In early April, I spent eleven days visiting one of the language project centers. Dodoma is Tanzania’s capital city. In the surrounding region, the project is involved in literacy work, Bible translation, and Scripture engagement with five language communities. All of them were represented in the Illustrator’s Workshop which I’d come to see. 

We meant to do the workshop in a village in Kondoa District, but a cholera outbreak made it too risky. So fifteen men made journeys to “the big city,” most for their first time. Some had attended a workshop in the past; others were recommended by a local contact as having some talent or interest in drawing. 

I watched them move from basic lessons, things like shape and shading, to more challenging exercises in perspective and color. I posed while they sketched my feet! I followed as they left their classroom to draw scenes and live subjects in the marketplace and other parts of town… 

Their art (and their progress) was incredible to see, but maybe even more amazing was the neighborly dynamic between people of so many languages and cultures for so many long days together. Some are followers of another major faith! Meanwhile, I learned a lot about these guys (and their relationship with the project) from our teammate who organized the event: 

“Our first literacy booklets were fine,” Margaret told me. “But the only way we could illustrate them at all was to use free ‘clip art.’ I thought, no, surely we can do better. So we had one of these workshops, and a few of the guys did really well. So the next time we published a literacy booklet, we included some of their work. 

“Now, demand in the community for these materials is many times greater than it was before. They say things to me like, ‘When we see these kinds of pictures, we know — this really is OUR book!’ They simply add their own creative touch to it, and many more people are interested in learning to read their mother tongue. 

And this means that, when the community translates Scripture into their mother tongue, it won’t be a mysterious novelty book, or just for their pastors… it will be something people can understand for themselves. We know that they WILL hear God speaking to them personally, as they read.”

This story was written for SIL Tanzania by:

Kenny Grindall (Communications Coordinator)

SIL International is a global partner among academic and professional organisations which offer language development services. SIL works alongside speakers of more than 1,700 languages in over 100 countries. Active in Tanzania since 1989, the organization makes its services available to all without regard to religious belief, political ideology, gender, race or ethnolinguistic background.