Archive for December, 2015

“Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. “

December 17, 2015

Pullman Philip 2

Wise words from Philip Pullman, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005:

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.

But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

It’s true that some people grow up never encountering art of any kind, and are perfectly happy and live good and valuable lives, and in whose homes there are no books, and they don’t care much for pictures, and they can’t see the point of music. Well, that’s fine. I know people like that. They are good neighbours and useful citizens.

But other people, at some stage in their childhood or their youth, or maybe even their old age, come across something of a kind they’ve never dreamed of before. It is as alien to them as the dark side of the moon. But one day they hear a voice on the radio reading a poem, or they pass by a house with an open window where someone is playing the piano, or they see a poster of a particular painting on someone’s wall, and it strikes them a blow so hard and yet so gentle that they feel dizzy. Nothing prepared them for this. They suddenly realise that they’re filled with a hunger, though they had no idea of that just a minute ago; a hunger for something so sweet and so delicious that it almost breaks their heart. They almost cry, they feel sad and happy and alone and welcomed by this utterly new and strange experience, and they’re desperate to listen closer to the radio, they linger outside the window, they can’t take their eyes off the poster. They wanted this, they needed this as a starving person needs food, and they never knew. They had no idea.

That is what it’s like for a child who does need music or pictures or poetry to come across it by chance. If it weren’t for that chance, they might never have met it, and might have passed their whole lives in a state of cultural starvation without knowing it.

The effects of cultural starvation are not dramatic and swift. They’re not so easily visible.

And, as I say, some people, good people, kind friends and helpful citizens, just never experience it; they’re perfectly fulfilled without it. If all the books and all the music and all the paintings in the world were to disappear overnight, they wouldn’t feel any the worse; they wouldn’t even notice.

But that hunger exists in many children, and often it is never satisfied because it has never been awakened. Many children in every part of the world are starved for something that feeds and nourishes their soul in a way that nothing else ever could or ever would.

We say, correctly, that every child has a right to food and shelter, to education, to medical treatment, and so on. We must understand that every child has a right to the experience of culture. We must fully understand that without stories and poems and pictures and music, children will starve.

Written by Philip Pullman for the tenth anniversary of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2012. More from Philip Pullman here.

The art of sharing stories and to grow as human beings

December 11, 2015

Reading aloud at one of Tamer’s cultural centers in Gaza. May 2013

In 2012 I was sitting in a café in southern China working with my friend and colleague Love Hedman during a research trip. Suddenly the phone rang and on the other end was David Arvidsson Shukur. I didn´t know David that well at the time. He asked if I would like to go to Gaza. I said yes, of course. That was the beginning of what would become the project Novell Gaza.

Today, Novell Gaza is one project within the organization Connecting Stories which is completely run by young volunteers in Sweden, working to give young people in Gaza a voice through cultural expressions and to create cultural exchanges between young people. In 2013 we published our first collection of short stories after our first short story writing contest in Gaza, which we organised in co-operation with the Palestinian organization Tamer Institute (2009 ALMA Laureate). The contest was supposed to result in a couple of digitally published stories, but as it received such a great response in both Sweden and Gaza, we suddenly had the opportunity to publish a book. The stories by young people in Gaza were widely spread in Sweden, England, the West Bank and Gaza. Among others, the Palestinian Minister for Culture expressed his exaltation over the amazing ability of the stories to describe a side of Gaza which is rarely told – the young people’s Gaza. Many Palestinians got new perspectives on their own society and young people in Sweden got new insights into one of the world’s most isolated places, from a perspective they could relate to.


Two of our photographers during our first photo workshop in Gaza. April 2015

In addition to short story writing contests in Gaza, we also work with photography, workshops on intercultural communications and a storytelling competition in Sweden. Among the jury members are famous volunteering journalists, writers, artists and politicians. Numerous organizations are also helping us in our work, for example the UNRWA, Save the Children, Swedish Institute and the international development organization Diakonia.

When we set Novell Gaza in motion and planned for our first short story writing competition in Gaza we did not have much to go on. No potential local partner, no contacts, nothing. David heard about the local organization Tamer Institute who apparently was concerned with providing literature for young people in Gaza. We sent an email and all of a sudden we had a partner. When we finally, after many ifs and buts, managed to travel to Gaza to meet the Tamer staff, we realized how fortunate we were to work with them. We had rarely seen such passion and devotion for young people’s right to culture and belief in culture as a tool for societal improvement. Almost all the Tamer staff was our own age, which made our co-operation easygoing, equal and creative. We were happy to not have to care about empty symbolic ceremonies and formalities and Tamers staff was happy that we actually wanted to just hang out during the evenings, as friends.


One of our workshops in creative writing. Gaza, July 2015

Our co-operation, unlike many organizations involved in humanitarian aid, was never built on one party supporting the other. We support each other. We have jointly developed our activities and they have been growing organically ever since. Tamer’s close deep relationship with the young people they work with has allowed this target group to be a major part in the projects.

An example of this is how our short story competitions don´t have any themes according to the participant’s decisions and their desire to not have someone else define what they should think is important or interesting and worth writing about. We too have come to understand the importance for young people to be free to define what they think is important and significant when it comes to choosing a subject for short story writing. This freedom is particularly important in Gaza, where especially young people often are stigmatized as victims of a conflict which is out of their hands. We want Gaza’s young people to have the opportunity to define themselves as more than victims and to become humans living a life beyond being affected by a conflict. Being able to tell the stories they themselves find important is one way.


Kick-off for the 2015 novel writing contest in Gaza. May 2015

It is exactly in this aspect we think we can accomplish something, allowing people to be people. If by sharing each other’s stories we learn from each other, that´s even better. We have much to learn from each other; about the universal experience of being young, regardless of where you come from and the differences in our various situations and how they affect our lives.

None of us, currently working with Novell Gaza, were particularly familiar with the situation in Gaza when we started. Today we know more than most people in Sweden. We are not doing this for altruistic reasons alone, but also because we also feel we also have a lot to learn from the great people we work with in Gaza. We hope that they feel the same.
When we started Novell Gaza, one of the goals was to prove that you can accomplish something without a huge amount of money. We have done this. All we needed was collaboration and a willingness to change. Today I would like to say that we have made a difference with the help of these stories and the forums we create where these stories can freely be produced. If nothing else, these stories have changed me for the better.

André Larsson
Photojournalist and one of the founders of Novell Gaza

Novell Gaza is a project run by the non-political NGO Connecting Stories.


One of our published writers Karima Toman playing Oud over Skype for a Swedish audience. September 2013

Hello there, Athandiwe Sikade, winner of Nali´bali’s national storytelling competition Story Bosso

December 7, 2015

Athandiwe Sikade

How did you hear about the competition?

– We were told by our class teacher who is responsible for the Nal’ibali reading club in my school. I asked my teacher to organize a form for me to enter.

How did you enter?

– Mr. Kamohelo Ramaipato (Nal’ibali Literacy Mentor who oversees clubs in the area) had auditions at our school.

Why did you choose your story?

– I like reading stories and listening to them during Listening & Speaking as well as during shared reading and read aloud periods. I was so attached to this story when it was read by my class teacher to us. The main character in the story makes every listener laugh a lot when they listen to what he does. I wanted to go and read it myself. I enjoyed it and asked my teacher to allow me to read it to the class. The class liked my reading and my body language and I was inspired by their response. They wanted me to read this story over and over again to them and I ended telling it instead of reading it. It is a very interesting story that one must listen to and you can also laugh a lot if you can listen to me telling it. (The story is called Umboleki)

What is your story about?

– The story is about the man who always wants people to give him whatever they have – He does not have a proper way of asking them- He always uses words like, ‘borrow this, give me this and give me that,’ The sad part of this is when he does not understand why all these people do not want to give him what he is asking for.

What is your storytelling background?

– I don’t have much to say about my background. All I know is that I used to listen to the reading club members when they gather in my class for their reading club sessions. I love them when they share stories read from different story books and when they tell stories that they heard from other reading clubs.

We have news time every morning in my class. That is one of my favourite times of my schooling. I enjoy sharing what I saw, however, I also enjoy sharing what I read. One day I was asked to tell and interpret the story that was read by my classmate from the Bible during the assembly.

How do you plan to use your talent / prize?

– I would use it to improve my future and talent, and to empower myself.


Athandiwe Sikade in front.

7-year-old Athandiwe Sikade winner of Nal’ibali’s story telling competition

December 1, 2015

Our warmest congratulations to Athandiwe Sikade of Khayelitsha in Cape Town who yesterday was announced as the winner of the nationwide storytelling competition Story Bosso.

Competing against 14 other finalists for the title of South Africa’s first Story Bosso, Sikade was chosen for her spirited storytelling style and skill relative to her young age. Her entry was an animated retelling of uMboleki, a humorous children’s story with a deeper message about how to behave appropriately in society.

Sikade entered the competition at her school, Chumisa Primary, where Nal’ibali hosted one of 30 Story Bosso pop-up auditions held to source stories directly from the campaign’s network of reading clubs and communities across the country.

Story Bosso opened this September, aiming to reawakening a love of storytelling and reading among South Africans of all ages. The public was invited to send in audio or video clips of themselves reading or telling their favourite stories.

“We collected more than 2 000 submissions from across the country. Stories came in from all age groups and in all languages. They ranged from those that made us laugh, to those that made us cry, but best of all, they showed us that a spirit of storytelling – oral, written and in many languages is alive and well, which we can use to inspire children to want to read and write” says Jade Jacobsohn, Managing Director of Nal’ibali.

Nal’ibali is driven by PRAESA, 2015 ALMA laureate.

More about Nal’ibali here.