Zamani Foundation   

Once Upon A Time...
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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is your new idea to create lasting social change? When and how did you come up with it?

Zamani engages young people in a cycle of literary and artistic creativity to develop viable libraries in their own schools and communities. Through Zamani’s Folklore Anthology and Library Initiative, children invest an intrinsic cultural resource, their traditional folklore, to publish an anthology sold to schools and libraries worldwide. By basing the program on oral tradition, Zamani promotes cultural continuity where it is threatened.
Living in the US, it is easy to take abundant academic resources for granted. When the Kenyan government mandated free universal primary education in 2002, enrollment soared over 1000%. But like in many developing countries, it became clear that Kenya lacked the material resources to adequately meet the demand. Zamani emerged as a culturally rooted and sustainable alternative to the short-term intervention of charitable aid programs. Children strengthen their cultural foundation while also developing real agency in meeting material educational needs.


2. What does the name mean?

Zamani comes from the Swahili phrase “Hapo zamani za kale” which means “Once upon a time.” The word is derived from Arabic root for temporal vocabulary, ‘Zaman,’ and appears in several languages around the world. Curiously, while ‘zamani’ means “past” or “bygone” in Kiswahili, it means “contemporary” on the other side of Africa in Hausa. This poetic stroke of linguistic paradox is in keeping with Zamani Foundation’s mission to empower youth through age-old traditions.


3. Can you demonstrate the need for your organization?

Zamani responds to a global situation where the quality of education systems is failing children. UNESCO’s 2005 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, indicates that more children are going to school than ever before, but many drop out before Grade 5 of primary school without obtaining a basic education. UNESCO’s Director-General says, “ill-equipped schools with scant learning materials remain an all too familiar picture in many countries."
Zamani’s programs are also needed where poverty, war, and disease make education and cultural vitality secondary to subsistence. In areas like Botswana where the HIV infection rates among adults reach 35%, children lose the guidance of their oral tradition as their elders die. Faced by humanitarian emergencies, conventional aid programs provide minimally for young people’s need for avenues of creative expression and scientific innovation, even though such cultural enterprise is key to resolving the deep problems of underdevelopment.


4. Why have you chosen your specific approach to the addressing the need described above? What is your theory or premise about how to create real and lasting social change that underlies the vision for your organization?

Young people around the world would benefit from thriving oral traditions that attest to the rich plurality of human experience. Through the Folklore Anthology and Library Initiative, we believe that young people learn to share and discover other worldviews and come to recognize themselves as change-agents in their particular communities. Zamani operates as a platform for a richer education and social enterprise. Our organization provides a means for young people to hone their artistic and entrepreneurial skills and, in the process, enrich their current learning environment.
This image of civic and communal engagement, the bedrock of democracy, contrasts with the passive and powerless personality the educational experience in many underdeveloped communities imposes. The theory of social change underlying Zamani’s approach is that people “own” their power to contribute to community advancement through programs that build on their agency rather than their dependency.


5. How is Zamani innovative or unique?


Zamani Foundation is not a charity. Its goal is to address material needs through a creative reciprocity that respects and promotes the dignity and cultural vigor of all participants. Instead of treating schools as passive recipients of foreign magnanimity, Zamani focuses on building partnerships with students and administrators. The dominant economic model of development agencies is based on charity, which inadvertently creates unproductive dependence. The Sabre Foundation and the Global Education Fund export donated books to needy children worldwide accruing significant intercontinental transportation costs.
Zamani’s approach is to publish and distribute anthologies by school children. The revenue generated from sales is invested in buying library books and textbooks for participating schools from suppliers in the region. Unlike other organizations, this approach ensures that valuable financial resources are invested within the very communities that benefit from the books provided.


6. What are Zamani's long term desired outcomes? How will you ensure success?

Zamani’s annual program will sponsor a contest of original written or illustrated works based on folklore and oral tradition. We will also invite establish storytellers, writers, and artists to mentor young people and contribute traditional stories on film, in writing, and illustrations. The proceeds from the anthologies will go to enriching library collections in under-resourced schools and community centers.
Zamani will partner with regional educational, cultural, and development agencies in implementing youth achievement award programs alongside youth leadership and skills-building camps. To achieve this, Zamani will cultivate and nurture constructive, respectful, relationships with local and international partners.


7. How will you measure the impact of Zamani's work in the communities that participate?

The most concrete measurement of Zamani’s impact will be the growth of academically and culturally significant libraries in participating schools. Through the library needs application, educators will be administratively engaged in directly securing the most relevant books for their schools. From these we will establish a baseline for monitoring the benefits of the program to individual schools. We will keep a catalogue and account of books purchased and delivered to school libraries.
Since the contest is based on oral tradition, the number of individual contest participants and the quality and variety of their submissions will be an important indicator of family and community involvement.
The contributions of writers and artists to the Anthology will also generate broader community participation. Finally, the sale and continued circulation of the published Anthology will become increasingly important in the long term development of the program.


8. Why you? Why now? What personal or environmental factors are driving you to make this commitment at this time?

The privation and fury which we see fueling conflict throughout the world, are rooted in deep-reaching cultural alienation. It is clear to us that we can no longer be complacent about the one-dimensional belief that “Might is Right”, where he who hits hardest or dies with the most toys wins.
Letting poverty, conflict and disease devastate young minds and consume their cultural patrimony denies children the potential for growth and contributes to the general indifference, desperation, or blind hatred that ravage society.
By cultivating cultural education and fraternity from the youngest age, we believe that we can create an alternative to privation, fear, and hopelessness. Zamani’s program will have an immediate economic impact and lasting cultural results as participants grow up with greater ownership of themselves and broader understanding the world around them.


9. What are the major challenges and obstacles that this program faces and how will Zamani overcome them?

Zamani’ greatest challenge will be skepticism about the relevance of folklore and mythology to the modern world. Educators preparing students for tomorrow in overburdened educational systems may view our focus on oral tradition as trivial and diversionary. We built in material incentives to drive the program forward. By sponsoring an annual contest, Zamani ensures a high quality of voluntary student participation for library funding.
Traditional donors may have a similar skepticism about supporting cultural enterprise as they may consider long-term youth projects less urgent than crisis intervention.
We will approach these challenges by emphasizing the long-term benefits of our initiative as a valid and pre-emptive response to humanitarian problems because our human development and educational focus connects with institutional priorities of many donors. We will also generate revenue from the sale and circulation of the anthology and cultivate local resources in participating communities.

Zamani Foundation’s mission is universal. While many strive to preserve oral tradition in archives of folklore and mythology, tradition must have a life outside library stacks in order to be culturally significant. Wisdom, however it is acquired, must also be alive.