To inspire caring and action in youth
It is a story about a young African girl with a dream. With the help of people in her village as well as far away, that dream came true and had a far-reaching positive effect. Katie Milway Smith has witnessed this kind of transformation in African villages and shares her hope for a better world (and her ideas on how to get there) with young readers in her new book Mimi’s Village and How Basic Health Care Transformed It, beautifully illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes.
It was on Bowen Island that Smith Milway completed her first major work as a writer while she was caring for her father, Mallory Smith, after he had a back operation in 1994. And 16 years later, she drafted Mimi’s Village while she visited him when he was a cancer patient. Now, the book has been released and Smith Milway offers islanders a sneak peek on July 30 at 11 a.m. at Phoenix on Bowen.
Mimi’s Village is aimed to inspire kids and their families to help equip village health workers. This is not Smith Milway’s first book for a young audience (she says to read it independently, children would probably need to be in Grade 3 but the illustrations appeal to readers of all ages). Another one of her books, One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference, introduced kids to microfinance and spawned the nonprofit www.oneheninc.org. One Hen is based on a true story.
The backdrop for Mimi’s Village is also a landscape Smith Milway knows well. “Mimi’s Village is inspired by many true stories. It’s a composite of frontline health workers and rural African families whom I’ve had the privilege of getting to know in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Zambia,” she said. “It’s told through the eyes of a 10 year-old-girl whose sister falls ill drinking dirty water and the assistance, knowledge and inspiration she draws from a village health worker. These care givers constitute the ‘last mile’ in getting both prevention and cure to those in dire need in the poorest communities.”
Smith Milway found inspiration in meeting many health workers and included the example of Felina Maya in the book with concrete tips on how children’s actions in North America can aid her work in Zambia.
“I had an initial moment of truth as a new program coordinator with Food for the Hungry International in the ‘90s when I first spent time in a Kenyan community and saw that a common illness like diarrhea can be fatal to young children. I also learned that it could be cured with something as simple as salted juice (called oral rehydration) and, moreover, prevented by boiling water or adding a thimbleful of bleach,” she recalled. “Last year, I spent time in Zambia with World Vision and had a chance to meet one of 77,000 village health workers in that country who are volunteering their time to promote hygiene, deliver bed nets and check up on orphans and vulnerable children in their community, most having lost parents to AIDS, to ensure they receive care and encouragement.” Smith Milway said that these volunteers travel on bicycle and visit up to 60 families on a regular basis, in addition to taking care of their own.
And even though children in North America live in different conditions, Smith Milway believes that her message is universal. “I really thought of it as an opportunity - to engage kids of all different backgrounds in healthy habits – nutrition and vaccinations are important worldwide,” she said. “I also wanted to show how their small acts, like carrying UNICEF boxes at Hallowe’en, translate into global aid and introduce them to the children and families whose lives they improve and the men and women that translate their pennies and nickels into saving lives and preventing illness.”
The book’s focus is not on the dismal conditions of life on the African continent. “Kids today get so much information about what’s wrong in the world – through multiple media - that it’s important to show windows of hope and entry points to make positive change,” she says. “Kids today also have more means than ever before. Economically, four to 12-year-olds in North America are estimated to have a combined $50 billion pocket money market (a figure tracked by video game producers).” Smith Milway added that today’s youth have the opportunity through YouTube, Facebook and other social media to advocate globally – and they do.
Smith Milway looks forward to reaching out to Bowen’s kids on July 30 who will see the book before the official North America-wide launch that starts on August 1. At Phoenix on Bowen, Smith Milway will present the book and some photos, answer questions and read from a journal she kept while working in Africa.
Smith Milway lives in Boston but still has a strong connection to Bowen, a place she calls “home.”
“I’ve always loved the spirit of neighbours helping neighbours here,” she said. “Twenty years ago, when I began writing in earnest, this was the place I came to reflect and compose.”