When I visited Kari’s site back in July, I became inspired to start a kid’s reading club in Renacimiento. The children don’t read as a hobby, mainly because there are no books available to do so. They mostly have access to school textbooks and Bibles in Ngabere. I was interested to see if the children would enjoy reading as a hobby, as I did as a child. I was especially eager to gauge their interest in reading as I recently connected with a non-profit, One Library At a Time. They are an organization that helps create libraries, donates books, and trains librarians in developing communities. The plan is that Renacimiento will be the lucky community for 2017! What better way to spark the kids’ interest in a library than a reading club?
While I was in the city for a training event, I rounded up some of the english/spanish kids books from the office. I found beginner books and tougher reads, but nothing too dry. Once I returned to site, I created a chart with one axis indicating the number of books (1-10), and the other spaces for the kiddos to write their names. As the club went on, I had to keep adding more paper and lines so more children could join. It became a hit really quickly! Together, we named the club Nun ta ja totike, which is Ngabere for We Are Learning/Reading.
The reason why it was only the month of August was because the children came by every single afternoon to read. They read the books faster than I could find more! In the beginning I would sit with the small group of wide-eyed youngsters and read aloud. They repeated after me and it was a beautiful, tranquil time. Once the group became popular however it started to get rowdy. There were too many children for us to read all together, especially when some came one day and not the other. So the club took a new route where they would read in small groups or individually and I would be available to answer questions or simply give support. I also provided paper and coloring pencils for those who preferred to draw and color. The club evolved into something bigger than reading. It was a safe space for them to enjoy each others company outside the regular classroom. We did have some afternoon lessons about nutrition, the water cycle, health habits, geography, and more, but it was always in a fun and interactive way.
The part they all really enjoyed was placing a sticker next to their name for each book they read. I remember doing this as a child with chores and homework, so I thought it might stick. It stuck alright…maybe a little too much. Towards the end of August I felt as though some children were coming only for the competition and satisfaction of putting a sticker on the chart. They began rushing through the books, not practicing the english translations, and all vying for my attention at the same time. To verify they read the books, I would ask them about it afterwards. What did you learn? What was your favorite part? How did the story end? I actually became very overwhelmed several times and asked them all to return to their houses until the following day of reading. To ease the stress, I disengaged a bit and set more rules in place. It worked and we finished the month on a positive note.
To conclude our month of reading, I hosted a small party with the 18+ participants, who ranged from 4 to 35 years old. I made chocolate pudding from cacao, chicha de limon from my lemon tree, and the kids enjoyed hitting the homemade pinatas we made. I asked each child which book was his or her favorite, and we reminisced. Students still come over to read and draw every day, but it is a lot more calm now! I think because the competition element is removed, they can just relax and enjoy the books. I’m very excited to see what they think of the library!:)