The Bookmark

Your exclusive look between the pages of Worldreader

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Summer 2015

From the Development Desk

Brian reading with kids in Kenya
Brian Gougherty reading with students at the Sarah Obama Library this April in Kogelo, Kenya.

Photo of David Risher, President of Worldreader Since we started The Bookmark, I’ve asked our president David Risher to pen this column alongside the news and feature stories that follow. David’s traveled across Africa over the past five years to see Worldreader’s programs on the ground, meeting our partners, teachers and students in-person. He has countless stories, photos and reflections to share about the people he’s met who are directly impacted by our e-reading programs.

Simply put, I’ve asked David to write this column because he has such a strong personal connection with Worldreader, and that’s always something we hope to share with you, our donors.

Then, this April, I traveled with Worldreader as part of our Digital Reading Summits in Accra and Nairobi.

Along the way, I joined our staff in Ghana and Kenya as they guided us through the cities, slums and the countryside of East and West Africa. Together, we visited a half-dozen schools and libraries partnering with Worldreader and spoke with dozens of teachers and partners who run our programs every day. On a few special occasions, I sat and read with the students, using Worldreader e-readers, and read the books they were learning to love.

There’s not enough room here for me to describe how meaningful it was to move through these countries and experience first-hand everything I’ve been taught or told since I joined Worldreader. What I can say is that just one trip to see our programs on-the-ground has done more than what a million stories, photos, Bookmarks or annual reports could ever do in helping me realize how technology can truly benefit people in their everyday lives.

I’ve always understood how something like “going digital” can enhance education, but now I’ve seen it too, and that changes everything.

I’ve seen how simple e-books have created enormous possibilities for people like Amina in Nima, Maurice from Dodoma, Teka from Kibera, and so many others. As a fundraiser, my profession now has a very, very personal feel to it. So, donors beware! I have never felt so motivated to ask for money in my life!

And, as it turns out, I do have an ask for our donors. This year, when you consider donating to Worldreader, please also consider a donation of your vacation time. During the entire month of August we are organizing a summer reading program in Ghana that can host individuals or entire families for a weeklong experience in Accra, along the Cape Coast, and volunteering with students in rural primary schools. We are also able to coordinate visits in Kenya through our staff members in Nairobi. Or, if you’re planning on visiting other countries, let me know and we’ll see what’s possible.

Learn more about our volunteer trip to Ghana here or reach out to me at 415-595-2285 or


Brian Gougherty signature

Brian Gougherty

Acting Director of Development


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Staff Spotlight

A Remarkable Journey

Joseph Botwey, Ghana 2012
Joseph Botwey [top right] with students and Worldreader Staff.

Joseph Botwey’s comments about Worldreader’s early years in Ghana are candid ones, shedding light on the difficulties of “going digital” in the developing world. “Initially, lots of people, especially government and local publishers, acted in disbelief at the mention of digital books.” But his reflections over the five-year history he shares with Worldreader always leave the listener inspired.

“I must admit the first years were extremely challenging,” Botwey says.

Since joining Worldreader in 2010, Joseph has become an integral pillar of the Ghana Team. As the Manager of Partnership Development and Publishing Relations, he has witnessed Worldreader grow through both its challenges and successes. From acquiring local books from West African publishers, to establishing new e-reader programs in schools and libraries in Ghana (and more recently Nigeria), Joseph has helped expand Worldreader’s impact in West Africa dramatically.

Joseph says the 2014 e-reader program launch at Pavuu Primary School stands-out in his memories. Located in the Lawra district of the Upper West Region of Ghana, he describes the school as “a camouflage or escape” from farming, selling or sheepherding.

When Joseph arrived at Pavuu for the Worldreader program launch, the expectation was that the community could not attend. With a population scattered across a wide swath of rural farmland and low turnout at previous parent-teacher conferences, the staff at Pavuu did not anticipate many guests. But, as Joseph recalls, “to our surprise, parents progressively rushed to the launch still wearing their work clothes!

“Seeing these farmers with their hoes, cutlasses and working tools was such a pleasant sight. As the launch program presentation went on their faces move from disbelief, to curiosity, and then to amazement at the number of books these ‘weird’ devices were bringing to their kids’ school. They realized that they had been empowered with a knowledge arsenal to change their lives and community.

“The smiles emanating from the faces of both the young and the elders at their first sight of paperless books were enough to make the 15-hours of travel on potholed roads worth it.”

The long-term effect of the program, Joseph says, will be transformative: “Due to limited resources, students rarely see their education as a door to a new life, but rather as a temporary delay to their immediate destiny. The day we showed the kids the amount of books (and knowledge) they were going to be able to access, somehow, they saw that door.”

Joseph is Worldreader’s Manager of Partnerships and Publisher Relations in Ghana. He is also the founder of Reflex Media, an interactive media company in Ghana. Skilled in photography, production and directing, Joseph has been a set designer at Top Studios, and worked for international clients such as Marcel Desailly/UBS, Baglioni Hotels and the British Council in Ghana.

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A Closer Look

Behind the BLUE Box

Worldreader's Dan King and DHL
Worldreader’s Dan King shipping a BLUE Box with DHL.

Many of our major donors have chosen to sponsor a specific project in Ghana or Kenya through Worldreader’s BLUE Box program. BLUE means “Building Literacy Using E-Books,” and the box represents how our donors help make this possible for students halfway across the world.

So, what’s in a Worldreader BLUE Box?

50 Kindles? Check. 5,000 e-books? Check. Cases, USB cables, and training guides? Check.

And what about ongoing support for the school, impact evaluation, and a strong relationship with the Worldreader staff?

Absolutely check.

When a Worldreader BLUE Box ships out to a school or library in Africa, Worldreader invests more than just hardware into our programs: we set out to create lasting, meaningful relationships with partners, sponsors, and donors. This means that what may start out as a small trial with 25 or 50 Kindles turns into something much bigger.

At the Kilgoris Project in Western Kenya, for example, our partners started out in 2011 with just one BLUE Box. After seeing the impact in the classroom, they bought two more, and then two more after that along with an additional 16,000 new e-books. Most recently, in March 2015, they bought another two BLUE Boxes, increasing the total number of books to 15,000 on 100 of their exisiting devices!

Or take the King George VI School, a primary school in Zimbabwe that teaches orphaned, disabled children. When a donor came forward to fund an initial BLUE Box in 2012, the school was ecstatic. After using the Kindles for several years, the school recognized that some students – because of various disabilities – were unable to use the small buttons on the Kindles. When the school made a request for touchscreen Kindle Paperwhites for their students with cerebral palsy, the original donors came forward once again and sponsored a second BLUE Box. And beyond just funding the shipment of Paperwhites, the donors sponsored the KGVI project manager to attend the Worldreader Digital Reading Summit in Nairobi last month, and then funded a solar charging station for the school, too!

The short story here is that when Worldreader works with our donors to start-up a new program in Africa, Worldreader matches that donation with a long-term commitment to ensure the success of that program. Along the way, our donors receive photos, stories and metrics that show that success. And sometimes, they even choose to give again.

We send our deepest thanks to these families who have recently sponsored Worldreader BLUE Boxes:

  • The Ayyad Family, St. Francis Demonstration Primary School, Ghana
  • Andrea Pollack, Cintra Pollack, and the Singer Family Foundation, the Sarah Obama Community Library, Kenya
  • Frank and Shannon Connelly, King George VI School, Zimbabwe
  • The Hall Family, Enkereri Primary School, Kenya
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    From the Field

    Sponsored Project Managers at the Digital Reading Summits

    Digital Reading Summit, Kenya
    Plenary session at the Digital Reading Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.

    There’s no better mark of progress toward creating a digital reading movement in the developing world than Worldreader’s annual Digital Reading Summits, which last month brought together hundreds of guests to talk about the future of digital reading.

    But these summits were also a great reminder that any movement is made of individuals. And at the front lines of this digital reading revolution are Worldreader’s project managers, who showed up in full force at both summits in Accra and Nairobi.

    Different than Worldreader staff members, project managers include teachers, librarians and volunteers at each of the 104 e-reading projects Worldreader supports across 12 sub-Saharan African countries. These passionate educators select the best books for their students, spend weeks training and launching their e-reading programs, administer the day-to-day use of the e-readers, and then commit to years of monitoring, support and evaluations.

    Project managers each brought their own learnings, stories, success and challenges to share during the summits. Many took away new ideas and inspiration to take e-reading to the next level in their communities. And our staff members spent hours in between sessions and workshops talking with each project manager, collecting their stories from the field.

    Maurice Mkhotya is the project manager at Chamwino Secondary School, which was sponsored last year by donors Ed Frank and Sarah Ratchye. Chamwino’s e-reading program is relatively new, but the impact Maurice reported at the summit impressed even our veteran project managers.

    As the English teacher at Chamwino, Maurice assigns single books for children to read from the e-readers, and then test them with specific questions about the book to gauge comprehension. Before the e-readers arrived he says 25 percent of students were passing the tests. Most recently, 84 percent of students passed the tests. The difference, Maurice says, is that e-readers have made reading more exciting for the students.

    “The problem is that they were not so excited to read the physical books. They were not motivated. They went to the library to sleep,” Maurice said. “With the e-reader, nobody can sleep!”

    In the weeks following the summit, Maurice even shared a detailed five-page report on his feedback and impressions from the event. He also included his new plans for e-reading in the community, which focuses far beyond the initial success of the program at Chamwino.

    “Due to the conference in Kenya I realized that in Dodoma we need a Community Library,” Maurice wrote. “It is very important to conduct a school library but also it is much important to have a community library as well to serve a big number of participants from the community and many other schools so that we may be able to build the reading culture.”

    Richard Teka brought a similar community-based perspective to the Nairobi summit. Richard is a seasoned Worldreader project manager, with three years of e-reading experience at Kibera Girls Soccer Academy (KGSA). The project was originally funded by Star Lerach in Southern California and her son Dillon, and is located in the middle of Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world. At this year’s summit, Teka told us how the e-readers at KGSA have had ripple effects far beyond the school:

    “Whenever our girls take the e-readers home they are sharing them with other students from other schools in Kibera, their family members, even their parents. To me, there are many people relying our on school to use electronic devices, which makes me very happy.”

    Richard says e-readers, through this informal community outreach, have become a selling point for KGSA, showing that even in a slum, technology can create meaningful opportunities for education.

    “People believe that to be successful you have to get high grades, get your degree, and get a good paying job. To get good grades it was thought you had to go to a very big school, a very good school,” Richard said, adding that until recently, there wasn’t a single secondary school inside Kibera, which some say is home to nearly 1 million people.

    “When it comes to Kibera, they were almost giving up on being successful in terms of a career or profession. What we did at KGSA is bring the environment of that good school into Kibera. Introducing e-readers in Kibera is one of our objectives to try and provide that environment for these girls.”

    In all, over 100 project managers convened at the events in Accra and Nairobi. The information they brought along was invaluable and will help guide the development of our programs for the next year, until we all meet again during the 2016 Digital Reading Summit.

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