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We Love Reading: Refugee-led Reading Circles

Creating read aloud sessions for children on a routine basis in a public space

Photo of Rana Dajani
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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

Reading aloud is an important tool to encourage love of reading among children and empowers women and youth to be leaders in their community by setting up of read aloud sessions in their neighbourhoods. The program constitutes training local women and youth to hold readaloud sessions in public spaces in their neighbourhoods where books are routinely read aloud to children. The children take the books home to relive in the readaloud experience and ask their parents to read to them or they read to their siblings thus creating a reading environment in the home. When children love to read they attend and perform better at school, they use reading as a tool to resolve trauma and be more positive. Reading expands the imagination of a child and allows her to dream, to draw upon the experiences of others, to find solutions for her community, learn success and failures, draws the courage to make a difference, learns to listen and communicate with others, learns to empathize and respect others because one understands where the other has come from and understand other cultures, Expressing ourselves to empower future generations to make a peaceful world.

WHO BENEFITS?

Refugees (children and adults) anywhere specifically Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. These children became readers, they recommend books to each other, know the names of authors and if one girl is at the end of the line to get books she comes up to ne and asks me to keep a particular book at the bottom of the pile so that she can get it when it is her turn.

PROTOTYPE

We created 20 libraries in the zaatri camp in summer 2014. We held a two day training session that focuses on the art of reading aloud and how to establish a library in the neighbourhood by teaching social entreprneurship skills followed with in two months with a follow up one day training to share successes and challenges. Each trainee pledges to read for a period of time and is given a set of 25 stories to read aloud. She is requested to document and share how she goes about establishing the read aloud sessions. Giving out books is not enough. Research has shown that to plant the love of reading one has to read aloud to the child. When a parent or adult reads to a child an unconscious connection is made between the feeling of security, love and happiness and reading that stays with the child into adulthood which makes her resort to reading when happy or sad because it makes her feel good.
Actually WLR is a non formal education in a way because it is promoting literacy in a fun way. To answer your question how did we determine what the community was interested in? WLR is all about children and having fun in the native language. This is common to all humans. We chose stories that are from the local culture in Arabic on common place themes. We are from the same culture so we know what they are interested in terms of stories. The people loved the libraries. They would send their children. The adults who were reading started discussing with me how to spread WLR around.

FEEDBACK

The lending of the library in Zaatri went up five fold after creation of WLR library in the camp. We created the demand in the child which is the key rather than just supplying the product (book). Children who used to draw pictures of violence and war started drawing pictures of flowers and smiling faces. Children were reading aloud to other children. Young men started thinking of ways to spread WLR to other sectors. They developed ownership and started thinking of themselves of changemakers and doers.
We conducted a study on reading books related to empathy to children within the context of the WLR program in collaboration with the University of Chicago and were able to show a significant increase in empathy in the children. We therefore project that reading books in the context of the refugee camp can change children behavior to be more positive and empathetic. This is much needed in order to remove negative feelings and create a positive environment so that children can grow up to be more balanced and have a positive outlook to life. WLR is a way to relieve trauma created by the war and refugee situation. Not only for the children but also for the adults by giving them a purpose in their lives to do something fun for the children. WLR also gives the adults an opportunity to be leaders in their communities and so they start thinking of how to make things better for the future. WLR depends on the adult readers to plan where and when they read and how to spread WLR.

HOW IS THIS IDEA DIFFERENT FROM WHAT YOUR ORGANIZATION (OR OTHER ORGANIZATIONS) IS ALREADY DOING?

WLR aims to build capacity. Fostering the love of reading rather than just handing out books as other programs do. You don’t give a person fish, you teach him how to fish. WLR plants the love of reading so that it becomes a skill that remains with the child forever so that she can use it to build, enforce, explore, create and learn. All projects that aim to encourage reading in the world focus on providing books to the children. This is not enough. We cannot train all parents to read aloud and to show passion for reading. But we can train one person per neighborhood to do that and we have shown that this is enough. Our books are in the native tongue/culture.

HOW WOULD YOU USE AMPLIFY FUNDING AND DESIGN SUPPORT?

I would use the funding to implement We Love Reading in the refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
The funding would cover training on the ground and training the trainers, purchasing of appropriate books, management of the scaling. I would develop a tool box to help in the scaling that could later be used in refugee camps all over the world in multiple languages. This would be a physical kit (a set of books, a puppet and a bag) with a manual and online tutorial.

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF THE CHALLENGE?

immediacy and uncertainty: WLR only needs an adult who can read a child's book anywhere. simple training on how to readaloud and gather children.
gender equality: girls and boys attend
resource limitation: WLR requires a small set of books children love to read the same story again and again. No need for electricity or internet.
exclusivity: men and women old and young can become WLR readers.
Cultural sensitivity: WLR books are in arabic and from the local culture. other programs offer in english we believe that to boost identity and confidence the books have to be in Arabic

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FROM THE AMPLIFY TEAM

The learnings from the refugee context are: the need of WLR program in the refugee context is much higher because of lack of such an opportunity for children (to be read aloud to) in the camp. There are no read aloud activities in the camp. There are other types of activities but none that focus soley on reading. Also most of the activities are given by people from outside the camp and therefore many parents do not send their children. WLR is done by the people of the camp themselves with the vicinity of the tents. Therefore there is more trust. One woman from the camp who we trained told us that a person from Save the children approached her and asked her how is she able to gather the children in her tent for reading aloud when they offer so many activities and attractions to get the children into their safe space and few come. She laughed and told them that she read aloud to them. The real reason is that she is from the camp. Also by involving the people from the camp to carry out the read aloud session you are building capacity and giving a purpose to the adults in the camp something which is needed very much. Also this ensures sustainability of the activity on the long run. The WLR model give a sense of community and belonging for the children and the adult reader. This is very much needed in the context of the refugee camp. We even learned that some children started going to school to learn how to read so that they could enjoy the stories.
My wish is that every child loves and enjoys reading. I wish every child to feel the excitement, the thrill, the pure joy of opening a book. I wish every child to experience the whole new world that will open in front of her eyes and the limitless opportunities and power they can obtain and the inspiration that can move mountains.
It is a crime to not allow children to have this experience
What new worlds internally or externally are waiting to be discovered to make a difference to build a community to bring about change from within. I aim to do accomplish my wish by creating libraries in every neighbourhood in the world. Where an individual reads aloud on a routine basis to the children in her neighborhood.

SKILL SHARE (optional)

We will need help with developing and producing a We Love Reading kit (tool box) that will be essential when scaling up. This would be a physical kit (a set of books, a puppet and a bag) with a manual and online tutorial.
I can share my experience in how to be a social entrepreneur how to start small and succeed what to focus on. I have started many projects that were successful and sustainable a service learning center in Jordan, a women mentoring network among others.

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

I am the founder of We Love Reading. I founded the initiative in Jordan and created an NGO (Taghyeer) as a legal umbrella for the initiative. As a scientist to me this is the chaos theory played out in real life “When a butterfly flutters its wings in China there is a hurricane in the Atlantic”.

IS THIS AN IDEA THAT YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION WOULD LIKE TO TAKE FORWARD?

  • Yes, and we are implementing/operating partners of UNICEF or UNHCR.
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Attachments (4)

WLR Experience Map_0001.pdf

We Love Reading User Experience Map

IRA articleRDFeb18.docx

This is an article that we had submitted to International review of education special edition on women literacy. We were invited to submit by UNESCO Life long learning representative who realised that We Love Reading is not only about children but adults as well. Although we wrote it with a focus on adult women the same applies to adult men.

Results Amman Intervention june 2015.pdf

Research shows that reading fiction affects empathy positively. WLR has conducted research with Univ of Chicago to assess the WLR model’s to increase empathy in children. The empathic intervention specifically raised children’s generosity by nearly 100%, as well as increasing the amount of empathic concern they felt for another child. Altogether, the results show that emotional reading intervention causes an increase in empathic concern for another as well as greater prosocial behavior.

Zaatari Psycosocial report 2014.pdf

A study in collaboration with Yale University showing the positive effect of We Love Reading on the psychosocial status of women and children in the Zaatri Camp 2014

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Photo of Xiaonan
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I have to say that this is a brilliant and practical idea. Reading is a very good way to know the culture and how the world is going, making people to love reading is a fundamental approach to help. I especially agree with your idea that teaching people to fish is far more important than given them fish. On the other side, this idea is very practical. I am attracted by its simplicity which is critical to make it work. There is only one thing I have concern, can the reading aloud activity last long when you stop motivating them. Can it be an autonomous activity without outside help?

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