Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Conversations in Ghana: Deborah Ahenkorah - Co-founder & Executive Director of The Golden Baobab Prize

Photo: Courtesy of Deborah Ahenkorah
Changing the status quo in her own way is what Deborah Ahenkorah; Co-founder and Executive Director of the the Golden Baobab Prize is doing. This young, driven and extremely passionate Political Science graduate went from feeling like a "cultural imperialist" in her undergraduate years due to her lack of knowledge about African Literature to being the brains behind a Literature Prize that aims to inspire a love for African literature in African children. She co-founded the Golden Baobab Prize with Rama Shagaya , a Bryn Mawr alumnus while still in college. Deborah credits Bryn Mawr College often in our conversation for its support of The Golden Baobab Prize in the early days of its inception.
Born out of her desire to see more children reading - what began as a book drive aimed at giving back to Ghanaian children has evolved into a renowned Children's Literature Prize that is now in its third year running.
In the process it has garnered tremendous support and piqued enough interest around the continent and beyond. Attracting 76 entries from 9 countries in its inaugural year 2008/09, it drew a further 160 entries from 12 countries last year and this year will be accepting entries up to June 31st, 2011.

The Kathy Knowles Community Library in Accra was where Deborah's love for reading began and it was because of her beginnings here that she was determined to give back in some way to Ghanaian children. This led to her contacting the African Student's Society at her college amongst others in a bid to draw more attention to her cause - collecting books for children in Africa. The response to her pleas for help in the form of an email sent out to the entire school drew 15 women who were all brought together by their interest in literacy, children and giving back. Out of this PEIA (Project Educate in Africa) was born; a project that supported literacy and educational initiatives in Africa. The Project raised funds through craft sales and other fundraising initiatives and with an initial capital invetsment of approximately $200, went on to make well over $7000 and shipped 8000 books to over 30 countries in the process.

Although the project was successful, the absence of African literature for African children struck a chord in her and it was from here that the idea of a Literature Prize for African Children's Literature was conceived. With a grant she'd applied to from her college, support from friends and colleagues, and donations the Baobab Prize, later to be re-named Golden Baobab Prize got off the ground. Finding judges, readers and attracting writers - and in the process raising enough funds for the prizes entailed a harrowing but gratifying process which culminated in the inaugural launch of the Baobab Prize in 2008/09.
Logo provided by The Golden Baobab Prize

The Prize again drew some  top African writers in its second year. Last year's finalist were Motswana writer Lauri Kubuitsile; the winner of the prize in 2009, Dorothy Dyer a South African and Gothataone Moeng, another Motswana writer. In the Category B group, targeted at 12-15 year old readers Jenny Robson a South African/Motswana and Patrick Ochieng a Kenyan writer were some of the contenders. Mirirai Moyo; a Zimbabwean writer and Ahmed Farah; a Kenyan writer went on to join Lauri Kubuitsile as winners of the 2010 Prize. The representation of the writers throughout the continent was wide and varied, indicative of the need for a platform such as this to not only showcase Africa's burgeoning and accomplished writers but inspire young readers to have something to aspire to through the writers weaving the tales that they read.

Now in its third year, its co-founder is hoping to maintain the momentum and the standard the prize has thus far garnered and in the longer term build it up to be associated with the prestige of being a prize that puts  ''good quality books in the hands of African Children''.

For further information on the The Golden Baobab, Corporate Sponsorship, Strategic Partnerships and Volunteering with the organisation;  Deborah Ahenkorah can be contacted on this email address: deborah@goldenbaobab.org or you can link directly to the Golden Baobab Prize.

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