African Storybook project: An ILCE-IG Grant

Janet Lee, Dean of the Library at Regis University and 2017-18 Fulbright Scholar Ethiopia, was a recipient of one of two CAL International Library and Cultural Exchange-Interest Group Grants. (see blog post on Rita Puig and Jimena Briton’s grant project: Colorado Librarians Touch the World. ( She is pleased to announce that two children’s stories coming from the grant have been published on the African Storybook (ASb) platform

Janet was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholar award and traveled to Axum, Ethiopia in August 2017 and returned to Denver this June 2018. She was assigned to the University of Aksum and also volunteered at the Axumite Heritage Foundation Library.






Ever interested in children’s book publishing in local languages, she became acquainted with African Storybook (ASb) through a Facebook contact/Peace Corps Volunteer, Ethiopia, where she had served in the 1970s. Upon her arrival in Ethiopia she contacted Mezemir Girma, the Ethiopian expert in Debre Birhan, Ethiopia, and they made plans to conduct the first of three workshops on children’s book publishing with African Storybook, funded in large part by the ILCE-IG grant.

In November 2017, fifteen educators, librarians, and students attended the first workshop at the Ras Abebe Aregay Library in Debre Birhan, a joint library/bookstore owned and operated by Mezemir, an English instructor at Debre Birhan University. Throughout the day, the group participated in a full agenda that included the role of children’s books in literacy training, an introduction of African Storybook, a session on assessing ASb stories in Amharic and in English (what makes them good, how can they be improved), an overview of children’s reading in libraries in Debre Birhan, a story telling exercise, the use of technology in promoting children’s stories, and a brainstorming session that would develop into a publishable book. Customary tea breaks and lunch gave the participants an opportunity to network. At the end of the day, Mezemir distributed a flash drive complete with all of the downloadable Amharic storybooks that were available on the ASb platform.P1040985






During the brainstorming session, the group focused on a topic suggested by Janet, the story of a female bajaj driver, having seen one in the town of Debre Birhan. A bajaj is the primary mode of transportation in the smaller towns outside of the capital of Addis Ababa. It is an enclosed, three-wheel vehicle that holds a driver and up to three passengers, is inexpensive, very mobile and can navigate paved, cobblestone, or dirt roads. Nearly all drivers are male, and the female seen on the roads in Debre Birhan was definitely an exception. Several stories were drafted and a vote was taken on which story to publish: Abebech, the Female Bajaj Driver by Dawit Girma. Mezemir and Janet then worked on finding an illustrator for the story and after a few months enlisted the support of Yirgalem Berhanu.




A second workshop was in the planning stages in late April for the town of Adama, a Sister City of Aurora, Colorado, when Mezemir and Janet attended a Global Digital Library launch at the Economic Commission for Africa campus in Addis Ababa. There Janet met Dorcas Wepukhulu,the ASb representative from Nairobi, and the three made plans to work together in Adama and hold yet another workshop in Debre Birhan, for a total of three ASb workshops altogether. The formats were similar to the one held in Debre Birhan in November, including the brainstorming sessions. Out of these workshops an additional six to eight stories were deemed publishable to the site.

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The premise of ASb is that literacy, in any language, is strengthened when the learner has a strong foundation in his/her mother tongue. Thus, the platform has books written in 153 African languages and English, which are freely available to read online, download to a device, or print in either a pdf format or as a booklet. A Creative Commons license, allows any of the books to be translated to another language with the original title receiving proper attribution. Ethiopia has about 80 languages, and three languages, Amharic, Tigrigna, and Afaan Oromo, are represented on the site. Of the 4388 translations on the site, 80 stories are available in Amharic, 44 in Afaan Oromo, and 31 in Tigrigna.

The Engish version of Abebech, the Female Bajaj Driver can be found at 

For more information on the ILCE-IG grants and the grant process check out the ILCE_IG page:




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