Growing up an avid reader, I was often referred to as a bookworm. As a child, I always viewed reading books as magical. A book was my magic carpet that transported me to faraway places and ignited my imagination. Reading opened my mind to all the wondrous possibilities that existed outside of my world, it made me curious and connected me to places, cultures and people I had a longing to meet. It helped me discover a world that, when I was young was very foreign, but now as an adult is familiar and all because I loved reading. I was fortunate to grow up with a strong reading culture that endures to this day.
Engendering a reading culture in schools has never been more important than now. With so many distractions, our young people are in desperate need of something that will ground them. Reading can be that something. It has the power to transform lives and we, as adults, have some obligation to give them opportunities to read.
The benefits of reading are numerous from improved literacy and concentration levels to helping students broaden their perspective of the world. Reading can help them have an open mind to other people’s point of view and help develop critical thinking abilities and communication skills. Through reading, they can discover a whole new world of endless possibilities.
At Amara Charitable Trust, we understand the value of reading and have started fourteen libraries across primary and secondary schools we support. We have been in the fortunate position of having incredible partnerships and donors who have made it possible for us to give books to these school communities. For many schools it was the first time they had access to story and reference books.
We encourage the teachers to allow the young learners have access to the books, even if the school does not have a structure to house the library. It is not unusual to find students sitting on the floor or at their desk reading but this is not enough.
In a rural setting, reading for leisure, is a luxury. While in school a student may be allowed access to library books and, if they are lucky, time to read. However, at home, it is a completely different scenario. Most students, over the holidays, are tasked with taking care of younger siblings, doing household chores like fetching water and firewood and sometimes going out to earn a living whether it is as a house-help or looking for scrap metal or plastic. it is not difficult to understand why the art of reading is slowly dying in some communities, or why some schools do not see the importance of reading and instead concentrate on academics to the detriment of the student.
A reading culture is an environment where reading is championed, valued and most of all encouraged.
Are we naïve in our thinking that we can singlehandedly bring back a reading culture by introducing libraries in rural schools? While that may be the case, we will nevertheless, continue to advocate for a reading culture and hope it will eventually become part of every school curriculum.
There is nothing worse than seeing books sitting on shelves or scattered on the floor, gathering dust instead of in the hands of children. Books are the best gift we can give them and it is a gift that will keep on giving each time a student sits down to read. Anyone who has favourite book that they re-read will understand what I mean.
In the last three months we have we received overwhelming support from the Young Jains, Hindu Swayamsevaks Sangh and the Giants Group Twiga in the form of books ranging from fiction to reference books and everything in-between. As we distribute the books to the primary and secondary schools, we remain optimistic that the seeds of a reading culture will take root in the schools and we shall see a revolution of avid readers who are thirsty for more knowledge that can sometimes only be found between the pages of a book.
World Book Day was created by UNESCO 25 years ago to celebrate and promote a reading culture. The day will be observed in over 100 countries across the globe on 2nd March 2023. Imagine what we can achieve as individuals, if we each take a moment that day to read, donate a book or books to a community library or school, encourage a child to read, maybe even read to them?
My wish would be for every child to experience the wonders and joys of reading.
Barack Obama, the former US President said it best when he stated, “reading is the gateway for children that makes all other learning possible.”