AiW note: Open Hearts Big Dreams (OHBD) is a not-for-profit organisation working to provide literacy resources and opportunities for students in Ethiopia. Their main project is Ready Set Go Books, an innovative effort to increase literacy in Ethiopia. OHBD publishes unique bilingual titles, all in Amharic, almost all also in Tigrinya and Afaan Oromo, and recently started on creating Somali versions too.
Today, we are thrilled to publish an AiW Words on the Times Q&A with OHBD’s Founder and Executive Director, Ellenore Angelidis. Ellenore’s thoughtful answers offer an in-depth insight into the work of OBHD, and the production and distribution of Ready Set Go books. Enjoy!
AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your work?
Open Hearts Big Dreams was inspired by the idea that the size of a kid’s dreams should not depend on where in the world they are born. The fact that many kids around the globe don’t get the chance to learn to read or even hold a book in their hands is unconscionable. We believe every kid should also see themselves represented in the books they get to read. We know that kids in Ethiopia don’t have a lot of culturally appropriate early reader books to help them learn to read. So OHBD set out to create over 200 unique titles (in multiple Ethiopian/African languages) to contribute to closing that gap.
Since 2017, the Ready Set Go Book project of OHBD has created 110+ bilingual, colorful, welcoming books for children and families in Ethiopia (and around the world) to read in their own languages, with illustrations that show moments from their lives and also draw their attention to other people, customs, places, animals in Ethiopia and beyond. We are publishing more books most months. You can find the current list here. Our books have made it back to Ethiopia (over 110,000 copies distributed in 7 local languages with another 100,000 planned for 2021) and are traveling to delight and educate kids around the world in places as far away as India, Australia, Japan, Brazil, and Germany. They are also enjoyed by kids in libraries in Washington, California, Colorado, Minneapolis, and those are just the states we know about. I like to remind people, given what we know about the origins of humanity, that we are all Ethiopian by ancestry so these are books for everyone.
We wanted to contribute to creating more authors and illustrators so have offered volunteering opportunities for writers and painters, translators and educators to share their artistic visions and insights with those children and families. We also recently added a volunteer writing coach for our new writers to learn and develop their voice. There is so much Ethiopian history, geography, culture, so many proverbs and wise sayings, birds, animals, and traditions that can be a source of fascination and pride.
As one of the few publishers exploring Ethiopia, we don’t limit ourselves to certain topics. Instead, we let the creators of the books follow their own interests—while also working to be thoughtful and inclusive. We have a wide-ranging set of fiction and nonfiction titles we hope will offer a perfect book choice for any kid. We are learning that we are now one of the leading publishers of kids’ books in African languages – and we did so in just over four years.
In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
The global pandemic has been an opportunity to experiment and try things in an effort to continue our work and also provide value to those staying at home. We were already a project that did a lot of work using virtual tools. During the past year, more Ethiopian writers, illustrators, translators, and reviewers have joined the project, which means that we are often communicating across continents in addition to across states. Trips between the United States and Ethiopia have mostly (though not totally) had to be put on hold. The more people who learn about what we are doing, the more volunteers we have, which is somewhat challenging but also greatly inspiring.
We also reduced the cost of all our Kindle titles to $1.99 to make them accessible to those at home who couldn’t get to a library in addition to our ‘Free Kindle Fridays’ which are announced on social media and offer one of our titles each week to our global audience. We offered opportunities for young people doing school work from home, such as an art contest (with the first winner getting to see her illustration included in a Ready Set Go Book) and a coloring book created from some of the book illustrations.
We started the Read 2 Me Program on YouTube, where we provide a free book to a volunteer willing to create a video of themselves reading our books, to share with kids everywhere. We started virtual fundraising with Ethiopian cooking and language classes that enriched everyone involved, and helped us make up funding shortfalls from cancelling our regular events. Kids and adults have stepped up to help in amazing ways.
The Seattle Public library, which already carried all our books in their World Languages program, recently added our books in four different African languages (Amharic, Tigrinya, Afaan Oromo, and Somali) to their curbside program through which they give books to kids in the communities they support.
What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
It fills us with gratitude that so many new writers, illustrators, translators, and reviewers have stepped forward to offer help. Some have read our books for the new YouTube channel. Some have shared our books with their school or library or church communities. Some have posted on social media or donated money so that, for example, we could start printing more books in Ethiopia to be distributed by nonprofits and educational projects there.
We have also been encouraged that we have able to continue to delight and inspire kids with new books and see them explore both new and familiar worlds even in the midst of a global pandemic. We consistently hear from parents and kids the amazing impact of seeing themselves and their culture reflected and celebrated, not just in a handful of books, but so many books covering such a broad range of topics.
Collaborating with my daughter on books about our family’s experiences in Ethiopia as well as areas of personal interest, like Andromeda, Princess of Ethiopia, has been heart healing as the world grapples with so many challenging issues. Seeing those books getting loved and appreciated around the world by those who enjoy the stories, as well as the art of our friend who lives in my daughter’s birthplace, is a gift that continues to give joy and hope.
How can our blog communities best support you?
Open Hearts Big Dreams was founded in part to show the impact of ordinary people coming together with a big dream to do extraordinary things. We are not a project with any big funding source or institutional support. Some of our books, for example, are by kids and for kids. We rely on people who will take time to read and review and share what we are doing. We have met amazing supporters through social media and communities of all kinds. We look forward to having the support of this amazing community too.
We want to continue to create wonderful new books, add more African languages, and get our books in every school and library to both promote culture and language preservation as well as teach kids about a part of the world many hold dear and many others may never get to visit.
Specific ways to help are reviewing our books on Amazon or one of the other many sites they can be found, creating a Read 2 Me video, asking your school or library to carry our books, sponsoring the creation of a book or printing in Ethiopia, volunteering to be an illustrator or writer with us. We know your fantastic blog communities can help make these bold goals a reality.
Ellenore Angelidis is the Founder and Executive Director of the Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund which is focused on increasing inclusive educational opportunities (literacy, leadership, innovation) for kids in Ethiopia, her daughter’s birth country. Ellenore is also a published writer. She also published a number of children’s books including some of the Ready Set Go books with her daughter and other co-authors.