NOOSA – A Papua New Guinean schoolkids literary hero may make a return after 50 years if an organisation dedicated to making books accessible to everyone has its way.
Library for All, a non-profit organisation operating in Cambodia, Mongolia, Rwanda, Congo and Haiti, funded by World Vision and other agencies, is keen on including the fictional character Yokomo in a suite of offerings now being developed for Papua New Guinea.
Yokomo, a clownish figure who always seemed to triumph despite the odds, proved to be a big hit with school students and is still recalled with affection and humour.
He first appeared in the PNG School Papers for upper primary students more than half a century ago and later became a character in radio broadcasts produced by the PNG service of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Yokomo was the brainchild of the editor of the school papers Frank Hiob and I continued the popular stories (giving him a dog, Omokoy) when I took over as editor in 1966 and Ed Brumby, who succeeded me in 1968, kept the character going.
The stories were illustrated at various times by John Lucas, Hal Holman and Alan Lucas (no relation).
“I was at a planning meeting in Port Moresby a few weeks ago with about 20 Papua New Guineans and was trying to explain the library,” said Simon Ellis, PNG country program manager of Library For All.
“I suggested it would be nice to have in the collection some material that was familiar and beloved by generations. I mentioned the names Yokomo and Raka and Ranu and there was immediate smiling and nodding all around the room.”
“So, if you don't already realise it, what you created was extremely popular and still resonates today.”
Library for All is building a cloud-based library filled with locally relevant e-books curated for different regions in the developing world as a more cost-effective and sustainable alternative to building physical libraries.
The PNG initiative is scheduled to kick off by June next year.
The content for the virtual library comes from a range of sources including major international publishers, local publishers, NGOs, governments and open educational resources.
Library For All does not provide hardware to schools but it identifies devices that exist in-country and customises its platform accordingly.
Simon Ellis responded positively to my suggestion that new episodes in the adventures of Yokomo and his trusty dog Omokoy could be written for the 21st century.
“We plan to host some writers' workshops over coming months,” he said, “and it could be fun and interesting to think of new situations for the dynamic duo and keep the culture alive in current day PNG – ‘Yokomo Meets a Mobile Phone?’ or ‘Yokomo Tries to Get a Game with the Hunters?’
“Part of the literacy learning side of putting this collection of stories together is to encourage families to read together and I can see older generations enjoying sharing these stories with the younger ones and explaining how things were, back then,” he said.
“We'll see how we can add some Yokomo stories aimed at elementary levels and have the series spanning the elementary to primary years.”