Presentation of the IBBY-ASAHI Reading Promotion Award 2004
Laudatio by Xosé Antonio Neira Cruz
President, IBBY-ASAHI Reading Promotion Award Jury 2004
One of the most important aims of an IBBY Congress is to sow the seeds of the future. Here in Cape Town, for a few precious days, people are gathering from all over the world: they will live together, talk together, and analyse the situation of children’s books together. Here, for the week of the 29th IBBY Congress, we are in Africa - the old, deep, warm and true land where the first seed of life sprouted and where, once upon a time, the world was a little child. It is worth bearing in mind that everything else has sprung from that first, forgotten seed.
In Cape Town, IBBY will try, as it always has, to stitch together a net against the emptiness of life’s often desperate prisons and against the bewildering language of bombs and violence. Because we are builders of books, tellers of stories, painters of words, our world is made of words or images to illustrate words - every word in every language from every culture in the world. With our words, we will try to sow new seeds even as we tend to the harvest of the seeds planted by others before us. This is our task, our dream and our life.
Words and dreams...
Words for expressing dreams and dreams for imagining words: this is the arsenal with which we try to change the world, to improve the life of children, and to assert our understanding of what it is to be a fair, open and humane being.
There is a beautiful children’s song in the Bambara language that is sung by mothers from the Ivory Cost. In simple words, the song expresses the African sense of hospitality and dignity, and includes the following lines:
Today, the IBBY house is full of Africa and South Africa’s house is full of IBBY. We’ve finally come to Africa to talk about dreams and words; we’ve come to celebrate the endless creativity of Africa and to learn more about how books reach African children. We know already that there are many obstacles in the way of the African people who try to make this happen, but we also know that what they can teach us can fill all our houses with unexpected discoveries and intensely stirring dreams.
One of these African dreams was recognised by the 2004 IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award and we are very lucky that we can celebrate it here in Cape Town tonight. It is a happy coincidence that it is in this city that the First Words in Print project has its home and that the Centre for the Book in Cape Town receives the Award. There is something right about being able to applaud the work and dedication of all those associated with the project right here in their own house. The mothers of the children of Africa can sing loudly tonight.
The project has a simple aim - to promote literacy among South African children and their families, to find new ways to share books with them, and to develop a national literature for children in their mother tongue.
First Words in Print works with a range of partners across South Africa, including libraries, clinics, crèches and other organisations specialising in early childhood development programmes. Although the project is still in its pilot phase, it has already touched the lives of thousands of disadvantaged children in pre-schools across South Africa. Efforts are now under way to extend the project so that it reaches thousands more children who are affected by the HIV/AIDS virus and who do not have access to treatment.
On behalf of the jury, whose members include Nathalie Beau (France), Anne Pellowski (United States), Nilima Sinha (India), Elizabeth Serra (Brazil); Cheiko Suemori (Japan), and Jant van der Weg (Netherlands), I want to congratulate all those associated with the project and to applaud their creative approaches to helping children enter the world of books and reading.
First Words in Print has filled the South African houses with words and with books. With these gifts has come, as it often does, the hope of a better world for everybody. We must recognise the Centre for the Book in Cape Town for doing this work and then, together, praise its efforts.
And, of course, we must also thank the Asahi-Shimbun newspaper company that has sponsored the award since 1988, for its continuing support. The history of the award and its impact can be traced back to a small seed that was planted in 1986 during the IBBY Congress in Tokyo when the idea took root. That still-young seed has grown and spread its influence by way of the seventeen important projects that it has championed all over the world. The Asahi contribution is significant because it continues to reward and encourage the quiet but remarkable work of institutions and individuals who contribute to making dreams come true, and who dream words for better worlds.
Thank you to them.
Thank you to all those who fill our house with their trust in the future, tonight, and every night.
Xosé Antonio Neira Cruz
7 September 2004, Italian Club, Cape Town