kelvin Okafor_Timeless
Kelvin provides a fascinating step-by-step “evolution” of many drawings on his website.
With each successive panel, you can follow this drawing of a little girl called “Mia” as it seems to come to life:
Mia by Kelvin Okafor
His subjects are often celebrities whose faces are instantly recognizable.  At other times, he might choose to draw a friend, or a visiting family member from Nigeria with an interesting profile.
Kelvin also generously shares his technique through short videos which are linked through his website.  He spends 90 to 100 hours on each portrait!
In this profile he talks about his inspirations and motivations.  He’s also got some good tips for aspiring young artists.

We plan to bring you regular highlights from our Pinterest boards, which are kept active by a team of ‘virtual volunteers’ in the USA and Ghana. We have our partners Friends of Mmofra to thank for recruiting and managing student ‘pinners’ on our behalf!

Aya: Life in Yop City

Pinned to: Mmofra Booklist for Young Adults

Aya: Life in Yop City collects the first three volumes of Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubriere’s award-winning series of graphic novels, which follow the day-to-day life of a young woman in the Ivorian capital Abidjan.
Aimed at young adults, the stories are loosely based on the author’s own childhood in the city’s Yopougon-Koute suburb – ‘Yop City’ for short. Abouet uses the books to depict ordinary human dramas, consciously avoiding the themes that dominate Western depictions of life in African countries.
In an author interview that appears in the collection, she says:
“The easygoing and careless [carefree?] impression of Africa that is found in Aya fortunately still exists. It would be nice if the African continent were evoked dropping the stereotypes of suffering, because Africa is really quite a large and diverse continent.

I can assure you that the Ivory Coast remains a beautiful country with nice neighborhoods, superb beaches, and a magnificent flora and fauna, despite its disasters. African women finally share the same dreams as other women on the planet, and all I want to do is show their daily lives along with their hopes and desires to find fulfillment as modern women in Africa.”
Abouet’s characters fall in and out of love, argue with family members, go to work; they are average middle-class people, depicted with warmth and humour. The light tone is reflected in wonderfully detailed illustrations by Abouet’s husband Clément Oubrerie, who works from his wife’s own visual concepts.
The Aya books come with an ‘Ivorian Bonus’ at the end, featuring lifestyle tips and helpful definitions. Palu is malaria, and claclos are deep-fried spiced ripe plantain dumplings (Ghanaians, take note). There’s also an illustrated recipe for chicken kedjenou and a guide to carrying a baby on the back using your pagne (brightly colored wax-printed cloth).
Bringing Aya to Africa
Following a familiar pattern, the Aya comics have been more accessible outside Cote d’Ivoire, particularly in the US and in France, where Abouet now lives. Fortunately for readers in Cote d’Ivoire, the author has been able to convince her publisher to sell cheaper softcover versions there.
We’d love to see the series more widely read by young adults everywhere, particularly in African countries, and so we’ve added several Aya collections to our Young Adult Booklist – one of our ‘wish lists’ of titles for our library in Accra. They also appear on our Animated Africa for Kids & Teens wall.
The non-profit organisation Friends of African Village Librarives (FAVL) is also a big Aya fan. It runs community libraries in Ghana and Burkina Faso, and has been campaigning hard to get Abouet’s books onto the shelves. For rural readers in West Africa, quality books that deal with familiar themes and environments can be all too hard to find.
Further reading
We noticed writer Nnedi Okorafor, who is a favorite on our Young Adult wall, added the first Aya book to a literature course reading list in the US last year.
The Brown Paper blog found “rich rewards [in] the characters, the setting, the gentle humour and the visuals.”
Wild River Review, which has an illuminating interview with Abouet, praises the comics for “drawing attention to the universal and relatable aspects of Africa.”
The Book Nest agrees: “The plot is a bit like a sitcom, with couples getting together or not, cheating on each other, getting in trouble and having problems with their parents. Older teens would find much to relate to and probably appreciate seeing their own problems worked out on a completely different continent.”
For French-speaking readers, here’s a video of Abouet discussing her work:

Mmofra Foundation’s Pinterest page has 23 boards and counting!
Our boards range from ideas for outdoor play features and African design inspirations, to intriguing topics like Animated Africa for Kids & Teens and Everything Ananse!
Pinterest provides fantastic opportunities for virtual volunteering. However, pinning is not anywhere near as widespread in our part of the world.  For one thing, reliable wi-fi access and bandwidth are still a problem for most people.
Enter our partner organization Friends of Mmofra in Spokane, Washington State, USA, which “designs web-based opportunities to enrich cultural literacy and global connection”.  In practice, this means in collaboration with us, they organize student volunteers from high school to college level, to research and create boards on topics we are interested in.
Friends of Mmofra uses a model it calls parallel projects through virtual service, based on a relationship of mutual benefit rather than charity.  Students in Spokane use African inspired projects to improve their global awareness as well as their technical and leadership skills.  Children in Ghana, and everywhere, gain access to cultural collections they can take ownership of, and learn from.
In addition to their curation interest as under-represented cultures and topics online, our Pinterest boards are very valuable tools for getting connected.  They have helped us get attention in communities we’d like to talk to, and to make the Top Story listing for a number of online newspapers recently.
Student virtual volunteer in Spokane, WA, USA
Drew, 16, worked on the Everything Ananse board as an after-school online research project on folktale culture of West Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas.  She’s also been active on our favorite Galimoto Selfmade Toys board.
She says: “I would like to thank you so much for the amazing opportunity you have given me with [Friends of Mmofra]. I have learned so much and enjoyed it even more. So Thank you! And know what you are doing is truly amazing …”.
Other students are helping to create boards of young adult as well as children’s books. Before this exercise, some of them may never have thought of reading a book by an African author, or thinking about the differences in young adult book themes across cultures.
The added value of our collections is that they include pictures, audio and video.  On the Young Adult booklist board for example, you can find the novel Powder Necklace, and also listen to author Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond read from her book.
College students in a recent class on Contemporary Africa at Whitworth University, Spokane, USA, opted to curate themed boards of African stamps on their own Pinterest pages.  Here’s one by “Amina” on flora and fauna in African stamps, and another by “Waceera”, on dinosaur stamps!
We’re grateful to the Bino and Fino team in Nigeria for their words of encouragement on our Animated Africa board which, of course, features their wonderful work.
bino and fino

South African poet Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali

Inside My Zulu Hut

It is a hive
without any bees
to build the walls
with golden bricks of honey.
A cave cluttered
with a millstone,
calabashes of sour milk
claypots of foaming beer
sleeping grass mats
 
wooden head rests
tanned goat skins
tied with riempies
to wattle rafters
blackened by the smoke
of kneaded cow dung
burning under
the three-legged pot
on the earthen floor
to cook my porridge.
 
Oswald Mbuyesini Mtshali
From: www.poetrysociety.org.uk
 
This is a continuation of our celebration of poems on the London Underground, which is 150 years old this year.  The South African poet Oswald Mbuyesini Mtshali, who writes in both English and Zulu, remembers his traditional childhood.  He was born in Natal, South Africa, and he lived at one time in Soweto, Johannesburg.

Here’s another poem by Nii Ayikwei Parkes in our Poems On The London Underground series:
Nii A. Parkes

Tin Roof

Wild harmattan winds whip you
but still you stay;
they spit dust all over your gleam
and twist your sharp cutting edges.
The rains come zinging mud
with their own tapping music
yet you remain
–  my pride  –
my very own tin roof
 
Nii Ayikwei Parkes is from Ghana.  He writes novels, poems, short stories, articles and songs.  On his website, under-16’s will be directed to the Schools Site, where there is information about his poetry workshops with schools.
Poem source: Scottish Poetry Library

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