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New Language Classes for Kids Teach Swahili and Culture of African Diaspora

By Camille Bautista | February 10, 2016 5:02pm
 Children in a Kwanzaa celebration at Crayons & Culture in Bed-Stuy. The cultural arts and learning center is launching a new
Children in a Kwanzaa celebration at Crayons & Culture in Bed-Stuy. The cultural arts and learning center is launching a new "Languages of the Diaspora" series to teach Swahili to toddlers this spring.
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Crayons & Culture

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A new course offered by a Brooklyn cultural learning center is hoping to help  build a “cultural foundation” for children by teaching toddlers Swahili and languages of the African Diaspora.

Crayons & Culture, which opened at 188 Madison St. near Nostrand Avenue in October, is launching Swahili classes this spring to “immerse children in a language that supports and promotes Africa,” according to founder and CEO Agzja Carey.

Kids aged 3 through 6 will learn through songs, drumming, read-aloud sessions and interactive play.

“I think the act within itself of stating that an African language is worthy of study as a primary introduction to language is in itself revolutionary,” Carey said. “It speaks volumes toward cultural confidence and humanity.

“It’s such a loaded act that doesn’t just benefit children of African descent but all children in communities that have been left out of the narrative…telling them who you are, where you come from, you’re good enough, and that’s worthy of study.”

The weekly “Languages of the Diaspora” program is part of a larger curriculum aimed at helping children of all ages understand identity across several spectrums, including politics, history, and through education and conversation, Carey added.

Kids can participate in the “Images of Us” literacy classes, where students of African descent are able to identify themselves in books that “reflect black and brown children in strong, affirmative standpoints...not in the context of struggle,” Carey said.  

Other lessons include African tales and myths, notable heroes, and the “liberation movement,” all of which allow students to analyze different perspectives.

The new Swahili classes can help open future educational and business opportunities for participants in regions like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the language is prevalent, according to teachers.

“It’s important that we uphold Africa as a significant contributor,” Carey said. “I want children of African descent and of all descent to be able to engage in education and commerce on a global level.”

The program will not only expose toddlers to the language, but gives opportunity for their parents and families to learn as well, according to Mteteaji Mlimwengu, who will help lead the classes.

Mlimwengu, who said he’s been teaching Swahili for at least 15 years, uses songs, flash cards and call-and-response to engage children, focusing on greetings, animals and everyday phrases.

“Right away it builds up a curiosity and pride. I see a rise in their self-esteem, I see that immediately.” he added.

“When you introduce an African language, that opens up a door to a lot of things: What do they eat, how do they dress, all kinds of questions.”

Crayons & Cultures looks to add more languages to the program in the future, including Yoruba and Akan, along with elements of Patois and Creole, Carey said.  

“Languages of the Diaspora” in Swahili starts on March 1, with a fee of $60 for four sessions. For more information, visit the Crayons & Culture website here.