Embracing Heritage: The Journey of Sibo Yaa Revolutionizing Teaching Mandinka to the Diaspora Gambian Kids

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Mariama Konteh, Founder of Sibo Yaa

By: Alieu Ceesay

In a world where English often dominates, preserving local languages becomes crucial for cultural identity and pride. This challenge is personal and communal for many parents in the Diaspora, especially in the United States and Europe.

This is the story of Sibo Yaa, a platform dedicated to teaching Mandinka, a native language of many Gambians and surrounding counties, to children living abroad. The founder, born in America to Gambian parents, has faced unique hurdles in her mission to keep the language alive for future generations.

With determination and energetic communication skills, Mariama Konateh is teaching children the Mandinka language step by step by publishing five mandika books to help diaspora kids improve thier mandika language with her latest books.

“I decided to pivot and rebrand the platform to teach children in the diaspora fundamentals of the Mandinka language because I saw minimal resources to accomplish this,” the founder explains to TAT.

The journey of Sibo Yaa began with the intention of discussing the societal issues Gambians face at home and abroad. However, it evolved into a mission to bridge the linguistic gap for Gambian children growing up away from their cultural roots.

The founder’s personal experience teaching Mandinka to her children highlighted the challenges. “Teaching Mandinka to my children is difficult! Most people they interact with do not speak Mandinka,” she admits. This difficulty is compounded by the children’s reluctance to speak the language out of fear of being teased, a sentiment the founder herself faced as a child. “I noticed my child would feel shy and embarrassed to speak Mandinka because they don’t want to be teased or laughed at.”

She seeks opportunities to translate words and explain concepts in Mandinka to overcome these challenges, drawing from her childhood experiences. “I mostly learned a lot of my Mandinka not only from my parents but also from my elder cousin, who bought me books to teach me, and I also learned from watching Mandinka movies on cassette,” she recalls. She aims to create content to help children be fluent and proud to speak Mandinka.

Currently, Sibo Yaa offers five books on Amazon to teach basic Mandinka concepts such as numbers, animal names, and body parts. The founder also plans to rebrand the Sibo Yaa YouTube channel to provide videos teaching the Mandinka language and culture. “I want to challenge the children by potentially having contests among kids on Sibo Yaa platforms, and ultimately, I intend to make content that will make them proud to speak the language.”

Recognizing that children are not typically on social media, Sibo Yaa uses these platforms to update parents about new content. The founder encourages parents to study with their children and extend the basic information provided. “I would encourage other parents to not only give their children the books and videos but also to study with their children and further the basic information that is given in the content I am providing,” she advises.

Learning one’s mother tongue goes beyond communication. “The main significance is cultural preservation and pride,” she emphasizes. Speaking Mandinka is a way for children to connect with their heritage, understand their culture, and be proud of their origins. The founder also notes that fluency in multiple languages can stimulate children’s brains and boost their confidence.

Her advice to other parents facing similar challenges is clear: make the process enjoyable. “Let’s not tease them or only speak to them in Mandinka when angry or upset with them. Children really thrive with affirmation and speaking to them positively,” she says. Teaching children that speaking Mandinka is fun and multidimensional can increase their confidence and fluency.

Through Sibo Yaa, the founder hopes to instill a sense of pride and confidence in children about their Mandinka heritage. Her vision extends to releasing an app or game to strengthen language skills further. She concludes, “Over time, their confidence will increase, and you will be surprised by how fluent they will be, especially with the help of Sibo Yaa.” This journey is about language and embracing and celebrating one’s roots.

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