Preserving a Rare Ethiopian Language for the Anuak People of Gambella

My educational journey started in Gambella, Ethiopia where I was born. Growing up, I never had nongovernmental printed Anuak books. The school provided textbooks which we always returned at the end of each year. Since the schools couldn’t afford to print new copies each year, we were always given the same recycled books. It’s only by luck that we ever got a couple of books in good condition. Most of the time, I ended up getting books with missing chapters, or in poor condition, where I couldn’t even see the letters.

Apart from the books provided by the school, I didn’t have access to any other nongovernmental books, except a few samples of books from the Old and New Testament. One of the challenges I, and my Anuak people have had is a lack of books in our language besides the ones that are printed by the government specifically for each grade level. I personally struggled to learn from those books since they were made for those who were expected to already be fluent in reading and writing Dha-Anywaa. I was lucky to have a father who, despite the poverty we were living in, managed to hire someone named Obenna to tutor me, and teach me how to read and write in Dha-Anywaa.

There were kids who didn’t have the same opportunity and they ended up repeating most of the grade levels because they couldn’t read or write. School got more challenging for me as I got to higher grade levels given all the courses were in English except for the Amharic and Dha-Anywaa. Lack of English-to-Anuak dictionaries highly affected me to the point where I was had to rely on memorization since I couldn’t understand the meanings. The people who knew Amharic well didn’t face the same challenges because they had access to English-to-Amharic dictionaries to help them understand different English words better. Growing up with very limited access to books, especially, children’s books in my mother tongue, Dha-Anywaa, made me feel lesser than my fellow students who had additional dictionaries and other books written in languages they were fluent in, such as Amharic.

This project is very important to me because I know that there are Anuak kids who are still struggling academically due to less attention given to improve Anuak literacy. Anuak kids aren’t struggling only in Gambella; our kids in refugee camps and in the Western world don’t have access to books written in their mother tongue. As someone who grew up feeling his language was underrepresented, unvalued, and lesser, I believe this project will change that. I never knew organizations such as OHBD existed. I am forever grateful that my community can finally feel represented in the literary world. I have joined this project because my parents never read me bedtime stories growing up. I never experienced what it is like to read a book where I could see someone that looks like me in it.  And I didn’t learn writing and reading Dha-Anywaa in a fun way where I could enjoy the stories. I want my future children to experience all the things I missed, in their beautiful mother tongue.

I am personally reaching out to you to ask that you please support this Anuak project in any way possible. You can share it, purchase the books, donate to the organization to print more books, and most importantly you can give suggestions. By doing so, you are shining a light on the Anuak community, which has a very low literacy rate among its youth.

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