The Community Steps Up
March 3, 2010 By Colin McElwee
We always knew brining “books to all” was going to be a marathon and not a sprint but you could be forgiven for thinking it was the latter given the speed with which the kids and the teachers have taken to the e-reader.
Both Susan and Zev have described the emotional heartbreak regarding the kids who didn’t get an e-reader. A clear feeling of injustice was often evident despite explainions that this was just a pilot and that with success, we plan that over time all students and all teachers would eventually have one. This is normal and inevitable behavior, especially in a society in which young children rarely receive anything before their elders. As a reality however it does present Worldreader with an ongoing and really interesting challenge. How do we ensure the pilot runs well whilst avoiding too many losses and/or breakages that could affect the final results.
Ironically we do not help ourselves in this regard. We feel very strongly that the students should be able to take these devices home and into the community. Why? Firstly we envision that much more prolonged reading will take place outside of the school than during classroom time. And secondly that the community stands to benefit directly and indirectly from books as well as the increasingly literate children in their midst as they share their e-readers.
For those reasons we made it a priority to try and engage the communities in which we were working through the celebratory events.
Before the first e-reader was distributed to any child, we invited the children, parents, guardians (as many children live miles from home) to an event where they listened to local clergy, the chief and teachers of their school talk about the importance of this project for the whole community.
An emphasis was put on protecting the project for the future and there was tremendous pride in that this was a first of this kind anywhere in the developing world (in fact the BBC World Service will broadcast a report this week about it: see later post)
The worldreader team also introduced ourselves and the event finished by giving the opportunity for some children to read to the audience using an e-reader.
The events in both Kade and Adeiso were packed and the feeling of celebration evident. The key moment for us was when the community recited a pledge to look after the reading project and protect the benefits that would flow for the many future generations. That the community takes ownership of the pilot is a way stronger deterrent to “inventory shrinkage” than anything we could devise.
This is going to be an interesting and ongoing challenge for us, the schools and the communities, make no mistake. But we feel as though we have got off to a pretty good start.