Ethiopian children’s books

Our starting point: The Ethiopian government has made plans to expand access to education. A part of this strategy is the idea of counteracting the poverty in the country through improved education. The more children in Ethiopia learn to read and write, the greater the need for literature for children – aside from school books, they also need children’s books. The children need books for the practical aspects of learning to read and write but they also need literature so that they will be inspired to read and will enjoy reading. There is currently not enough good children’s literature in the country – there are a few good authors of children’s literature, such as Michael Daniel Ambatchew, Tesfaye Gebre Mariam and Alem Eshetu, but not enough by a long way.

There is thus a lack of books for the children in Ethiopia. Outside of the capital city, Addis Abeba, private bookshops are very rare. Gondar, in the north west of Ethiopia, for example, is a city with over 350,000 inhabitants; in the Gondar branch of the state-owned bookshop chain “Mega”, you would be very lucky to find more than 10 children’s books aimed at children from the age of three up to the teenage age group. School books, on the other hand, are often plentiful.

Half of all the inhabitants of Ethiopia are under 21 years of age – that means more than 40 million children and young people. Around half of these children can read – meaning that 20 million children in Ethiopia are potential readers of children’s books. When it comes to literature, what children in Ethiopia need above all are books which originate from their own cultural circles and which are written in their own language. Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, and there are also around 80 other languages spoken in the country. There should at least be children’s literature available in the most important languages –Amharic, Tigrinya and Afaan Oromo.

Instead of “Max und Moritz”, however, Ethiopian children need “Asni and Konjit”. Asni und Konjit would never buy a doll or a helicopter in the toyshop – they would go to the local kiosk to buy bread for breakfast. There is no doubt that Harry Potter is exciting for all children – but Ethiopian children need their own heroes who they can identify with. Books are important in order to bring children up as responsible citizens. The characters in books become their role models. The children learn to deal with their environment in a responsible way and to behave in a socially acceptable way towards other people.

It is therefore important to produce appropriate literature – for various different age groups – in order to both educate and entertain the children and young people and to provide a source of enrichment in their lives.



The idea…

The stories which we are looking for are already there. Ethiopia is full of stories – a treasure which needs to be preserved. We are in contact with a network of authors and illustrators, both in Ethiopia itself and in the Ethiopian diaspora worldwide. We are at this moment determining details of some of the projects. The idea initially is to reprint a number of books and make them available to children – especially in rural areas of Ethiopia. In addition to this, we also encouraget and support young Ethiopian authors and work with them to produce high-quality children’s literature.

How do we get the books to our target groups?

This is the purpose of our collaboration with other associations with whom we have friendly relations who are involved in private initiatives in the Ethiopian education sector. Our children’s books will be offered in school libraries in the schools which are being supported by these associations, in order to make the literature accessible to as many children as possible. Here are some examples (extracts):

Ethiopia Witten e.V. Ahmedin Idris founded the association “Ethiopia Witten e.V” in 2009. The association was initially involved in working in the Ethiopian healthcare sector; later they worked in the area of “culture” and, since 2012, also in “education”. Three schools have already been built and equipped in the past few years, in collaboration with the university in Mekelle and the Tigray Development Association (TDA). The schools were built in the villages of Duramba and Laelay, close to the city of Abi Adi in the north west of Mekelle, in the region of Tigray.

Die Sonnenblume e.V. In 2009 – in the same year as Ethiopia Witten – Erdaw Miko and a group of friends founded the association Die Sonnenblume e.V., which is based in Cologne. The association built a school in Miko’s home village of Menjikso Tade which he has supported and expanded ever since then. The school is located close to Chaffe Dunsa in the region of Oromia, a good 50 km east of Addis Abeba.

Hawelti e.V. Since 2007, Marcel Heuer, Negassty Abraha and a number of others have been committed to helping the Hawelti school in Axum – in the far north of Ethiopia, on the border or Eritrea. In 2014, they founded the association “Hawelti e.V.” in Nuremberg. As well as the Hawelti school, the association is also involved in private initiatives for various different projects in and around Axum.

Goethe Institute Addis Ababa. The Goethe Institute in Addis Abeba helped us to get in touch with authors and translators in Ethiopia.