The movement of reading books
Over 4400 libraries in 55 countries. Branches of one organization: We Love Reading (WLR). All dedicated to spreading the love for reading books among children across the globe. And the motivator behind this colossal quiet movement is a Palestinian-Jordanian Muslim scientist, Rana Dajani.
It all began in 2006. And it began small. After Dajani returned to Jordan, spending five years abroad, she realized that there was a huge vacuum in her country in terms of exposing children to reading books. There’s enough research to show that children who read with pleasure did significantly better in later life than those who took reading books as a compulsory duty. Dajani started a new way to make books popular among children: reading books aloud. She was determined to spread this practice in her own community first. Hence, she founded an organization, WLR. This has now snowballed into a major movement across national borders.
Rana Dajani and the movement of reading books
Rana Dajani’s father is a Palestinian. Her mother is Syrian. However, she herself is a Jordanian citizen. She did her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Jordan in Biology. And she did her Ph.D from the University of Iowa in molecular biology.
On returning to Jordan from the USA, Dajani was struck by the stark lack of libraries in her own country in comparison to the developed West. She also noticed Jordanian children were not motivated enough to reading books on their own. Dajani decided to act. In the beginning, she just wanted a safe small place where she herself could read aloud books to children of her neighbourhood. An Imam of a local mosque allowed her to use its premises for this purpose every Friday, after the prayers. Initially, she used to bring with her a few selected books, some costumes, and puppets. Children between the ages of four and ten were her audience. In no time these simple gatherings snowballed into a grassroots movement.
We Love Reading, The NGO
As the movement grew, We Love Reading, the NGO, started training women to read books aloud to children of their respective communities. By 2010 the WLR had been able to form reading groups not only across Jordan but in countries such as Thailand and Kazakhstan. And by 2013, the WLR had involved 10 thousand children in reading books. The US Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program chose it a “Best Practice”. Within years the WLR won several awards including, including the King Hussein Medal of Honour, the UNESCO International Literacy Award for Mother-Tongue Education, and the UN Science, Technology and Innovation Award. Moreover, the NGO also began to receive grants from organizations such as UNICEF and USAID.
Despite becoming such a huge international organization, the WLR, the NGO firmly believes in “creating change at the local level by empowering people to be change-makers in their own communities”. And it also focuses on spreading the message that there is no fit-for-all-single solution. All movements to spread among children the love for reading books must be country and culture-specific.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)