One Storyteller's Library at a Time

  • Storytelling to open hearts and perspectives Children at the Za’atari Camp in Jordan show the books they are reading through We Love Reading, a Jordanian NGO. Image Credit: Rana Dajani

  • Storytelling to open hearts and perspectives Logo of We Love Reading, a Jordanian NGO. Image Credit: Rana Dajani

  • Storytelling to open hearts and perspectives Children at the Za’atari Camp in Jordan show the books they are reading through We Love Reading, a Jordanian NGO. Image Credit: Rana Dajani

  • Storytelling to open hearts and perspectives Children at the Za’atari Camp in Jordan show the books they are reading through We Love Reading, a Jordanian NGO. Image Credit: Rana Dajani

  • Storytelling to open hearts and perspectives Children at the Za’atari Camp in Jordan show the books they are reading through We Love Reading, a Jordanian NGO. Image Credit: Rana Dajani

One Storyteller's Library at a Time

Editor's Note: Congratulations to We Love Reading for being one of six winners of a 2014 WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) Award. Wrote the judges: "We Love Reading aims to encourage children to read for pleasure by training women to read aloud to children in their neighbourhoods. These read-aloud sessions are the project's libraries. The model is innovative because it is simple, cost-efficient, grassroots and sustainable."

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“Facial expressions are so important,” Siham explained as she furrowed her eyebrows and gazed around an imaginary circle of young listeners.  Sitting forward with intense eyes, this was one of the tips she kept in mind when reading to her first group of children. Thirty young boys and girls gathered to hear Siham read "My Aunt and I," and none of them knew she would perform and inspire as much as she would read a story.

Siham is among 30 Syrian women from around Za’atari Camp who received training from We Love Reading. Founded eight years ago, the Jordanian non-governmental organization has trained hundreds of women in the art of storytelling and engaged thousands of young children with lively stories.

By providing training and books, the group enables women to establish libraries of their own, each serving to instill a love of reading among local children. These techniques and resources for connecting with children and inspiring them to read have now reached Za’atari, a refugee camp in Jordan for Syrians fleeing the war in their homeland.

For two days the team from We Love Reading worked with the group of Syrian women and guided them on how to effectively deliver a story. Among their lessons: Introducing a story means showing it to everyone in the audience. The title and author are opportunities to quiz the children and help them focus on the story. Children can guess what is taking place in a photo before the storyteller reads the text, and the reader should constantly act out what is being read. In her demonstration, Siham imitates surprised characters with wide eyes and an open mouth, and brings an angry adult to life by pursing her lips and narrowing her stare.

By the end of training, each woman received a box of books and was encouraged to establish a small library. The belief is that these libraries and passionate storytellers will help build a culture of reading.

Many children who attended Siham’s reading were so enthusiastic that they insisted on copying parts of the story by hand before racing home to show their families. This excitement mirrors that of the storyteller, who is eager to expand her library and to train other storytellers.

One of the trainees wrote, “They say that 40% of the Arab world don’t read or write. This is very sad. No one in this neighborhood wants to educate their children. I was sad before I met you, Ms. Rana, because the idea that you have taken upon yourself to spread was not very much welcomed. I thought for a while after I met you and I felt a feeling of responsibility towards the children, towards my community, towards my language that has begun to disappear. I gathered a group of children and asked them, 'what do you think about me making your time more entertaining by reading beautiful stories to you?'  All the children answered 'yes, yes, yes.'  We had a discussion on where to read here or there…”

We Love Reading maintains that reading reduces violence and encourages empathy because when children read they learn to respect and appreciate others, and to use words to express themselves. Initially, the children of the Za'atari camp were drawing guns and scenes of violence. But after a week of read-aloud sessions, the children were drawing trees, flowers and happy faces. The power of reading should never be underestimated.

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on the Natural Sciences, with support from LitWorld and International Relief and Development.

Rana Dajani and Jordan Klebanow
May 2014

 

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