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International Mother Language Day: Celebrating the work of PEN Centres

Wednesday 18 February 2015 - 4:07pm

On 21 February, the PEN community worldwide will celebrate International Mother Language Day. This year, the theme of Mother Language Day is Language Education Counts:

For UNESCO, “appropriate language education” is fundamental to enable learners to benefit from quality education, learn throughout life, and have access to information. This is possible if there is an approach to language education that promotes the use of at least three languages: one of which should be a mother tongue or first language.

Every year PEN International works with PEN Centres around the world to highlight the importance of reading and writing as tools for the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, global peace-building, cultural dialogue and development through civil society programmes and activities. Many of these ongoing Centre Programmes address issues of linguistic rights and mother language education. These include:

Mother Tongue Literature for Children in South Africa 

SA 1South African PEN collaborated in 2013 with PRAESA, the organization driving a national reading-for-enjoyment –the Nal’ibali campaign, in South Africa, to translate four children’s stories into Xhosa, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sepedi and Sesotho. The stories were passed on to reading clubs nationwide, reaching some 6,000 children face-to-face, and over 15,000 copies were further supplied through newspapers. In 2014 South African PEN is once again worked with PRAESA to translate the children’s book George’s Secret Key to the Universe into Xhosa and Zulu. The translation has the potential to inspire older children to want to discover more about science and our universe. Both programmes contribute towards the status, respect and publication of African languages as well as advocate for the rights of people to have access to a range of reading materials in their own language(s).

Literature and Writing Workshops in Tibetan Schools and Religious Institutes in Exile

SA 3Tibetan Writers Abroad PEN Centre’s 2014 Civil Society programme’s aim was to generate an interest in and improve the knowledge of the Tibetan language and literature among Tibetan teachers and students in exile. The centre offered literature and writing workshops in Tibetan schools and religious institutes in exile, encouraging students to write poetry, stories and prose compositions portraying life in exile. Through the sessions the programme also provided young Tibetans with an increased understanding of freedom of expression and human rights.

Creative Writing Workshops for Writers and Students as Alternative Community-based Education in Puerto Rico

SA 4PEN Puerto Rico has recognised that public education in Puerto Rico faces a number of difficult challenges which are reflected in the deterioration in the quality of teaching. Through its creative writing workshops the Centre aims to bring literature closer to communities and public schools so that young people regard words as their friends and allies through creative writing. With the motto ‘Expression and creativity’ PEN Puerto Rico hopes to make students realise what they can do with pen and paper. PEN Puerto Rico’s promotion of Puerto Rican literature has the double effect of enriching the local literary production and, at the same time, strengthening the Spanish language skills in public and private K-12 and college education.

PEN Bridges in Bosnia and Herzegovina

BH 1PEN Bosnia and Herzegovina set up a series of panel discussions last year addressing issues around freedom of expression in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the wider West Balkan region. Themes such as the role of art and literature in cities divided by conflict, regional literary translation policies, literature as a means of democratic expression and the situation of writers and artists in cultural institutions of the state in post-war and transitional societies were discussed at the organised events.

For more information on International Mother Language Day 2015 click here.



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