Youthful writer Mikha’elah Zeigler speaks to EDNA GICOVI about the benefits of home schooling, her love for the written word, and passion for writing which drove her to publish her novel.

A simple young girl from Tanzania who lost her parents at an early age is kidnapped from the orphanage she lives in. Then her mundane life changes overnight, literally, as she finds herself in an unknown location with nine other children from different parts of Africa. Together they are prisoners of a ruthless, faceless captor who needs them to commit a dangerous pyramid heist after months of intense training.

This is not the synopsis of a Hollywood blockbuster, although it could be, but the storyline of a novel titled To Steal a Mummy by 19-year-old Mikha’elah Zeigler. She wrote the novel when she was only 15. Home-schooled from the age of eight, Mikha’elah attributes her maturity, self-driven nature and love for books to her parents’ decision to school her at home.

The petite, dreadlocked girl exudes an aura of one much older. She speaks firmly, has a good command of English and an accent that makes her sound foreign even though she is a Kenyan born and bred in Nairobi.

Prior to being home schooled, Mikha’elah attended a regular school but says her mother became dissatisfied with the results of the education system. After travelling to the US and seeing how well home schooling had worked for her host, Mikha’elah’s mother decided it was the way to go. “Mom also wanted an intimate relationship with me. She wanted to be the one to teach me the basics of life. She didn’t want to leave this to someone else,” says Mikha’elah.

After leaving her formal school, she joined a group of 10 children who were learning in a home school ran by a family friend before her mother took charge of home schooling her. Being very young at the time, the transition from regular school to a home school wasn’t a big one for Mikha’elah. She, however, recalls yearning to return to a regular school at some point. “My cousins had just moved in with us at the time and they attended a school down the road from our house. I really wanted to wear uniform and go to a regular school just like they did,” she says. To her dismay, her parents didn’t support the idea. She is today grateful for their decision.

Her parents used Accelerated Christian Education (ACE); a home schooling curriculum that delivers a Christian-based international schooling system that provides education relative to learners’ needs, to educate her and her siblings. ACE recognises that each child has a unique learning style with God-given abilities and talents and has developed a learning approach that accommodates learners’ individual capabilities. Mikha’elah completed her education at the age of 16 after which she took up studies in Hebrew and Greek.

She explains that home schooling is very involving but holistic. “It’s not like regular school where you mostly read, write and study. Home schooling teaches you most of the things you need to use in life. For instance, if you’re a man, you will learn how to function as a man -meaning you learn a bit of manual work alongside your studies. As a girl, you will learn how to run a house, among other things, also alongside your studies.” She likes the fact that her childhood was very family oriented.

The home schooled child may seem lonely and closed off, never getting to interact and play with other children but this is not the case. Mikha’elah says she got to do all the things kids do in their childhood. She interacted with children from other home schools through activities like art and sports. They also had a writer’s club, a home school activity involving children of all ages where they would be encouraged to read and write their own stories. At the writer’s club, each child would write their story, and then sit in the ‘author’s chair’ to read it to the audience of fellow home-school parents and children. It was through this that her novel To Steal a Mummy was born.

Writing the novel…

“I was interested in books from an early age. My family is made up of readers and I grew up in a reading culture,” says Mikha’elah. Her novel was somewhat inspired by an encyclopaedia with a lot of information on the pyramids and ancient pharaohs of Egypt.All this information set the cogs in her head turning and a story slowly started forming.

After that, every two weeks she would write a chapter or a section of the book and read it out at the writer’s club. They loved it. They urged her on, some saying that a movie could be made out of it. Initially, there was no pressure on her to complete it. However, her mother saw the potential in it and urged her to continue writing during the holidays, even though she wanted to have fun like other children.

“I was not very keen on finishing it at the time. At times I didn’t know how the story would end. I also got distracted many times when I would rather have been doing fun things like other 15-year olds than writing the novel,” she says. It took her over a year to complete the book that kept the audience at her writers’ club enthralled. In the following few years, the intention to publish it was realised and today, To Steal a Mummy is stocked and distributed by Story Moja Publishers. Mikha’elah is most thankful to her mother for encouraging her to complete the book.

“The encouragement that my mom gave me is essential in every young person’s life. The presence of some older person in your life to push you to complete whatever it is that you begin is required because as a young person, sometimes you immerse yourself completely into one thing for a period of time and want to move on to the next thing within no time,” she says.

Mikha’elah, who is currently in the process of writing another book, advises aspiring young writers not only to start writing, but also stick with and finish the project. “It’s always good to have a complete work. Nothing compares to that sense of satisfaction of having completed a great work,” she says, adding that one should not just write for the sake of writing, but should also have a purpose for their writing. “I write because I have a message I’d like to pass on. You need to have a reason to write,” she adds.

Apart from writing, Mikha’elah’s is involved in diverse activities and interests. She does voice-overs for radio advertisements and immensely enjoys cooking, which she says she’s getting better at each day. She also enjoys sewing and dabbles in designing clothing. Apart from this, she also rides and trains horses, which she learnt at the Nairobi Polo Club.

“I have no idea what direction my life will take in the future, but I am loving it right now,” she says animatedly. She hopes to continue writing, teach Hebrew and do some farming, in addition to supporting and travelling with her missionary husband, Anton Zeigler, to spread the gospel.

Published in January 2012