Everybody knows that weddings are big business. It was during a long engagement, between communication catastrophes and dress drama, that I realised what a hidden gem weddings are. Not just for the economy, but for education.
Most of us still have dim memories of childhood weddings – the uncomfortable outfits, playing with new people, and gorging ourselves on icing before dancing into the night.
No other celebration presents as iconic a snapshot of a culture, bringing together clothes, food, family, and other daily life elements that young children learn so early on. So arrived one of the inspirations to write my first children’s book, The Wedding Week.
Starting the Saturday before a traditional Yoruba wedding, it follows two siblings who have never been to a wedding before, as each day they discover something from their own experience that they will enjoy on the big day.
By the magic of the child’s-eye-view of events, we also get to see weddings around the world each day, and hold conversation with an obliging lizard in English, Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo.
But there was another, more sinister reason that this book had to be written: Come with me to 2008. The scene is Lagos, the smart neighbourhood of Ikoyi. We’re on holiday, just passing through. We see a children’s bookshop with excellent air conditioning – and being hot, avid readers, we go in.
But none of the books have black children on them. We rub our eyes and look again. No, not a single book is even written in an African language. It’s like walking past a mirror, and seeing no reflection.
Ironically, at that strange moment, my job in London was publishing a list of multicultural children’s books: an uphill task in an industry imagining blondes, bears and bunnies. And here I was in Lagos, with no variation on Home Counties culture and identity.
You can imagine my consternation and disappointment. It was then that I knew I would get involved. I founded Kio Global, a company that distributes and now publishes quality, relevant resources, four years later.
Since that strange day in Lagos, I have been greatly enthused by meeting and serving with the knowledge-hungry, passionate teachers who are shaping the future of African education.
I was inspired to find that child-centred education philosophies like Montessori had spread like wildfire.
I was humbled to learn that many school owners founded schools using personal finances when they could have been enjoying retirement. I was excited to discover that teachers travelled in all directions for education conferences and training, from South Africa to Singapore to the States.
It is wonderful to meet in Lagos and Abuja exhibition halls, at fast-growing fledgling education conferences like the Total School Support Exhibition and the African Resources and Technology in Education show, where private sector educators share and seek knowledge locally. We have a long way to go, but these are precious beginnings.
Seven years on from the white-washed literacy experience in Nigeria, I am delighted to see the iconic Nigerian wedding immortalised for the curriculum alongside its fellows, the white wedding of the West, and the red weddings of India and China in The Wedding Week.
As weddings are the bringing together of two people, so I hope that this small gesture will help bring together culture and the curriculum, and offer world-class education wherever it is read.
By Chimaechi Allan (nee Ochei) © 2015 : While wedding planning in 2014, a talking lizard took Chimaechi Allan on a journey through wedding traditions around the world. She wrote down what he said. The Wedding Week is the result. Chimaechi read English Literature at Cambridge University, and worked at Penguin Random House and Amazon.co.uk before founding Kio Global.