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We Love Reading in Emergency

WLR aims to establish reading aloud circles run by local women volunteers to foster love of reading among girls in emergency situations

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What problem does your innovation solve?

In emergency situations it is difficult to set up education systems because of safety, practicality, cost, sustainability and lack of qualified personnel. Therefore many children stay out of school for indefinite periods. Even in cases where there is a school, it is not sustainable and girls don't attend because of culture, work, safety and ignorance. WLR provides a practical and scalable program that can be deployed anywhere addressing these issues.

Explain your innovation.

WLR is an innovative, practical, cost efficient, sustainable, grassroots program involving women and community to increase reading levels among children by focusing on the readaloud experience to plant love of reading. The program constitutes training local women volunters to hold readaloud sessions in public spaces in neighbourhoods where books are read aloud and exchanged with children. WLR chooses books that are age-appropriate, attractive, neutral in content, in the native language of the child. WLR empowers women readers to become leaders in their communities, builds ownership in children and community and serves as a platform for raising awareness on empathy, health and environment through books we have developed. The model can be replicated anywhere. It requires a few books that are read again and again. The woman who reads aloud doesn’t have to be highly educated and are required to “pay it forward”, by sharing newly acquired knowledge and training others to become readers creating a domino effect. The trained reader is welcomed because she is from the neighborhood, tailoring the model to fit her culture and needs. The community starts taking responsibility of the WLR library.  The program can be licensed to any organization to deploy within their location. Quality and sustainability are ensured through coach training and a virtual community connected through a mobile application

Who benefits?

Children (4-12) especially girls don't have access to educaiton systems attend the reading aloud sessions and take books home to share. The child is the champion for reading and able to catch up later when formal education system exist. WLR builds resilience because the child draws courage from heroes she reads about; boosts creativity, identity and confidence because reading is local and culturall relevant; builds bridges of communication between parent and child that alleviates mental stress from trauma, children are empathetic, less violent and will not be taken advantage of. WLR builds resilience in the women, who otherwise has no purpose waiting for something to happen, gives agency and purpose to have hope, a practical opportunity to serve giving dignity. Involving women in carrying out the solutions encourages them to send their children to school and support education. Girls don’t attend activities organized by social workers but locals know the right time and place for girls.

How is your innovation unique?

WLR depends on local women volunteers not employees running reading aloud sessions to keep children involved in reading inspite of no schools because we address the root cause. The women know the right time and place for girls to attend, the program is sustainable because the women are empowered to be leaders and supported by their communities. WLR makes the child the champion of reading by creating a desire in the child to read for fun and boosts identity through language and culture. WLR has devised a liscecning business model for sustainable, efficient and effective scaling that depends on partnering with organisations to deploy the program in their locations through coach training. We have created a virtual community network through a mobile application for sustainability and quality. he different statuses are based on gamfication theory and mean to incentivize and motivate the WLR ambassador. It is her agency, the goal she sets for herself, the journey she wants to take.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We are piloting licencing the program to organizations to implement within their locations. the questions we struggle with are: 1. how can we market the license approach to different clients e.g. donors to fund, government to support, International NGOs to implement, local NGOs who don't have funds to pay for the licence? 2. Should we provide the books or make them available through a vendor? 3. how do we protect the copyright of our material 4. how to maintain quality and loyalty of the coaches we train? 5. what business model should we adopt? All the time we are struggling because we want to make the program free to all while maintaining the core needed to keep it running. We want to reach every child in the world.

Tell us more about you.

I am the founder of WLR. I have established an NGO as a legal entity for WLR in Jordan. We work with local CBOs to recruit volunteers to train to start WLR libraries in their neighbourhoods in Jordan. We have partnered successfully with PI, NRC, IRD, RI and UNHCR to pilot scaling WLR in emergency situations in Ethiopia and Syrian refugee camps. We are interested in partnering with international and local NGOs in Turkey, Australia and other countries to scale using our licensing approach.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Natural disaster
  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Extreme drought

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

WLR is effective in: unsafe areas where no one can enter so the local people can take charge, where there is no formal education system and/or lack of trained educators where the local people can read aloud to the children in their native tongue, maintaining local culture. low cost does not require paying people and is sustainable even after the project is done e.g. in Ethiopia the WLR libraries are still running even after PI stopped working there.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

WLR is implemented in Jordan, we envision scaling to Turkey, Syria and Lebanon because of the Syrian refugee crisis and because our books and training material are in Arabic. We have developed the licence approach, coach training and online training for effective scaling. The WLR model is flexible in a way that allows the volunteer to tailor it to fit her culture, needs and community. That is why WLR has spread organicaly by word of mouth to 30 countries including Australia and Mexico.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

UNICEF and USAID have funded WLR to directly implement the program in Jordan. WLR has partnered with local CBOs to recruit volunteers to train direclty. NRC, IRD and RI have partnered with WLR to pilot scaling the program in the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. UNHCR and PI have partnered with WLR to pilot scaling in Ethiopia refugee camps. WLR partnered with Yale, Brown and Chicago university to conduct RCT to provide research based evidence on the impact of WLR on children, parents and adults

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

I started reading aloud to children in my neighbourhood in 2006. For three years I developed WLR as a model organically through human centered design. In 2010 I founded an NGO as a legal entity for WLR in Jordan. Along with a local team and feedback from WLR volunteers we developed the training material and children books. the program is constantly evolving using evidence based research and volunteer feedback. Our expertise is in community based programs, ECD and reading aloud.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Amman Jordan


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Attachments (6)

WLR magazine 2nd edition English 2015.pdf

A magazine that showcases the stories of WLR ambassadors in Zaatri camp

English refugee magazine (1).pdf

A magazine that showcases the stories of the WLR ambassadors in refugee camps

WLR Special Edition -EN.pdf

A description of the journey of WLR

OH ASCD Winter 2016 WLR.pdf

A published article that describes the WLR training.

Zaatari Psycosocial report 2014.pdf

A study done in collaboration with Yale University on the impact of WLR on women volunteers

WLR program Lisence 2017 final.pdf

A description of scaling of WLR


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Elizabeth Kelly, a student from australia contacted us inquiring how she can start WLR in her neighbourhood in Sydney where there are many refugees. we followed up with her and sent her material to get her started. WLR has the potential to reach every neighbourhood.

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WLR has developed 32 children stories in Arabic that deal with different issues such as environment, social cohesion, disabilities, gender, non violence and refugees. We also conducted research on how WLR can change attitudes in children in collaboration with University of Chicago and Hashemite University which we published in an academic journal.

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Neighborhood men from refugee camps encourage women library leaders. Mosque clerics proudly open their doors to women to administer read-aloud sessions and donate funds to buy books. Children have developed a culture of literacy discussing and recommending books and authors to their friends. Older children continue to be readers. Parents inform us that children exhibit higher self confidence and academics and they are likely to buy and read books rather than toys.

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WLR is achieving impact at scale because WLR is a simple effective product that appeals to its market of mothers and children. WLR depends on networks of women who already resemble a movement to bring about social change through reading. WLR aims to develop long term cultural change. WLR isn’t delivering services which need support systems, it’s creating capabilities in hundreds of local women enabling them to be creative for themselves. Organizations need hierarchs but movements need causes, shared values, common goals to pull them together and give them a purpose, reading is the means but the cause is to get young children to realize they can and should think for themselves. The model is formulated in a way that each person can tailor the model to fit their culture, their needs while maintaining the essence of the model, aiding in building ownership to the project and sustainability.

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We Love Reading inside the Azraq Refugee Camp in 2016
 Life inside the Azraq camp is different from that of other camps that WLR works in because the refugees inside the Emirati camp already are supplied with their basic needs and their life is easier than in other camps, but they cannot gather or express their opinions. The refugees inside the Azraq camp, on the other hand, are suffering from poor conditions such as water shortages, no electricity, and unfit shelters, and these circumstances comprise another challenge for WLR.
At the beginning, they told us that the initiative would not succeed in the Azraq camp because of the living circumstances because refugees would only be concerned with satisfying basic needs such as food, water, and shelter. They said they would not value entertainment or reading for children. Also, many of the parents do not even send their children to school because they believe there is no point of education when they are living in such bad conditions. This significantly raises the proportion of children that cannot read or write. Keeping these concerns and doubts in mind, WLR and its volunteers set off to prove them wrong, or at least prove that reading is important to everyone, even if they are refugees.
We held two training sessions with cooperation with NRC which were met with great success, to our surprise. During the first training, the trainees were between 17 and 30 years old and were very excited to start WLR libraries, and as we finished the training they started to speak to the NCR official to request permission to use their facilities and start WLR reading circles. The volunteers also read inside their caravans. After the second training, the trainees’ ages were between 40 and 55 ,and this training eliminated for good any doubt from the beginning about the success of WLR.
When we asked the trainees about their first experience reading for children, many of them, especially men, said that they started to feel young again and think back towards their childhoods and started to feel like there was communication with the children. One of our trainees answered that “usually I raise my voice when I feel angry or am singing, so my children are surprised when I raise my voice for a different reason, to read a story for them. The result was them starting to feel happy.” Another trainee told us about his reading to join the training and he said “It is a good idea that will decrease the percentage of children that don’t know how to read or write. And through my reading sessions I will encourage them to love reading and when I give them the stories to take home I am encouraging them to love reading.”
After the first day of the second training, Ahmed Al Abdullah (Abu Layth) asked the trainers to let his wife attend the training since he hadn’t understood the importance of the training before. After realizing it significance on the first day, he then wanted his wife to be able to participate, and he already knew that his wife has a special talent which makes her amazing at reading out loud. On the second day, his wife Majd Qasham joined and was very excited to read after her husband and the instructors filled her in on the previous session. After the training, all the trainees became WLR ambassadors and opened libraries, and after one month we visited Abu Layth and his wife to follow up on the progress of their reading sessions where more than 30 children of different ages attend. Then, we asked them about their experience reading allowed to children and they said that the number of children attending grows every day. They were interested in listening to the stories and Majd told us that she always wants to be an ambassador and she had told her father, who is still at the Syrian border with Turkey, about the program. He sent a poem in response and she replied with another poem. His poem is as follows:
Read, read.
I like that you are a bookworm
So that the bad things will go away
And your thinking will be clear.
The book is the road for people who love life,
Who will be a good friend
And will not leave you or disappear.
Books are the way to achieving glory
That show you the best path.

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Sharing a success story from zaatri camp.
Asma’a has always lived in Dar’a, Syrian. Asma is a 23 year old Syrian refugee in Zaatri camp. Asma came to Jordan in 2013. She got married at 15 and had two children. She was distressed with no purpose and just waiting for something to happen. WLR conducted a training in Zaatri in 2014. Asma attended the training and immediately went back and talked to her husband about the idea of starting a reading aloud circle in her neighbourhood. Fadi her husband was very supportive and encouraged her to start. Asma armed with her bag of 25 books and a puppet that were given to her as part of the WLR program started talking to her neighbours and friends and gathered the children and started reading aloud to them once a week in the afternoon.
Since day one of the training, Asma’a has shown great enthusiasm for the idea of reading aloud to children. Two days after the training she was calling the WLR staff to tell them how much the children enjoyed the reading sessions.
Children and their hyperactivity aren’t usually welcomed by adults, but Asma’a and her husband were only too happy to have over 30 children come into their house for storytelling once or twice a week. 

The impact on the children was amazing. The children wanted her to read more than once a week, they wanted to exchange the books more frequently, they started borrowing books from the local library. They copied the books into their notebooks so they could have their own copy. The children started going to school. Children from other sectors would flock to attend her reading aloud session.

Shortly after, Asma’a started writing her own stories and a talented nephew has helped her illustrate those stories.  Za’atari magazine publishes pieces written by people in the camp. Asma’a has approached them to have her pieces published and they have agreed to publish her writings in a series, each piece in an issue. Not long after that, the magazine has offered Asma’a a training course in journalism and to actually pay her for her writings. 
Asma’a still reads to the children in her neighborhood frequently. She has called her group, “Stories Children” and they do lots of activities together, like holding an event they have called, “Giving Sanitation Men a Break” where the children went out to clean the neighborhoods themselves. They also collect feedback papers from their parents on what they think of the reading sessions. Recently, two 10 and 9 year old girls who attend Asma’a’s reading sessions have started reading to the children in their neighborhoods too. 
Asma today has a packed schedule; she reads once a week, she writes stories for children that they act out. Asma was offered a job at a school although Asma never finished school and when she told them that she does not have official qualifications they told her that she is an expert at reading aloud to children and managing them and hired her. Asma started training other women on how to read aloud in the spirit of paying it forward. Of the many people she trained is an 11 year old girl Nour alhuda. Nour alhuda started reading aloud to the children younger than her. What happened is that the children wanted Nouralhuda to read to them and not Asma. It became like a competition
Asma became empowered and a role model for girls. Asma at 23 is already fulfilling her potential and working for what she knows she was born to do. 
Asma has chosen to go out of her comfort zone and do something very new, which has opened doors for her and helped her fulfill her potential at the this young age

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A few years ago in 2012 we were approached by indegnious groups in Mexico to adopt WLR within their community. There was poor enrollment in school because of fear of loosing identity. They saw the program as a way to preserve their identiy and culture by reading aloud to their children thier folklore stories in their native langaugae. That way even if they send thier children to school they will not loose who they are.

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Hi Rana,

Reading and literacy programs often overlooked but are so important in emergency settings, and I'm happy to see you are taking a community-based approach to this. How are you planning on monitoring and evaluating this project? I'd also like to hear more about your virtual network.

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Traditionally, we conduct M and E by field visits and phone calls on a regular basis. We have developed a mobile app for the following goals: 1) monitoring and evaluation 2) maintaining quality 3) sustainability of WLR ambassadors. 4) creating a virtual community of best practices and resources. Technical: The WLR app has an admin platform and a WLR ambassador platform.  The app is in two languages (Arabic and English). However, the icons can be understood regardless of language.  The messages sent forth can be in any language.  The app is both compatible for android and apple. How to use the WLR mobile app: 1.     The partner organization enters the information of the WLR ambassadors into a mobile app and invites the WLR ambassadors to download the app. 2.     The WLR ambassadors use the app to report the reading circles time and date, number of children attending, challenges, successes.
 The WLR mobile app serves as a virtual community of support for the WLR ambassadors sharing challenges and success and a source of best practices and new resources.   The partner organization and WLR can send out motivating messages and advice and announcements and updates through the app to the WLR ambassadors.  We have designed a series of levels that the WLR ambassador achieves as they hold reading circles based on gamification theory. These levels are based on numbers of reading sessions held. The philosophy is that the WLR ambassador is on a journey.
For monitoring and evulation there are a set of standard metrics in the app. However, this can be tailored for the partner organization needs if necessary.  Regular reports can be generated from the data collected.
If the community does not have access to the mobile app because of lack of compatible phones, internet or electricity.  The partner organization can utilize its own M and E systems and report to us through specific forms. These include field visits.
Our approach is based on our philosophy that the WLR ambassadors are women who are champions who do what they do because they believe and want to read to the children for thier future. These women are incentivised by the credit they receive from their community and the spark in the eyes of the girls they read to because if the girls achieve they achieve. Many are still reading beyond the expected time some even up to three years.