Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Starting a Reading Program for Underprivileged Youth

Source: Texas A&M

I loved reading as a child and for the Americans, you remember the NBC commercials “The More You Know…” and “Reading is Fundamental.” And reading is the very basic step in furthering your education.

In Egypt, education and literacy is far below average. Everyone blames the government, but I feel there are basic steps that we could all take in helping this situation. So I contacted Diwan bookstores to propose a reading program for underprivileged youth in Cairo.

As some of you know, I buy books here and there to give to my office girl (age 14) and I also buy classic literature for someone working at my office. Public schools do not provide tools to help free thinking and did you know that even reading something as simplistic as Nancy Drew when you are 11-years old helps you pay attention to detail (the clues to solve the mystery), encourages questions (interviewing potential suspects) and expands vocabulary?

Diwan responded and is more than willing to help start such a program, but I need help. No, I’m not asking for money (you know how I am completely against giving money to any charity because most of the time the money is not allocated properly) – I need ideas to help hone in this program.

The bookstore gets free books as samples or that may be used for promotions from international publishing houses. Diwan is willing to donate these books for this reading project. I need help on how to get the target children (ie bowab children, certain areas and ages).

I cannot have children that can’t read at all, so I would prefer to start with 8-year olds. My Arabic is not good enough to help someone learn how to read. The books will be in Arabic and I’ve requested from Diwan that nothing be based on religion.

Also, I know I have friends in the Publishing industry. Would your company like to help with this program by also donating books? For you teachers, I need your expertise as well. Anyone that has worked at an NGO or other volunteer activities, please throw your advice my way. And above all, if anyone wants to help me – please, the more the merrier.

One way to combat the lack of education is to target children and get them reading. From there, they could be like the 14-year old Malawian who was forced to quit school to help his family farm for money. He went to the library, read about wind turbines and created a wind turbine from trash that helped irrigate his family’s farm. He’s now studying at Dartmouth.

Please share and if you would like to help or just offer advice, please contact me directly.


  1. This is an awesome and much-needed program idea, LeAnn! I have written a few children's books (Arabic and bilingual) that are available for free from my website. You can download PDFs to use as eBooks, but there are also printable versions (so would need paper and printer). I'm also a teacher and would be happy to help you from a distance if that is any use. You'll find my contact details on the website. http://bernadettesimpson.com/free%20downloads.html

    1. Bernadette - that's GREAT news! Thank you so much for sharing.

      I'm so lucky that friends at home as well as blog readers have reached out in support of this idea. I am going to write a future blog on my progress. I am working on a couple of things right now and will be checking out the library this weekend to see its functionality (can't completely rule it out until I investigate it personally).

      From there, I am starting with three to five children and am going to set up an hour book reading most likely done on Fridays. Unfortunately, I can't read or write Arabic but I see this as a two-prong approach: getting underprivileged children excited about reading while also helping locals to get more involved in their community.

      I am optimistic about this and I hope for the best. Starting small is better for me because I'm one person, but even just getting one child interested in reading especially from a bowab/car parking background is a win. Again, thank you so so so much for the information.

    2. Yes, starting out small is the best approach for me, too. I like your idea of Friday story hours and getting other locals involved. I gave away 2 free Arabic books to Bedouin kids this week...only one girl had the skills to read them aloud fluently, which she did for a small group of younger children. Later in the afternoon, her younger sister was pretending to read another sheet of paper - and was so excited and proud about it. Like you said, just getting one child interested is a win! (The Fizo books by Walid Taher are EXCELLENT books if you can get Diwan to donate any of those.) If you've not visited the Read Kutub Kids blog (http://readkutubkids.wordpress.com/), it's a great place to get recommendations for books and perhaps some publisher contacts to ask for donations. ? Look forward to hearing about the progress of your project!