Saturday, 17 September 2016

MEET ISANG AWAH THE MULTI-TALENTED FOUNDER OF MYRAINBOW BOOKS.



Isang Awah obtained a BSc in Biochemistry from the University of Uyo, a Master of Liberal Arts degree (Concentration: Literature & Creative Writing) from Harvard University, U.S.A., and presently doing her PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK. She is studying to become a researcher in the field of education.


My attention was drawn to her as a result of the yearly literary competition she holds every year which she began.

Find below her answers to the questions we posed to her.

Q. WORK EXPERIENCE
My work experience is just as varied and colourful as my educational qualifications. I started out as a banker and then resigned because I found it extremely boring. I then became a stay-at-home mom, or housewife. I would say that’s the one career I have spent the most number of years on – being a housewife. At various times in the past, I have set up and managed a laundry business and gone into film production, and in the last few years, I set up MyRainbowBooks Limited, a company that makes personalized books.  

Q. YOU ONCE PRODUCED A FILM THAT WAS A RESOUNDING SUCCESS. WHAT WAS THE MOTIVATING FORCE BEHIND THE FILM? 

There was a good story that addressed a number of societal ills, a story I believed should be produced and put out there. So I got other people involved in the project, and the story became a film with a stellar cast and crew, and a wonderful soundtrack. That is the one side of it. The other side is that I believe in the power of films, just as much as I believe in the power of books. I believe that through books and films, we can influence the culture of a people. I see film as a powerful tool to pass on messages. Also, I find film production very exciting. My hands are full at the moment, but I know that sooner or later, I will return to film production. I really, really love being on set. J

Q. YOU ARE AN AUTHOR. HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN? 

I have written many books, but not all of them have been published by MyRainbowBooks Limited. For instance, about a year ago, I was invited by a publisher to develop reading books for a series, and I wrote different books for that project. Many years ago, I wrote a collection of allegories on the Christian walk titled, Tales of Another Kind


However, I have eleven books published by MyRainbowBooks Limited.

Q. YOU OWN MYRAINBOWBOOKS THAT HAS ORGANIZED THIS COMPETITION THAT HAS SUCCESSFUL DONE ITS 2ND EDITION, WHAT DOES YOUR COMPANY ESSENTIALLY DO AND HOW DID THE COMPETITION COME ABOUT?
Let me start by stating that I do not own MyRainbowBooks Limited. I came up with the vision of MyRainbowBooks, started the company, and presently own the majority of shares in the company, but there are a few other shareholders. MyRainbowBooks makes personalized storybooks for children, and personalized gift books for adults. A personalized book is a book that is custom-made for a child and stars the child as the main character. The child’s photo and names appear on the dedication page, and the name appears throughout the book as the star or main character of the story. Other personalization data such as the child’s age, hometown, friends’ names, etc. will also appear in the story. The books can also be further customized with additional photos and writings/messages, party colours, themes, etc. The adult books are specially made with write-ups, photos, special messages, poems, etc. to celebrate the person.   


On how the competition came about, I was constantly inundated with calls and requests about publishing books or stories that people and children had written. Parents wanted to know if we could publish their children’s stories. We are not a regular publishing house because we only publish personalized storybooks. We wanted to give back to the society and encourage children in some way. So I realized we could match our desire to give back with the request to publish children’s works by organizing an annual, free-to-enter competition. That way, any child who had written a good story or poem would get published as well as win fabulous prizes.

Q: CAN YOU PLEASE TELL US THE NAMES OF WINNERS OF THIS YEAR’S COMPETITION?
We have three categories in the competition, therefore we have three sets of winners.


For category A (5-8-year-old children), the winners were Ekei Orok Duke, Palm Court Crèche and Schools, Calabar, Cross River State (1st place) and Claire Ifiemi Alagoa, Cedar Court British International School, Yenogoa, Bayelsa State (3rd place).

For Category B (9-12-year-old children), the winners were Okezie Uzochukwu Chiedozie, Mount Carmel Primary School, Ekpoma, Edo State (1st place), Benan Ngulukun, Corona School, Bukuru, Plateau State (2nd place), and Edward Ogon, Surefoot International School, Calabar, Cross River State (3rd place).

For Category C (13-16-year-old children), the winners were Louis Ene Okon, Surefoot International School, Calabar, Cross River State (1st place), Rachael Onuigbo, Regina Pacis College, Abuja, FCT (2nd place) and Vivian Ugochi Obi-Obasi, Faith Academy, Nasarawa State (3rd place). 


We also had winners in the School Categories as well as ‘Honourable Mentions’ in all three age categories of the competition.


Q: WHO ARE YOUR SPONSORS?
Our major sponsor is E-Gaps, but we have had the support of many organizations and companies. Okay, so here’s how we do it: each year, MyRainbowBooks sets aside a percentage of its earnings to put into the competition. We also get a certain amount from E-Gaps, a foundation that is dedicated to bridging the gaps in the education sector. But what we set aside and what we get from E-Gaps make only a fraction of our total budget for the competition, so we still have to approach organizations and companies and share our vision with them.


We are immensely grateful to the following organizations and companies that have supported the competition in various ways in the past: UBEC, Emerging Platforms Group, Book River, Seven Up Plc, Marvellous Mike Printing Press, Learn Africa Plc, Mattini Book Club, Hatlab Ice-cream Delite, Reading House Africa, Kidz Funville, All About Kids, Cassava Republic, Book River Ltd., Readers are Leaders Bookshop, Healthy Treats for Kids, Fenan Digital Press, Laterna Ventures, Book City, Lokay Christian Bookstores, and Unicorn Bookshop. I must mention that our team of judges is always made up of amazing men and women who share our vision of giving back. We do not pay our judges or anyone working on the organizing team, so that takes away a huge expense item on our list.

Q: PEOPLE BELIEVE READING CULTURE IS DECLINING. DO YOU AGREE? IF YES WHAT DO YOU THINK CAN BE DONE?
I am hesitant about saying the reading culture is on the decline because I have no facts to compare and see how much reading was done in the past and how much is done now. As an educational researcher, I could tell you about strategies to get children reading, strategies such as building libraries and stocking them with suitable reading materials, making the reading materials easily accessible, getting adults to model a culture of reading etc. but the truth is, I am not sure those strategies will work in Nigeria. Just to be clear, we should implement those strategies quite alright, but before implementing them, we should change our values.

In my opinion, the absence of a reading culture is a symptom of something fundamentally wrong with our society – wrong values! It’s difficult for youths to appreciate the need to read or work hard when they constantly see that the people who forge ahead in the society are not necessarily people who read so much or work very hard, but people who are lucky to have the right connections and/or political positions. Everyone wants to be successful and happy. Now, the question is, how much reading did the rich or successful people in our society do? So why then should the young people read? I understand that a few months ago the salaries of lecturers were halved, and at just about the same period, our legislators bought brand new SUVs for themselves. What message do you think this sends out to the young people? I’m sure you get my drift.


Let me state that I am a strong advocate of reading. I believe in the power of books, and have benefited a lot from reading. I don’t think I would even be where I am today were it not for my love for books. As a matter of fact, I am researching reading for pleasure in Nigeria. But regardless of all of that, I fear that until we change our culture and show that education and hard-work pays, our chants to young people to do more reading may continue to fall on deaf ears.

Q: WHERE DO YOU HOPE TO SEE YOURSELF IN THE NEXT 5YEARS?
That’s an interesting question. Some of the things I hope to do within the next five years are: complete my doctoral programme and either go into consulting or gain employment in an interesting organization, start a blog, produce a film or two, write more books, help to establish MyRainbowBooks and the competition in other countries, but not necessarily in the order I have listed them. These are some of the dreams in my heart today, and while I pray and work hard towards accomplishing them, I have learned that sometimes, God may have other dreams for me. If you had asked me this question 5 years ago, I definitely would not have included a PhD programme in my plans. So my plans are very much open to God’s direction because more than anything else, my heart’s desire is to fully please Him and do all that He desires for me to do. I want nothing more and nothing less than His plans for me. That’s what I live for cause that’s what gives me the most fulfillment.






Thank you very much. I wish you the best.

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