By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Five months after the launch of ChildFund India’s Books, My Friends campaign, we’re learning more about the children who are getting their first chance to own books and read for pleasure.
This spring, ChildFund India and its campaign partner, Macmillan Education, conducted a baseline assessment of 1,200 children across 15 Indian states, to understand their reading abilities. About 40,000 children have received books and bags since December through the Books, My Friends program.
The analysis showed that reading ability improved with age, although far too many children still can’t read. In the group of 6- to 8-year-olds tested, 66.2 percent were not able to read at all, while 44.8 percent of 11- and 12-year-olds and 29 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds were illiterate. Geography mattered as well, with higher literacy rates in the states of Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while Rajasthan, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh had lower rates.
Pooja, 14, who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh, was able to read at the level of an 8- or 9-year-old when she received her books in December.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to read these books,” she says. Also, most of her time was spent in studying her textbooks or attending classes, so Pooja preferred to get away from books during her leisure time.
But because some of the books she received were in her local language, Telugu, they piqued her interest. Soon, she was enjoying them, and she moved on to the other books in her bag, which were in English. That presented an obstacle, since English is harder for Pooja to read.
With a smile on her face, Pooja says, “My school coordinator has helped me a lot in improving my English reading ability. She would patiently sit with me, make me read these story books and correct me whenever I went wrong. And as soon as I started understanding the stories, I started enjoying them and wanted to read more.”
As a result, Pooja has joined a group of other students who discuss their books.
“This campaign has really helped me make new friends,” she says. “All the students who have received these books have formed a group, and during weekends, all of us sit together to read these books and enjoy chatting with each other. The illustrations in these books make the reading all more interesting. I’m really grateful to ChildFund for giving me these books. Because of this campaign, I’ve made this extra effort to read, and today I can read an entire sentence in English without faltering.”
Reading is an important source of knowledge, happiness, pleasure and even courage. It opens your mind and transports you virtually into newer worlds. It develops your brain and helps in communicating and sharing ideas, and therefore is essential for advancement and development of any society.
Read Rashmi Kulkarni’s first story about Books, My Friends.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
This is the first of three articles this month about Kate’s recent trip to report on ChildFund-supported programs in Guatemala’s highlands.
When ChildFund staff members travel to the field, we often hire translators, even when we have some command of the language being spoken. But in Guatemala’s highlands, I needed two translators: one who could translate Spanish to English, and a second to translate from the local language to Spanish. Often, we asked our local partner organizations to help us out.
It definitely made reporting interesting. A couple of people compared the process to the childhood game of Telephone, which isn’t too far from the truth. Since it was hard to get direct quotes, I relied a lot on skills of observation in Palima, Patzite and Pachichiac, mountain villages that I visited in late April.
Bumpy dirt roads, bright blue tarps draped over mud-brick house frames, the scent of greens cooking on a rustic stove, chickens and dogs running loose, the smell of rain as a storm approached — they all fed my senses. So did the peal of 4-year-old Heidi Karina’s voice as she named colors in her native tongue of Kaqchikel, part of the Mayan family of languages. She’ll learn Spanish in school, but right now, she says räx for green instead of the Spanish verde.
People in these highland villages are isolated from the rest of Guatemala, particularly the capital of Guatemala City and nearby Antigua, where schools, jobs, running water and electricity are far more accessible. Although the highlands are just a couple of hours away from the cities by car, a lack of reliable transportation and job opportunities keeps many families in poverty.
As does the language barrier. Children learn Spanish in school, but most in the highlands don’t attend past sixth grade. How many of you reading this story took high school Spanish or French? And how much of it do you remember?
Anyone hoping for a professional job in Guatemala needs to be fluent in Spanish, and I overheard one person in our party advising a young woman that she also should study English to improve her chances for a job as a social worker. Such advice seems unreachable for people who stop school in the third grade, take up farming or weaving, marry in their teens and have six or seven children to care for. Hopes may be somewhat higher for the children, but few of them progress to high school even now.
A state-maintained highway runs near the district of Quiché, which gives people there an advantage over other communities like Pachichiac, which is far from any main roads. José Mario Lopez Ixcoy, general director of ChildFund’s local partner in Quiché, says that most people there speak some Spanish, at least enough to take menial jobs in cities, although, he adds, “sometimes they feel discriminated against in the city because of their customs.” People can walk half an hour to a bus stop, where buses come twice in the morning and return from the cities twice in the afternoon. School, health care and jobs are easier to reach, as a result.
The people in Guatemala’s highlands will need many things to happen to make school more accessible: better roads, regular transportation, funding for school uniforms and other necessities.
And, according to Aura Maria, a guide mother who lives in Pachichiac, the communities also need more job opportunities, reliable electricity and financial assistance for education and health care.
I learned how to say “thank you” in Quiché, another Mayan language: Maltiox, pronounced mal-tee-osh. It took a fair amount of practice, and although I got comfortable with saying it during the visit, the word is already starting to fade from my memory a month later.
Let’s not let the same happen with children who depend on us to think of their futures.
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Last December, ChildFund India launched a nationwide campaign called Books, My Friends to provide bags full of age-appropriate books for 115,000 children ages 6 to 14 across India. The goal of the project is to make reading fun for children while helping them improve their reading, comprehension and learning abilities. We hope to create a love of reading that continues through adulthood.
In India, we work with children who live in rural villages and urban slums, and lack of education is a big concern everywhere. Many children living in poverty can’t read at grade level and often don’t have access to books at home. In rural communities, children are often limited to textbooks printed on poor-quality paper. Many parents are barely literate, so a culture of reading has not yet taken hold. Without strong reading comprehension, children can’t excel in school.
To address this situation, ChildFund India started the Reading Improvement Program, our flagship education initiative, and the Books, My Friends campaign, which encourages students to read for pleasure.
Shreelakshmi, a seventh-grader from the southwestern state of Karnataka, received a reading bag in December during the launch of Books, My Friends. She had a chance to meet Anil Kumble, a world-renowned cricket captain and major sports celebrity in India.
Shreelakshmi recalls the meeting fondly: “The experience of receiving books from Anil Kumble is still fresh in my mind. He and the ChildFund team spoke with us freely and inspired us to read more books. I am very grateful to ChildFund for giving me this opportunity,” she says, a smile spreading across her face.
Shreelakshmi received 17 books, and she’s already read many of them. Her favorite was Kadhakalu Maha Nagara, about a girl who had no one to read a story to her. Finally, she finds one person who starts telling stories to her daily. Slowly, other children start joining her to listen.
“I, too, like stories, and my brother also sometimes reads them to me,” Shreelakshmi says.
Since most of her neighborhood friends also have received reading bags, they enjoy reading and discussing books together.
Parents say it’s great for their children to have something constructive to do with their time, and Shreelakshmi’s teacher adds that the habit of reading appears to be taking hold, just a few months into the project.
Watch this space for another story soon about Books, My Friends and the Reading Improvement Program.
Earlier this week, ChildFund President & CEO Anne Lynam Goddard visited the White House for the launch of Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative that aims to make education accessible for all girls worldwide, despite some daunting obstacles. Girls’ rights and the barriers to them figure strongly in our work at ChildFund, so it is thrilling to see such a major push led by the Office of the First Lady, involving USAID, the State Department, the Peace Corps and other agencies. You can read more of Anne’s thoughts on Let Girls Learn on her Tumblr page.
On the ChildFund blog, we’ve written about many girls and young women who have overcome significant barriers to attaining a full education — including early marriage, spotty electrical power, long walks to school and cultural mores that discourage women from getting an education. Read about Phanny, a Zambian woman who works as an automotive repair supervisor; Mahdia, an Afghani woman who is learning to read despite the objection of some of her male relatives; and Alexia, a Dominican police officer who encourages her younger siblings to remain in school. They’re heroines in our book.
In this video, Mamta talks about how the Udaan scholarship available through ChildFund India has helped her overcome financial challenges to attend university to become a teacher. Her parents are illiterate, and many of her friends in her village dropped out to get married, so what she is doing is remarkable.
“I want to teach other girls to continue their educations so they’ll be independent, like me, and have a good life,” Mamta says. Video by Jake Lyell.
School is starting this week for many children in the United States. Children and youth in many of the 30 countries where ChildFund works have limited access to school, whether it’s because their families can’t afford to pay fees for uniforms, or the children are relied upon to fetch water or work to contribute to a family’s livelihood. Sponsorship helps many children attend school longer and have a better chance to break the generational cycle of poverty. Here are some pictures of students from communities where we work:
Reporting by ChildFund Mexico
One day, Antonio felt terrible, suffering stomach pain. He needed to go to the hospital, about a four-hour drive from his home village, Huehuetla, in Mexico’s Puebla state.
It turned out the problem was appendicitis, and despite the long trip, Antonio’s operation was successful. He was able to get to the hospital with the help of ChildFund Mexico, in which he’s been enrolled since he was 2, and the support of his sponsor. Antonio is known for his smile, his good grades and his teaching skills. Yes, even at 10, he’s a teacher.
Antonio speaks two languages — Spanish and Totonaco, his community’s language.
His gift is being a translator for his mother and grandmother, especially when they need to go to the doctor.
Antonio knows that his family members, who speak only Totonaco, have a hard time communicating with Spanish-speaking doctors. So when he accompanies his mother and grandmother to clinics, Antonio is able to tell them what the doctor is saying and respond to the doctor in Spanish.
He also teaches Spanish and Totonaco in the community.
He starts the Totonaco class for children by saying:
“Pastakgasinil.” (Thank you.)
Antonio’s family is poor, but they have better access to health care and nutritious food through ChildFund and the local partner organization. In return, the family members volunteer their time and skills to help others.
Antonio says that he wants to major in math in college, and he dreams about owning a store, earning money to help his family.
He adds: “Hasta chale,” goodbye in Totonaco.
Read our story from Saturday about the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
By Sagita Adeswyi, ChildFund Indonesia
In Banten, Indonesia, teachers sang about how much they would miss ChildFund and its corporate partner, Krakatau Posco, as a six-month pilot project to improve their schools was coming to an end.
“Please don’t go, ChildFund,” sang the teachers. “Please don’t go, Krakatau Posco.”
March marked the end of Sekolahku Asik, Indonesian for “My School is Really Cool.” The project was a joint initiative between ChildFund Indonesia, Krakatau Posco, an Indonesian company, and the Community Chest of Korea to support Indonesia’s government in improving the quality of basic education.
“The Sekolahku Asik program has improved the schools’ infrastructures, teaching skills of the teachers, students’ engagement and employees’ participation in education,” says Min Kyung Zoon, president of Krakatau Posco.
The program was implemented in three elementary schools as a pilot in Cilegon, Banten, and 35 teachers from 13 schools in the region received training in interactive learning. Children attended consultation events to express what they wanted their schools to be like, voicing their views through drawing, writing and storytelling.
The schools received minor repairs, and employees of Krakatau Posco had the opportunity to volunteer at the schools, teaching children how to plant trees, wash their hands properly and how to dispose of organic and inorganic waste. More than 500 children benefited from the experience.
The schools now have better and cleaner restrooms, organized libraries with more books and fresh coats of paint on the walls.
“My school was quite dull,” says 12-year-old Novalina. “The restroom was dark and dirty. Sometimes I felt scared when I went there. I joined the competition with other students to tell what we want to be improved in our school. Now, my school looks really nice and much cleaner. We chose the color for the walls, too.”
Teachers, too, were pleased with the program: “We really like the training, as it has enhanced our knowledge and skill in an interactive teaching method,” says Tati Fatayati. “This brings changes to the students; where they might have been feeling bored with the teaching process in the class, now they feel it is more fun and interactive.”
Now that the pilot stage has ended, ChildFund and Krakatau Posco are working together to continue the program at the three schools, as well as other schools, this year.
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
At Avadi Municipal Middle School in Thirvalluru, India, the story of the animal kingdom is literally painted on the walls. Each day, students entering the school are greeted by a massive mural, a colorful landscape with wild animals in their environment.
On another wall of the fourth-grade classroom are posters demonstrating fruits and vegetables and their importance in our daily diet.
“These are things our students get to see every day,” teacher P. Jayanthi says. “They not only see those paintings and posters but learn a lot from them. Now, it is easy for us to teach our students through these materials.”
The paintings and other learning materials were made available to the school by ChildFund India under its Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP). Supported by the Caterpillar Foundation, this program is being implemented in about 100 primary and middle schools around Chennai, the capital city of the southernmost Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The three-year project, which started in September 2011, seeks to make comprehensive quality improvements in 100 schools in Villivakkam and Ambattur areas of Thiruvallur and Chennai districts of Tamil Nadu. These schools are run by the government and most students are from impoverished homes. Many are from the first generation of their families to attend school, so they may lack full support at home. So far, the project has reached more than 4,800 students.
“These wall paintings and hangings have made our task fairly easy. They not only help the classroom look great, but also help us in a great way to engage children in learning activities continuously,” says Mercy, a teaching assistant.
“All the classrooms of our school have some kind of thematic wall paintings, and we have observed that the paintings have helped gain students’ focus and increase learning,” she adds. “This has helped us greatly in teaching slower learners or those who take a longer time to grasp any subject material. We are thankful to ChildFund India for this support.”
Under EQuIP, schools were provided with learning modules specially designed for delayed learners, as well as workbooks, whiteboards, pencils, art materials, science sets, ceiling fans, round classroom tables and computers, among other resources. ChildFund has also appointed teachers trained to work with delayed learners.
The project has the following key objectives:
“Many slower learners suffer from low self-esteem and lack confidence,” says teacher N. Nalini. “You can address this not only by praising small achievements but also by personalizing lessons.
“I always keep this in mind and encourage them to work on their learning abilities. I encourage children to use our learning materials to observe, predict and solve problems. I invite them to tell stories and revise lessons on a regular basis. They like the attention given to them.” When the project started last year in this school, about two dozen children were designated as delayed learners. Now, 20 of these students have improved dramatically and are at par with their peers, she adds.
Eight-year-old Pallikondal had a problem in identifying animals a year ago. But today, she says, “I know everything about these animals in this painting,” pointing to the elephants.
School Management Committee member M. Laxmi is pleased about the progress her three grandchildren have made at school. “They are all doing well in their studies. I am very happy.”
By Sagita Adeswyi, ChildFund Indonesia
Yufen, a fifth-grader, lives in the Belu district of East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. He loves to play soccer, and he also likes school.
“I have two younger sisters, but they live with my parents in another village,” he says. “On weekends, Grandma takes me to visit my parents. I love my grandma. When she takes me to the farm, she likes telling me lots of different kinds of stories. At home, I help her, collecting water for cooking from our neighbor’s well. I have lived with my grandma since I was little, because my parents said the school here is better.”
Yufen attends Nanakelot Elementary School, which is supported by ChildFund and its local partner, LPAA Belu, through the Child-Friendly School program. ChildFund has provided schools with classroom renovations, school books, teaching aids, tables, chairs, bookcases and guitars. The program, which benefits 338 children and 17 teachers, helps schools become safe, healthy and protected environments for children, encouraging child participation in all aspects of school life.
“I like to go to school because I have many friends there,” Yufen says. “What I like most is science, learning about nature and living creatures. The teachers really care about us. If we are too noisy, they will remind us to be quiet and get back to studying.”
Maria Tai, the school’s principal, agrees that the changes have been beneficial for everyone. Teachers have learned better ways to convey information to their students by preparing lesson plans, managing their classrooms and disciplining children in more effective manners. In turn, students are more comfortable asking questions and giving their opinions in class.
“Before the training on child-friendly schools, we easily became angry with children when they made mistakes. Slowly, we changed our interactions with the children. We listen to children’s needs. On the second break between classes, children were usually asked to just stay in the class. However, some children mentioned that it was really boring and asked if they could take a break in the library. I thought it was a good idea, so I let them.” As a result, students read more than just their textbooks and discuss what they have learned back in class.
Children also are allowed to water plants in the school garden, a task formerly done by staff members. “We never thought that it could be of interest to them and that they could participate,” Tai says. “Now, children water the plants every day, using the water jugs they bring from home.”
Yufen notes that there are other new projects that have brought fresh life to school. “We also made our own attendance boards,” he says. “We made them from recycled materials like used plywood, paper and plastic. We made it together in class. When we come in to the classroom, we mark our arrival time ourselves on the attendance board.
“In every class we also have an honesty box. It is made from a used carton. It teaches us to practice honesty. If we find a pen, we put it in the box. If tomorrow morning, someone is looking for a pen, he or she will be asked to look for it in the box. Once, I lost my book. The next day I checked in the box and I found it had been put there by my friend.”
Yufen also likes to play soccer with his friends after school, but his village doesn’t have a soccer field, so they play in the garden. He hopes his school will get a field one day.