Let me let you in on a little known secret: books have a multiplier effect.
A book doesn’t just empower one child; it empowers many. That’s because children who receive books share that book: they bring it home to read with their siblings, parents, grandparents. Together, they point out pictures, sound out words, marvel at new stories and new worlds. Those books unlock opportunities for children, which in turn, creates new opportunities for their communities.
Reading Village’s Leaders and Readers Program is a prime example of the multiplier effect. What started with six youth leaders reading to a couple hundred children has grown to include over 100 teens and alumni, thousands of children and five communities. And through Reading Village’s Independent Reading Program, the teens each have a box of books to lend to children living nearby.
Children in the Leaders and Readers Program have higher than average reading comprehension scores and have developed critical and creative thinking skills not taught in schools. And now, in Reading Village’s tenth year, children from the program are stepping into the shoes of the teens who once read to them. Teens are finding their voice, self-esteem and developing leadership skills as they read to the children and participate in Reading Village’s leadership development workshops. They take on community improvement projects, graduate high school and join growing numbers of alumni competing for jobs that can double their family incomes, continuing their studies at university and starting families in which education and literacy are the norm. Because once a child learns how to read, they pass that skill onto their children, breaking the cycle of illiteracy for that entire branch of the family tree.
The multiplier effect of books doesn’t stop there. We know that low literacy doesn’t just diminish opportunities for individual children. The disparity undermines the workforce, the economy and the social, cultural and physical health outcomes worldwide. Reports from United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank, and many other experts cite education as the catalyst for poverty and inequality reduction, economic growth, improved health, better living conditions and more peaceful, just and inclusive societies.
The sheer size of the problem is daunting. In the U.S. 80% of low-income fourth graders are not reading at proficiency – and the economic implications are predictably devastating. In Guatemala, the literacy rate is the worst in the Western Hemisphere (apart from Haiti), and as a result, 75% of the population lives below the poverty line.
That’s precisely why First Book has been honored to support the heroic work of Reading Village by providing access to high quality books for leadership and education programs in Guatemala. As a non-profit social enterprise, First Book has developed market-driven models that enable formal and informal educators serving children in need, ages 0 – 18, to access the highest quality, new books, school supplies and educational and basic needs resources – either for free or at low cost.
When I need a dose of inspiration, I read about the amazing work being done by Reading Village and others. The genuine commitment of its team, donors, and youth leaders are moving the needle in one corner of the world – and you are also inspiring fellow soldiers in the battle for equal education, including me. Working together, we can further educational equality for the millions of children who are hungry for knowledge, and provide the opportunities for them to contribute their full potential.
By: Kyle Zimmer | President, CEO, and Co-Founder of First Book