I come from a long line of readers ... my maternal grandmother was a voracious reader, my mother doesn’t leave home without several books, I frequently say to myself, “just one more chapter, then I’ll turn out the light and go to sleep.” Gotta keep the legacy going ...
I was that mother, who read to my babies while I was still pregnant. I read aloud the original Winnie the Pooh when Parker was only nine months old. It’s such beautiful and clever writing. It’s not important to me if my children look like me, or look like Lee or sound like me or resemble me in any way, BUT I want them to LOVE reading.
I want them to know the joy of leaving this world for a few minutes and getting lost in the land of Bilbo Baggins or Lucy Pevensie. I want them to learn about space, the Titanic, how to make your own bow and arrow, and Abraham Lincoln. I want them to read for pleasure and for learning. It’s a skill for all ages and phases of life.
That’s why it crushes me that most Guatemalans do not enjoy reading. Depending on the website you look at, Guatemala has a 69 - 75% literacy rate. There is not a real good definition for what qualifies as literate. My experience is that people can read somewhere between a 2nd and 4th grade level. (That is for rural, indigenous people with limited education - not urban, educated Guatemalans.)
Kids in school don’t even have their own text books. Sometimes they use photocopied books or the teacher has the only copy. How is a person supposed to get information for themselves if they can’t get their hands on a real live book. Suffice it to say, they do not read for pleasure. It is purely a functional skill with minimal satisfaction and limited applications.
As I work with kids after school, one of my goals is to expose them to reading and books. I read to them, I let them look at books, touch real books, and read them to each other. I do anything I can to encourage an affection for reading and a love for books. One of our limitations is finding good books for a variety of reading levels in Spanish.
Recently, two young women have made a huge contribution to our book collection. After visiting Guatemala last Spring, Rebecca, age 13, decided to take Spanish as her language requirement in the 7th grade. As an assignment, each student was required to make an alphabet book in Spanish. After the assignment is completed, the books are then donated to a local program for Spanish speaking children. Rebecca asked if her class would like to donate their books to kids in Guatemala - which she then delivered herself when she returned to Guatemala this Spring. They are beautiful, hand made books which the kids are LOVING! Thank you Rebecca and Williamsburg Middle School Spanish class. Little ones all over Panajachel are practicing their letters and sounds. You are changing lives and opening eyes to the wonders of reading.
The following is a video clip of how we use these alphabet books.
Another young woman, Meredith, age 15, also visited Guatemala last summer. When she returned this Spring, her small group at church wanted to do something to help her on her trip. She brought me a ziplock bag full of money and change which they donated for any worthy purpose we could find. We tried to find books here in Pana while she was here, but alas, there were none to be found. So, we did the next best thing - we ordered them from Ebay. They just arrived a few days ago. This next week, every child in our after school program gets to go home with their very own book - to keep. I am especially excited for some of the older kids who get to choose from some classic books like - James and the Giant Peach, or Bridge to Terebithia, or Island of Blue Dolphins. The extras will be used in our after school program as well as the small but growing library of the school where we tutor. Thank you Meredith and Small group girls! You have given these kids a gift which is not only hard to find but a challenge to afford. You are blessing the nations!
Reading and education is not the Holy Grail for solving poverty and healing lives. BUT it is a hinge on the door that swings wide open to soooo many opportunities. Thanks to all of you who help us and others as we hold that door open, beckoning one and all to a whole new world.