Christian Elongué, CEO of Muna Kalati named 2021 Global literacy champions and visionaries by International Literacy Association 0

Christian Elongué, the executive Director of Muna Kalati, a nonprofit promoting reading and children literature in Africa, is one of 30 literacy leaders named to the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) 2021 30 Under 30 list. The global list celebrates rising innovators, disruptors and visionaries in the literacy field. The International Literacy Association (ILA) is a global advocacy and membership organization dedicated to advancing literacy for all through its network of more than 300,000 literacy educators, researchers and experts across 128 countries.

Christian Elongué is an author and researcher on children and young adult literature. Dismayed by a lack of black characters in books available to African children, Christian founded in 2017 with the goal of building international recognition for African children’s book authors and increasing access to African children books.

He was also recognized for publishing Muna Kalati magazine, which is becoming a reference for writers, publishers and illustrators of children’s and Young Adult books, as well as librarians, teachers, editors and parents. Christian has supported several researchers, or mentored Master & PhD students to undertake research on African Children literature in Cameroon, Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso. In 2019, he authored the book: An Introduction to Children Literature in Cameroon, the first scientific work with a holistic approach on the children book industry in Cameroon. Prior to that, he collaborated on children literature with the French National Centre for Children’s Literature. As a founding member of International Board of Book for Young People (IBBY-Cameroon), he spent several years developing literacy and educational initiatives as a means to empower children in West Africa.

Chrstian Elongué indicated that the goal of Muna Kalati’s work is to increase awareness and access to diverse and affordable books for children and young adult in Africa. They shape the future of literacy by increasing the culture of reading and it empowers kids and young adults to be lifelong learners and leaders.

According to him, “you can’t consistently be a great leader without being a great learner, you stop growing and maturing when you stop learning. As reading is one of the common and best ways of learning, all great leaders are also great readers. So empowering kids to cultivate a passion and genuine interest in reading, not for utilitarian or academic purpose, will definitely help them become the leaders and changemakers that our societies critically need.”

Reading shapes our thinking. Children’s books shape the way we see the world as we grow up. The stories we discover through books influence our mindset. And since childhood is a period of life where our identity is mostly defined, it’s very important for children to see themselves in characters and heroes they read. Therefore, when unable to see characters and settings that are similar to theirs, children may tend to believe that what they see in those books is the “norm”, the standards.

This might negatively affect their identity construction as they would sometimes try, to conform their attitude and behavior to what they see in their book’s characters and hero. Henceforth, a lack of diversity in children books could be a threat to international understanding and an obstacle to a fruitful dialogue of cultures and civilizations. However, I don’t want children to imagine a world with no differences, but I want them to value difference. Preparing them for a more just world does not mean teaching them to reject others. It means helping them learn to celebrate their identity and be proud of it.

Moreover, a lack of diversity in children is also influencing children’s love of reading and literacy, mostly at the level of motivation. Kids usually aren’t much excited to continue reading a story in which they do not recognize themselves nor their local environment. And through my experience working with kids and young adults, I noticed that they were more enthusiastic to continue reading books where characters, settings and dialogue were the reflection of their daily realities.

Representing 12 countries, this year’s list of honorees includes educators, nonprofit leaders, authors, volunteers, researchers and social entrepreneurs. “The start of 2021 is filled with much promise thanks to the work of this year’s class of honorees,” said ILA Executive Director Marcie Craig Post. “Their work—whether it’s research on multicultural literacy, helping young students find the power of their voice or dismantling systems of oppression in education—is impacting the lives of countless individuals and communities. Not only do these emerging leaders share in our mission of literacy for all, but also they are helping to ensure that the post-COVID era, when we get there, will be grounded in equity for all.”

Christian Elongué hence joins a growing cohort of leaders. Past honorees include Gerald Dessus, social justice teacher and curriculum developer in Pennsylvania; Shiza Shahid, cofounder of the Malala Fund; Allister Chang, founder of Civic Suds; and Freshta Karim, founder of mobile library Charmaghz in Afghanistan.

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