Monday, September 20, 2010

Demere Kitunga: Reading for Change


In a breezy garden in Dar es Salaam is Soma Book Café. The founder and manager is Demere Kitunga; an activist, a feminist and not least a storyteller. Her passion is to read, her aim is to inspire others to do the same.

"Siku moja Matimati, Sultani wa Mangati, Alivaa mayakuti, na vito vitanashati, Na kubebwa kwenye kiti, kwenye vichwa vya umati, Akaivinjarinti, mtukufu jalalati..."

The words are flowing in a melodic yet determined way from the mouth of Demere Kitunga, founder and manager of Soma book Café. It is Friday evening and a poetry session about the forthcoming election in Tanzania is taking place at Soma Book Café in Dar es Salaam.

Despite her stage fright, Demere is on a small stage in the café garden catching the eyes of the crowd while reading aloud a poem about leadership. Reading is her passion, and she wants to share her passion with others.

- Reading is learning. It broadens your scope of knowledge and experience; of other people, other societies, and other periods in history. And it gives you aesthetic pleasure to read, she says.

Demere, who describes her age as ‘fifty-plus’, is originally a publisher. Together with a friend she started Soma Publishing, and in 2008 Soma Book Café came to life. The aim of both initiatives is reading for development.

Besides being a publisher and a reading enthusiast, Demere is a feminist and human rights activist and co-founder of two NGO’s, advocating gender equality and reading, and of NAFASI Art Space, supported by the Embassy of Denmark.

- I am an activist in many ways. I advocate for things I find important and right. I fight for the right to knowledge, Demere explains with a confident look in her eyes.
Ever since Demere Kitunga as a little girl sat in the kitchen with her siblings and listened to her mother telling stories while she was cooking, Demere has been fascinated by the world of stories. After she learned to read, she would read books every day, and soon she had read all the books in the library of her school.

Her mission is to spread her fascination with stories to the people of Tanzania. When she opened Soma Book Café, it was with the main goal to stimulate a stronger reading culture in Tanzania.

- Most formal learning in this country teaches us to view books and reading as a terminal thing that ends up with a certificate and a grade in school. I want to teach the people of Tanzania that reading is an ongoing cultivation of mind and spirit, she says.

Continue Reading Demere's Call(ing) 'Reading for Change' at:


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