AiW note: Gogo Diaries Sweden is run by Zimbabwean author and educationist Priscilla Musoki, bridging the gap she has seen for children in the Diaspora by publishing bilingual books in the pandemic, grounded in a grandmother’s wisdom and love, storytelling and folklore, and Ubuntu values.
We are excited to be able to share Priscilla’s Words on the Times — an AiW Q&A series inspired by the spirit of community and resilience, initiated to connect the blog’s communities of work and life through their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic — especially because, as she puts it…
…the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have been devastating to most people. I had my full share of anxieties and challenges. Out of unexpected circumstances I found myself following a pathway that has filled my heart with joy. I am now writing children’s books. I hope this blog post and Words on the Times can serve as a source of encouragement to somebody…
~ Priscilla Musoki.
Life changing opportunities in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic – Words on the Times with Priscilla Musoki, Gogo Diaries Sweden.
Priscilla Musoki is a Zimbabwean born educationist who was trained in England and is now living in Sweden. Over the years, she has developed a career as an Author, Coach and Mentor. Her passion lies in helping children and young people to grow up to become responsible and accountable adults. This is reflected through her first book, Guidance and Counselling Book 1, co-authored with Nhamo Chikwava, which is the first in the Life Skills Education series for use in schools in Zimbabwe.
Before embarking on writing books, she had a colourful career in schools in Zimbabwe primarily as a School Head, one of the first women to be promoted to that position after Zimbabwe’s independence. Upon taking an early retirement, she had a brief stint in the hospitality and clothing industries before devoting her time to coaching and mentoring, with her main focus being children and youth. When in Zimbabwe, during weekends, she could be seen tending to her beehives or preaching. In Sweden during this summer of 2021, apart from spending time with her grandchildren, she is growing the pumpkins, maize and kale she takes for granted in Zimbabwe!
AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your work and the ways that the pandemic affected your plans for it?
Priscilla Musoki: The Covid-19 pandemic closed doors of opportunities. Factories closed, people lost jobs and the lockdown had a serious impact on relationships and mental health. Some lives have been changed forever as emotions buckled under the impact of lockdowns, death of loved ones and loss of jobs.
All my family are in the diaspora. Like everyone else we worried and prayed about when we would see each other again. Schools in Zimbabwe were closed due to the pandemic. That effectively meant I could not go to schools for my usual business as a Life Coach for school children. As an author I was still writing but this wasn’t enough to keep me relaxed and fully occupied.
The pandemic and its effects were beginning to weigh in on me as well. I really did not want to be alone during the Christmas season and besides, I missed my family. In October 2021 I decided to visit my family in Stockholm. Since the lockdown in Zimbabwe had effectively closed down schools for most of the year, I had the time on my hands to spend with my family in Sweden, particularly my grandchildren. The plan was to return home after two months.
As the date of my departure back to Zimbabwe drew close, the pandemic got so bad that people were dying at an alarming rate daily at home. We decided as a family that I would postpone my return until it was relatively safe to do so.
So, I was stuck in Stockholm!
Life Skills Education being my forte, it did not take me long to observe what was happening to children of African origin in Sweden who were struggling with their identity. I was aware from research that a struggle with your identity presents behavioural challenges later in life which include engaging in risky behaviours, poor performance in school and depression.
The folktales I told my grandchildren became my source of inspiration. At first, I recorded these storytelling sessions for YouTube. Children from all nationalities that watched these videos gave me very positive feedback. They enjoyed the stories thoroughly. I also realised that my grandchildren remembered the lessons from these stories better than when I tried to give them a simple life skilling lesson.
I found myself wanting to do more to intentionally help these children living in multicultural environments. I felt that I had to write books which children could read in the comfort of their homes. This would help them to reflect on the lessons in the book and also give them a literal taste of Africa. I then turned one of my folktales into my first bilingual (Shona/English) children’s book – ‘Sticky fingers in the African forest’. This was a clear deviation from my usual work of going into schools for coaching and mentoring.
Sticky Fingers in the African Forest was launched on Amazon. I immediately went on a virtual book tour starting with Europe and then moving to Africa, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Children asked deep questions about the book. They were excited. They needed to understand the lessons from the story. The world being in lockdown, I could only take advantage of that and develop classes for children in Europe and other parts of the world. This was well received. The first class has been launched in Europe and Africa, with Australia and North America following closely behind. The classes are 4-week courses that start with the story, and develop into practical learning and practicing values learnt.
The effect of the pandemic on families, individuals, economies across the globe cannot be downplayed. It is going to take time for people to recover from the pain and discomfort. I have also learnt that such devastating situations can also open doors of opportunities if we keep our minds open. If my wish of going back to Zimbabwe at the beginning of January had gone through, I would have never observed so keenly the challenges that children of African origin living in multicultural environments face. When I realised their predicament it was easy for me to do something about it with the help of my lovely grandchildren who walked with me all the way. Their response to my stories, the book and lessons convinced me that there is a dire need to develop this concept to books and culture classes. I have since launched a second book, Bullfrog Outwits Sneaky Hare also on Amazon.
In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before, or how are things on the ground where you are now?
The pandemic has provided me with an opportunity to conduct Author reading sessions virtually. This has allowed me to capture an international audience while sitting in Stockholm, Sweden. The conversations that I have participated in would have been very difficult for me to navigate physically due to the long distances involved. Following Covid 19 vaccination process, I have recently found my way back into schools and in front of young learners in Stockholm, with some more lined up after schools reopen after the summer break. A few libraries are also coming on board.
This children’s series aims at teaching children values based on African folklore. Writing the book begins with identifying the value that the children need to learn. Then follows the identification of an African proverb that would best communicate the lesson. When all is done it is then time to develop the story to the level that makes sense and is captivating to children.
My experience so far as I read to children both in schools and virtually, they really do appreciate the value of respecting other people’s property and not stealing. This is after we have answered interesting questions on the relationship between Hare and Baboon. ‘How can they be related?’. The answer always lies in this having happened a long time ago!
What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
My heart has been uplifted by friends and family who have given me so much positive feedback and encouragement on the book. Schools in Sweden have been receptive to the book in a very heartwarming way. I have been invited to conduct Author book reading sessions with the learners. I have had friends offering their services to translate the book. In the very near future there will be Swedish and Ndebele. Ndebele is one of the major languages in Zimbabwe. This will give an opportunity for a wider range of Zimbabwean origin children to be encouraged to enjoy the book in their language. The Swedish version is a very exciting prospect because all children in Sweden will be able to read and enjoy the book without someone interpreting for them.
So, yes, the ground is very warm and is opening up to some very exciting possibilities.
How can our blog communities best support you?
My passion is to empower children to grow up into responsible, productive and accountable adults. Sticky Fingers in the African Forest and Bullfrog Outwits Sneaky Hare are tools for diverse literature and presenting a positive African narrative. Children from all backgrounds and nationalities have a lot to learn and benefit from these books which teach these values in a very engaging manner. My goal is for as many children as possible to see and read the books. I would appreciate it very much if this community could help in spreading the word so that children gain access to them. I would love to be allowed an opportunity to share my stories interactively while engaging specifically with young learners across the world.
Find Priscilla’s books through her online channels (see below for more links) – or visit https://linktr.ee/Gogo_diariessweden2021. You can also email email@example.com.
Hear Priscilla read from the books at Gogo Diaries Sweden’s YouTube channel, as well as listen and watch the Gogo Diaries’ Storytime with Grandma series – there’s more than just “Hare goes on a Mission” below…!
For more in our Words on the Times series – including with Ellenore Angelidis of Open Hearts Big Dreams (OHBD), a not-for-profit organisation working to provide bilingual literacy resources through Ready Set Go Books, an innovative effort to increase literacy in Ethiopia – and other publishers, facilitators, editors, academics, and writers and artists, all sharing their experiences of life and work through the #COVOIDs of the last 18 months, see the blog category here.