Local writers lament lack of support

Realising the need to uplift the state of book publishing and to help develop a reading culture in the country, Helvi Itenge Wheeler, writer and publisher in her own right, started Yambeka Media Foundation which launched the Namibia Book Fair three years ago.

The Namibia Book Fair (NBF), which started in 2012 underthe initial name Namibia Youth Book Fair focusing only on children’s literature, was reintroduced this year for the second time as Namibia Book Fair to include all literature.

The NBF is scheduled for end the September/ beginning of October, and its aim is to create a platform to present existing works from Namibia, South Africa and the international publishing industry.

“The first book fair, organized in 2012, had about 15 publishers exhibiting, but unfortunately it was mostly from international writers, so we are hoping we will be able to attract more local ones this time. And so far we have seen an interest from local publishers registering for this book fair. It is sad to realize that there are so many writers locally but who have never had a chance to publish their books for either lack of funds, platform nor publishing firms to take on their work. There is so much potential in the country and they just need a push in the right direction, which is one of the aims of this book fair: to give recognition of the local writers and further guide them in the right direction to promote their books,” she says.

The book fair will have two sections including workshops for the first week followed by the exhibitions of books to be held at the Polytechnic of Namibia. She adds that after the book fair, the goal is to come up with a board to start an organization that can represent publishers’ interests, as to this day there is no association representing their interest. She would also want to see that in the future the government, especially the Ministry of Education, takes up the organization of the book fair so that it can be carried through and become an annual event.

Wheeler’s insistence on having such activity carried on in the future is because she has realized the potential of writers within the country and believes this book fair can also help cultivate a reading culture especially amongst children and maybe with time open a possibility to make a living within writing.

“As a writer, it is not easy to just live on as means of living, but I foresee also exciting times as there is huge market for indigenous books. Therefore, I expect that in the future the government would invest into projects with publishers and writers to promote them and consequently promote a children reading culture,” she emphasizes on.

An avid children book writer, Wheeler started writing kids’ books in 2007 while living in the United States after failing to find children books written in indigenous languages. Everything she found was written in English and told European stories, while she intended to teach her children her Namibian culture. Two years later, she funded the Yambeka Media Foundation to promote Namibian and other African languages and traditional stories for children.

To date she has published ten children books in African languages such as Oshiwambo, Swahili, english and is working on projects where she want to get the books translated in the various indigenous languages.

“I have discovered that it is a challenge to publish books and get people to go buy them as there is a serious lack of reading culture in the country, especially from the youth. However, I cannot blame the children as they have to be instilled the reading culture from their parents. Some parents do not understand the importance of a home library, they say kids will learn at school and will read at school, so there no need to buy books,” she notes.

She also did some research and found out that there were significantly less books within state schools, which is the opposite of private schools.

Armed with a Masters in Education with emphasis in Electronic Learning, Wheeler works at Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN) as an electronic learning specialist helping lecturers integrate technology into their curriculum. She is also a marker tutor, therefore she noted that the lack of reading culture transpires in students’ lack of knowledge and copy-editing skills.

Discovering this sad reality, she came out with ideas to promote the culture of reading. She says, “The foundation goes to the community and reads in schools for free. I also have a program where I read stories to children at the French-Namibia Cultural Center.”

She is also currently working on a project where she works with new parents and guides them into reading for their children at an early age so they cultivate a reading culture early, “I want to produce books in various languages and give packages to parents so they can read to them even while the mother is still pregnant.”

She prides in the fact that by age 3-4 her children were already able to read few lines in books because she started reading to them at a very early stage and wants other parents to adapt the same style. She is also proud of the fact that her children are her number one fans when it comes to her books.

“My books are found within lodges in the country, at the international shops, the book den and at the Namibian Distribution Cooperation. However, until now, I am still failing to get my books into the South African book based retailer CNA, as I am always told I should go through South Africa but our attempt to connect with the South African office is never successful. Thus, I think the government should put up laws asking for local books to be exhibited in those retailer shops as it has been a challenge.”

She also found that it is a saddening situation that her books have more of an international readership from sales through Amazon than a local readership. She hopes to see a change in the future.