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Saturday
Aug112018

Reading Creates the Future 

After 15 years on the ground in rural Ethiopia, we at H2 Empower have verified that children learn to read and enjoy reading first in their native language, confirming what all the research says.  Studies have proven that children should be taught to read in their first language. So we are excited to be launching a Books For Ethiopia fundraising campaign to purchase books for the school libraries in Hosanna Ethiopia in Amharic and Hadiya, the first languages or some say ‘mother tongue’ of the children that live there.

I love to read. Nowadays I read everything but refuse to read a book on any digital device like a kindle. I want to feel a real book in my hands especially after spending a day on the computer or even reading an article in bed on my phone. No. Give me a book. I am open to anything and everything - adventure, historical fiction, memoir, mystery, and social commentary. My favorite place to visit is still the library. My local library is quite modern with a giant children’s section and a special teen room with a stage and video games along with books and DVD’s. I go for books and even audiobooks which I listen to in the car. My friends are like me and are in one if not two book clubs. I love learning something new every day and books is one way to do that.

I desire for the children of Ethiopia to be able to access knowledge and learn to love reading. But to do that, first they need to have access to books. Our Books for Ethiopia Campaign is doing just that. . (Many of the schools we work with don’t have electricity so computers are out.) That is why we built a large community library and sent thousands of books which fill the shelves with every type of books from National Geographic and science and history to poetry, novels, world religions and pedagogy books. We also have a separate children’s room filled with all types of picture books, and chapter books for children as well as puppets, blocks, puzzles and learning toys.

Learning to read is a challenge there because there are two local languages the children need to learn plus English and they use two different lettering systems. With large class sizes - a goal being 60 in a class (rather than the usual 75 students) , teachers with limited professional knowledge of how to teach reading, and almost no books to read outside of textbooks, learning to read is a real struggle for many children.  On the national reading exams only 40 % of the 4th grade students pass the test, while passing is under 50% correct. It is common knowledge there that reading is the key to success. It is the essential ingredient to school success which leads to career success and personal development. Without a real workable education, children are doomed to life of subsistence farming. Unfortunately many don’t make it through to the end and don’t adequately acquire needed literacy skills. Even the poorest child can teach herself things if she can read. A great deal of work needs to be done so that all children will learn to read and then read to learn. We can help them by distributing materials they can actually read and enjoy.

We wanted to learn how to help these children succeed with reading so we observed them, from elementary to secondary, by seeing what they gravitate towards. No, it is not the glorious illustrations in those beautiful picture books we sent or the glossy books about animals. It is books in their first language. It is their native language that they love, understand and find meaningful. The most gorgeous art, the funny or meaningful story, the rhymes and the science books about the jungle or the stars- nothing grabs them more than a tale in their native tongue. This, of course, fits with the all the scientific studies of how children learn to read. The simplified version states that children should be taught to read in their mother tongue. They already understand the words and naturally have learned the structure of the language and can easily learn to read simple stories. Once they have learned how to go from understanding the language heard in conversation to understanding the written words, they can more easily transfer the knowledge about how to read into reading in another language.

I have seen this work first hand in our library in Hosanna, Ethiopia. The teenagers are reading and studying their textbooks in English. But the primary school students are running to read stories in Amharic. Literally, they run in the room and run to the table that has all the small Amharic books. We were blessed to be given wonderful books written by Alem Eshetu, a celebrated Ethiopian children’s book author, but we had only 10 stories with multiple copies. They would read and reread the books. Every parent who reads to their children knows the way their child will focus on a book and ask to reread it every night. My daughter loved one version of Cinderella. I hated that book but had to read it a million times. UGH!  These kids love his books and thanks to Alem Eshetu, who donated another 200 books, which we will share with other school libraries, they now have 10 more titles. How exciting is that!

With the goal to increase reading skills and the love of learning we absolutely see the need to have books in the language the children speak. That is why H2 Empower is launching the Books for Ethiopia Campaign to raise funds to purchase these books for about 50 school libraries. We want to give them early readers, books on science, history, cultural tales, poetry, biographies and many other topics.  We are planning on providing a school librarians training in the fall for about 120 librarians who have never had any librarian training and want to be able to give them books to add to their meager collection. I really hope you would consider supporting this work. You would be providing children in a remote rural area of Ethiopia with an opportunity to expand their mind, their skills and their thirst for knowledge. Thank you for considering this. To support this project, please go to https://www.gofundme.com/7f8hn-developing-libraries-in-ethiopia  the Books for Ethiopia campaign. You can make a difference in the lives of many children.   

 

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