April is a month to celebrate the joys and discoveries of reading books internationally and here in the U.S. International Children’s Book Day is celebrated annually on April 2nd and marks the birthday of a famous children’s book author Hans Christian Andersen who wrote fairy-tale classics like "The Little Mermaid" and "Thumbelina".
In the U.S. we kick April off with National Book Week and then end it with Children’s Book Day on April 30th. In between, there are weeks celebrating libraries and mobile libraries.
But in many places, including where GEF operates, storybooks are a rarity in homes and in schools.
One of Global Education Fund’s partners, ADIMTU - based in San Pedro Sacatepéquez in the Department of San Marcos, Guatemala - encourages reading and literacy year-round. ADIMTU was established to tackle what were very poor levels of retention and success for girls in education – with middle school seen as a critical juncture within the education system. It has begun to incorporate boys into the program based on strong interest from parents, teachers and boys themselves, as well as its’ proven success in increasing the retention and success of girls to finish middle school and go onto high school.
For us, one of the core secrets of the model’s success is how it has carefully embedded interesting, challenging and fun reading, writing, and oral communication activities within the Leadership Institute curriculum. Over the course of the three years and through twice monthly sessions in their schools, ADIMTU’s Institute creates avenues that encourage the girls and boys to become and think of themselves as leaders, learners and also draws in their parents and broader family members into their journey of learning.
Students begin to ponder from the first year what is it means to be a leader, what it requires, what success means to them personally and to their families and to think about the roles and responsibilities of women and men in their communities and societies and the challenges confronting girls and women in particular. The primary activity for this year is for each student to interview her/his mother (or grandmother/aunt) about their life from early childhood, to whatever educational opportunities (or barriers) they confronted, to their work and community activities and, importantly, their dreams. Think about it – each student helps to write a story – perhaps for the first time and in so doing interacts with and gets to know about her/his mother in ways that may not have happened otherwise. Each life story is illustrated and bound by the student and presented to her/his mother at the end of the year. Teachers, mothers, fathers and students all state how the seemingly simple process of interviewing and writing down a mother’s story has changed how they look at and understand each other. It also has required the students to write and communicate in new ways not normally seen in class.
The small local ‘mini-libraries’ created by ADIMTU and the magic of reading aloud storybooks with family is at the heart of the second year of the Leadership Institute. Access to enjoyable books aims to address the lack of lending libraries (especially in rural areas) in Guatemala. Even better, the students not only read new storybooks themselves and reflect together on any message or lesson within the book they also are given the tools and confidence to take them home and read to their families. Just think about the power of 200+ second year middle school girls and boys all sharing their growing love of reading and books with their parents, siblings and others living in their home! We know from their reports and feedback from parents and teachers that it fosters a new culture of literacy and conversation within families.
In the last year of middle school, the students (to date only girls as the program is still bringing on boys in the first two years) become big sisters for at-risk lower primary students. The big sisters tutor and mentor their ‘little sisters’ including reading with them, helping them with their homework, encouraging them to stay in school. This last year focuses on the middle school students as role models of someone staying in and succeeding in school and gives them opportunities to demonstrate their budding leadership skills.
ADIMTU has made incredible progress. This year, ADIMTU is reaching 593 girls and 392 boys across 13 middle schools with their Leadership Institute. They reach an additional 200+ at-risk lower primary girls through the little sisters program as well as the hundreds of parents and other siblings who are involved through the Mothers’ Life Stories and the reading at home components. Even more exciting is the collaboration with the regional educational authorities and the local teachers and school directors to mainstream the Leadership Institute within more public schools in future.
“My dream is for my daughter to stay in school and become a professional so she can lead an easier life than I have had. I have always worked in the field, working very hard, long days, because I never had the chance to go to school. I want her life to be different”.
— A mother at ADIMTU's 'La Vida de mi Mama' program
We hope you are inspired to pick up a favorite old book or go find a new one, and go on an adventure of discovering new worlds, ideas and dreams through reading. If possible, make sure you read a book (or two or more!) this month with a child – of any age.