The Yellow House Library: Creative Art in the Creeks
Schools in poor Nigerian communities pays less focus on art, or creative expressions. The emphasis is more conventional: arithmetic, English language and social sciences. And even schools in the cities also struggle to squeeze in art into their curriculum, leaving art outside the door of everyday school affairs. Art and creative activities has settled at the rear, often tagged 'extracurricular activies'. Children with truely gifted minds suffer from the stifling of artistic focus in the school systems. And those without much aesthetic potential also are missing out from the importance of creative art in their educational process.
But it is the children in the poorest of places that suffers the most. The economy of their families makes it that the thought of books or anything close to artistry is sideline for more 'productive' activities like farming, fishing or trades. Economic gain outweighs creative blessings. It is this sad reality that made Babafemi leave the city of Lagos, where he worked in a bar, making pepper soup, and by the side writing and submitting his works to various international journals. Bayelsa was the destination, a state in southern Nigeria, at the heart of the Niger Delta.
Babafemi Babawale was like every fruststrated writer, when the idea for the Yellow House library was born. The financial rewards for writers and extensively creative artist leaves many discouraged. He informed his mentor, an American writer Chiwan Choi (who later would become the Co-pioneer of the Yellow House Library with him) of his plans to sell off the piles of books his father left behind to generate money. "I told him that i wanted to sell the books my father left; I was broke!" Babafemi recounted. But then, and thankfully, Chiwan said "I would pay you for those books".
The dream for himself and the Yellow Library has been specifically to 'expose the creative part of the child' as he succinctly put it. His first week in the poor community of Bayelsa were hectic and as he admitted "I was already regretting my decision to move down to Bayelsa." He slept in the small shop rented specifically for the Yellow House Library for months, while going to different schools to tell them what the Yellow House was about. Schools received him and his ideas well; it was new and free! Nigerians loves things that come free, but also in the same enthusiasm house a pessimism towards free things. But overall, the project was welcomed well.
Books: 'One Essential Part of Life'
Do Africans read? Babafemi Babawale has an unequivocal response: "just attend one of our reading sessions". At every reading sessions you can find the enthusiasm in the faces of the children as they are ready to be read to by writers all over the globe, from classical poetry, to indigenous novels. Many of the children are coming from far distances.
Babafemi cited a story of a young boy that trekked for two hours to attend one of the evening reading session. "I usually give them transport fare for each reading session", he said. "But this particular day a 12 years old boy came for the reading session. I found out he had walked a long distance to make it for the day's reading. So I followed him to his house. His parents were poor, and I noticed that the boy didn't have notebooks." The Yellow House then provided the boy with books and reading material. The reaction of the boy's mother, that visual show of appreciation, of gratitude is what Babafemi later refered to as 'priceless'.
Beside the Library dedication to giving of free books to school children, the project is also concerned with the welfare of teen-mothers, pregnant young girls. The Library also engage in creative competitions in essay writing, clay modeling, poetry writing, with small prices courtesy of Chiwan Choi.
Art, the Child, the Future
Art engages the senses and aids imagination, creativity and innovation; that's why it is essential to the general growth of a child. "By engaging in art activities, children practice a variety of skills and progress in all areas of development. Creative art helps children grow in physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development. Children also practice imagination and experimentation as they invent new ways to create art." an article on the importance of art to a child published on Childcare.extension.org
In May, the Yellow House visited the school of disabilities. There they engaged the children in creative arts, asking them to sketch anything that came their mind. Many beautiful sketches were born. There was the special case of a young blind boy who drew a violin on a cardboard, and when asked about his choice: "she said she wished that one day music can be translated into sign language" Babafemi fondly recounts. And there is also the story of a boy who drew a coloured chicken and asked 'would a chicken still be killed if it was truly beautiful?'
As he has experienced with many children in this community in Bayelsa, he believes creativity allows a child transcend physical restraints, and especially for children that lived with a disability. It helps to create a world of endless possibility. And that's why his personality mantra continues to be 'exposing the creative part of the child.' This possibility, that is of art and creative expression, makes us wonder why many schools in Nigeria are not sufficiently exploring this part.
While the future of the world definitely belong to technology and digital skills, the role for art remains salient. It helps stimulate the mind, like rich coffee, it enhances our imagination and enriches our creative output. Children would do with more creative activities in their schools and community. Their minds need arts as much as it needs mathematics. Without a project like the Yellow House library books, art would be objects to be hoped for, not the world of beauty and imagination they now experience.
Edited by Ngoziukwu Livingstone Ifeanyichukwu (Mondo Internazionale Nigeria)