We talked to local author Lela Burbridge about her work, her passion for literacy and her belief that every child should have access to books and education.
Living in the beautiful North Cotswolds is the wonderfully inspiring and compassionate author Lela Burbridge. But Lela is not just an author. She is also an educator, a speaker and an advocate who cares passionately about literacy, diversity and inclusion. Lela was born in Uganda, grew up in Kampala and at 19 moved to the UK to further her education. She completed both a Bachelors Degree with honors in Health and Social Care and Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Essex, focusing her studies on factors surrounding mental health among people living with H.I.V in Eastern Africa. She was also awarded for her outstanding learning and determination to overcome obstacles in life by The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.
After graduating, Lela wanted to continue to raise awareness of the issues and struggles faced by many people in Africa, like in her birth country of Uganda. Today she continues to support charities that help to provide access to health and education throughout Africa and shares her own real-life experiences through her written work. In June 2017 Lela founded 'The Lela Burbridge Initiative' - a Community Interest Organisation that was set up to support Lela’s community in Uganda by providing access to books and supporting children to learn to read and write.
Lela now lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and children, and was happy to talk to the Cotswold Womens’ Collective about her active work in supporting the community she came from in Uganda and share her thoughts on inclusion and diversity.
Hi Lela, thank you so much for agreeing to tell us more about yourself and your work. One of your latest books ‘Tendo’s Gift’ is a children’s book about a girl who receives a special gift that forms part of who she becomes and causes her imagination to create the most amazing things. Could you give us a little clue about what the gift is and what inspired you to write this story? Do you think books are one of the most important ways for us to teach children values and life lessons? Did you always want to be a writer?
The special gift Tendo gets is a book but not just any book, this specific one takes her on a journey were anything is possible. Basically, a journey with small beginnings but with endless possibilities. The story was inspired by my desire to see every child represented in the books they read. I once walked into a nationally known bookshop in our town with my daughters, it was frustrating to find more books with animals but none with black and mixed families like ours. I asked a shop assistant if they had any such books and her answer raged me “No we don’t but we can order some in for you” she said. But why should we have to order them in? We should be able to walk into any bookshop small or big and get a book like that. Children should be able to see their friends, families and themselves on book selves everywhere.
I definitely believe books communicate a lot to child in terms of identity, and values of life. Tendo’s gift is a story that is meant to start conversations with children about the importance of books. I wanted to explore the significance of education and learning because not every child around the world is gifted with free education. We need our children to understand that they are very lucky to go to school and have access to books and resources that enables them to write and read.
Writing is something I have always done. I express myself better when I write, and I find my voice in putting words on paper. It is very powerful speaking in black and white and I believe it echoes further than spoken words may go.
You’ve also co-written a biographical novel about your childhood called ‘Lela – Ashes of Childhood’ which aims to raise awareness of the issues and struggles many people in Uganda face. Could you tell us a little about your childhood and the struggles you are trying to raise awareness of? Was there a particular point when you decided you wanted to take an active approach to help?
'Lela: Ashes of Childhood', is a book I co-wrote with my talented friend Sarah Jarman. It is a story based on my childhood where I write about growing up in Uganda surrounded by poverty, abuse, loss, fear, among other themes. These struggles unfortunately mostly impact women and children. So, I wanted to educate the world about what it is like to have lived the pictures most only just see on TV. I have always had the desire to help people. Having lived in poverty myself when I was a child, I sympathise with those who are underprivileged particularly people living in the slums of Kampala where I grow up. I believe in the power of information and that can only be possible when one is educated hence my toil to support charities that support education through my books which I believe is a more effective approach to helping others.
Through the Lela Initiative a percentage of profits from each of your books goes directly to charitable work supporting education and healthcare for children and women in Africa – can you tell us a bit about the Lela Initiative and the other ways it helps.
The Lela Initiative really came out of my longing to do more for the community I come from in Uganda. Although it is not a charitable organisation, it enables me to give back and share the kindness and generosity that has been given to me by others. Supporting women and children in deprived areas is at the heart of the initiative especially helping them access better health care. We also run a mobile library that takes books to children and young people in the slums of Kampala giving them the opportunity to read and encouraging them to have hope.
Lela you moved to the UK at 19 for education and now live in the Cotswolds - what have your experiences of inclusion and diversity in the Cotswolds been so far and do you think there are any particular things we could all do to improve in this?
Moving to the Cotswolds for me was a decision of making happy memories for my family in a beautiful English countryside but also a quest to challenge my understanding of the world I live especially as a minority. I believe that wisdom and understanding come from being brave when you are faced with challenges. The community I live in at the moment is so welcoming with neighbours watching out for each other and ready to help if one needs support. But that does not mean I have not experienced some sort of prejudice. There have been times when my bubble has been punctured. When I am met with arrogance and at times made to defend myself because of the colour of my skin. Although these incidents are rare for me, they sadly happen, and I am sometimes forced to question my decisions. But I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by family, friends and neighbours who don’t see me by the colour of my skin but the person I am.
In regard to inclusion, I guess there is a gap in acknowledging that our community is expanding and getting more diverse. Sometimes I feel like there is a need to foster diverse thinking in the community especially in public spaces and subdivisions like village shops, post offices etc. It would also be excited to see diverse business collaborations in the Cotswolds.
Lela we would love to hear what you have planned next?
I have got several projects in the pipeline, more books to come. To give you an insight I am currently working on a novel exploring issues of race, love, migration and more...
I am also working on more children’s books and devotionals. So, there is plenty to expect just watch this space.
You can purchase Lela's books at https://www.lelaburbridge.com/books/ and a percentage of profits from each sale goes directly to Lela's charitable work supporting education and healthcare for children and women in Africa.
Ask about being featured in one of our spotlight interviews.