Some of you may recognize Tambra Raye Stevenson from her early days developing and teaching the Oldways A Taste of African Heritage adult curriculum. If you’ve seen our program video, you’ve deﬁnitely seen Tambra speaking passionately about culture as medicine. She is a culinary historian and nutritionist, the founder and CEO of Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture (WANDA), and a National Geographic Traveler of the Year.
WANDA is not just an organization; it’s a movement. By 2030, the goal of the WANDA movement is to ensure a million women and girls have access to education, advocacy, and innovative skills to improve healthy lifestyles in their families, communities, and societies through improved agriculture and good nutrition. This generation of female food leaders in Africa and the Diaspora will work together to counter the rise of non-communicable diseases like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
To inspire children of African descent to be healthy eaters, readers, and leaders, WANDA has introduced a very special character named Little WANDA—imagine “Dora the Explorer” for Africa meets “Doc McStuﬃns” for nutrition. Little WANDA was inspired by both Tambra’s own family history and journey, as well as by her young daughter, Ruby, the original Little WANDA. Little WANDA is the protagonist in a series of bilingual children books called Where’s WANDA? (the ﬁrst is titled Little WANDA Finds a Cure for Nana).
Tambra is currently crowdfunding to produce a Little WANDA talking plush doll, as well as additional books in the Where’s WANDA? series that make it easy for educators and parents to teach children about culturally-centered, plant-based nutrition. The books are available in English and translated in local African languages. We thought we’d introduce Oldways readers to Little WANDA and the signiﬁcance of her journey in support of this vital project. You can also learn more about the project by watching the video Meet Little WANDA: A Talking Doll That Teaches Kids to Be Healthy Eaters, Readers & Leaders.
Q&A with Tambra Raye Stevenson
Oldways: All sheroes have origin stories. Could you share Little WANDA’s origin story with our readers?
Tambra Raye Stevenson: Little WANDA represents the African Diaspora. Her family are immigrants of Africa, and she settled in the heartland of the United States of America. She became passionate around her family and wanting to save them and heal them, including her Nana who has diabetes. Little WANDA thought about what she could do, she prayed, she dreamt about it, and her father (who had passed away) came to her in a vision.
In decolonizing her diet and her mind, Little WANDA discovered the answer was already in herself, her community, and her foodways. Her father really inspired her to think about how she could make a diﬀerence. From there, she discovered her Nana’s apron with its magical powers. It was like ﬁnding her feminine power within her foodways and culture. In the manner of Superman with his cape, her “magic” apron transports her to Africa where she learns about the foods that will heal her family and community.
OW: What are some of the key moments in Little WANDA’s journey to the African homeland?
TRS: Going back to Nigeria, on her journey, Little WANDA is just always amazed to meet new family members. Her uncles and Big WANDA, who is an everyday food shero (a type of Glenda the Good Witch), give her the African superfoods and wisdom that she needs to heal her loved ones. For her Nana, she wanted to ﬁnd an alternative to soda, where a new foodie friend, Hassa Hibiscus (known as bissap or sorrel) helps her make a healing drink for Nana.
In the upcoming book, Little WANDA’s next journey is to Ethiopia, where she discovers a new foodie friend, Tesfaye Teﬀ, used to make injera, the staple ﬂatbread. Injera is the foundation of the communal platter at meal time, and it also brings two countries—Eritrea and Ethiopia—together. Little WANDA wants to help her family, but it’s also a journey about understanding the bigger signiﬁcance of using these foods to restore culture, unity, and pride, so that every journey becomes a new discovery.
On her initial journey, she learned that all that she needed was already within. Whereas on the upcoming journey, she will learn about where and how food grows in gardens, and that she’s not only just planting a seed for nourishment, but that she’s planting a seed of hope to bloom love. It is that kind of symbolism that makes her wiser with each journey and each new kind of challenge. What may be seen as something painful helps to ignite and reaﬃrm her purpose.
OW: Can you tell us how our children can meet Little WANDA?
TRS: Little WANDA deﬁnitely needs a village to support her. She cannot do this by herself: it speaks to the African proverb that it takes a village, from Papa WANDA, Mama WANDA, Nana WANDA, Aunty WANDA, and Big WANDA. When you plant love and support into Little WANDA, you support the love she plants into her family and community to become healthier and wiser. That’s why this crowdfund campaign is so important, so that she can be put in the hands of thousands of kids, as well as the series of books about her. If we surpass the goal, funds will create animation of “Little WANDA Finds a Cure for Nana.”
Little WANDA is the global leader and “meal healer” that we want our kids to aspire to. With Little WANDA as a doll therapy companion, she will become your kid’s new BFF, sharing the ABC’s of African heritage foods, 54 African countries, as well as empowerment phrases in 13 languages from Amharic to Zulu, along with English translations. The goal is for Little Wanda to share her message not just to children here, but to children globally, especially in Africa. We need her message both here and there—now more than ever.
To help Little WANDA reach her goals and so that children in your life may meet her, be sure to visit www.wheresiswanda.com and pledge your support starting August 28. Visit www.iamWANDA.org to learn more about joining the movement to educate, advocate, and innovate for a better food system and healthier communities.
And look for an update in our future newsletter on Tambra Raye Stevenson’s and Little WANDA’s journey to Ethiopia for the 8th Africa Nutrition Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from October 1-5, where they will be partnering with the African Nutrition Society, African Union Mission, Pan African Diasporan Women’s Association, and Mandela Washington Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellow to hold WANDA Workshops for nutrition outreach in the country and in the Diaspora.
Johnisha Levi, Program Manager, African Heritage & Health