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Barbara Bundy, PhD, Coordinator for Books + Education at WaterBridge Outreach Talks About WaterBridge Outreach's Books + Literacy Program


by Corinne Robson, Projects Manager, WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water



What exactly are the WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water (WBO) “book sets” that WBO donates annually to schools and literacy centers in developing countries, and what is the aim of this program?


WBO donates a set of 15 children’s books  in English each year to participants in the program--schools, literacy centers, and libraries. Most of these books are highly praised and often prize-winning books that contain wonderful illustrations that bring the stories alive and are written for elementary level readers, ages 5 to 9. We send five copies each of three different books so that teachers and librarians have multiple copies to use in teaching, reading circles, and for storytelling and discussion purposes. 


Our aim, working with teachers and librarians, is to put these book sets into the hands of children in different parts of the world who would otherwise not have access to them.  Our team at WBO, including our executive director and select outside individuals knowledgeable about kids lit, select the books we donate annually so that they fulfill WBO’s goals of promoting greater multicultural understanding and empathy for others from cultures different from their own, and of promoting reading and literacy as a means to education and overcoming poverty.


Many other nonprofit organizations provide books for children in need, yet WBO’s approach is a bit different in that you choose the specific books to include in each book set and purchase them rather than to solicit donation of just any books. Why is that?


The books are chosen with a particular purpose: to provide multicultural or trans-cultural stories for children that promote awareness and positive acceptance of “the other” in ways children can learn from and enjoy. WaterBridge Outreach’s mission is to inspire empathy in children for the cultural “other” and in so doing, to promote global understanding and peace. Because of the adversity often faced by children and families in poor rural areas where WBO seeks to promote literacy and global understanding, the books we select often portray young people overcoming adversity of one kind or another and determined to make a positive difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. 


We see this spirit abundantly in James Rumford’s beautiful book, Rain School, where children in one of the poorest countries in the world, Chad, Africa, experience primary school and come to cherish an education from working together each year to rebuild their school of mud blocks from scratch because each year the rains come and wash it away.  We’ve received tremendously positive feedback from the children who’ve read this book and the teachers who have used it in teaching and storytelling because the children could relate to this adversity and the persistence and team work it requires to build your school anew, year after year, whereas in our culture we too often take education and schools for granted.


And some of the books WBO has donated depict individuals and communities working together to sustain the environment and its precious resources, such as Claire Nivola’s Planting the Trees of Kenya, the remarkable story of Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, and how her efforts to plant and care for trees and to teach others this conservation practice transformed the future of her country. The Green Belt Movement, founded by Maathai, has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya—a good example of one of the books WBO has selected to donate because it inspires children and gives them hope that they, too, can make life better by doing something personally to steward their environment.


I want to mention that WBO also donates books in the native languages of the children if the schools and learning centers we are working with have this as a need.  For example, WBO donates books to Matènwa Learning Center in Lagonav, Haiti in Creole and to the Save International Tuition Centers in Tamil Nadu, India in Tamil, and we purchase these books locally with the help of our nonprofit partner there, Save International.  Several years ago one of the most popular books WBO donated in English was One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway.  This book tells the story of Kojo, a boy from Ghana, who has to drop out of school to help his mother run the farm. He buys one hen with his savings and through his resourcefulness and creativity develops his own poultry farm from breeding one hen.  He is able to help his family and others by giving them loans to start a business to help themselves. And today the Matènwa Learning Center, thanks to director Chris Low, has been responsible for having this inspiring story translated into Creole as Yun Poul so that the students can read it in their native language as well as in English.


One of the unique features of the WaterBridge Outreach book donation project is that you request feedback from the participating schools on the books and how they were used.  Why is the feedback crucial?


We ask for feedback from the teachers who use the books in teaching reading, in book circles, and for storytelling, and also from the partner organizations we work with in a given location. A good example is Curt Degler, who runs Save International, and manages the two mobile libraries WBO is funding in Tamil Nadu, India.  The first of these, in Sembakkam, began with teacher-librarian Mr. Ventesan bringing the books to children in these rural areas on a push bike (read more here), but he has since graduated to a 100 cc motorbike which makes his task considerably easier.  The feedback is crucial because we want to know the responses of the children to the stories and how the teachers and librarians have used the books in teaching and reading so that we know if the books are achieving their intended purpose in encouraging multicultural and global literacy and instilling empathy for others in the children who read them. We then share the feedback through postings that you kindly do on the WBO website, Corinne, so that the first-hand responses of the children and teachers can be shared with others who might be interested in these books. 


Also—and importantly—we want to let our valued supporters, who make charitable contributions to WBO that enable us to fund book and water projects, know how their funds are being used and the vital contribution they are making to WBO’s grassroots effort to bring books and clean water and sanitation to children in need of nourishment for their minds and bodies. 


How are the recipient schools chosen, and is there a cost to participate?  Where can we learn more about the schools and organizations that have received books from WaterBridge Outreach these past four years when it took over the book donation program from its predecessor California nonprofit,


We have selected some participants based on referrals from individuals we know and also on an organization’s own expressed need for books, especially in English.  In some cases, we donate books to an organization because WBO as a nonprofit focuses on funding both books + water projects, and if we have a nonprofit partner organization in a location where there is critical need for both books and clean water and sanitation,  we try to help nourish both the minds and bodies of children through both books + water. 


There is no cost to participate, only that a school have demonstrated need and agree to be a partner with WBO by providing helpful feedback to us on the book sets which can, in turn, be shared with others on our website and be helpful to them. You can learn more about the schools and organizations that have received book donations from WBO (as well as about clean water and sanitation projects that WBO is funding in locations where we are also donating books) by reading “Projects Now” and “News and Updates” on the WBO website at Information on book sets donated prior to four years ago when WaterBridge Outreach took over this program from is also archived on the WBO website here.


How can the public help support WBO’s books (and water) projects?


We depend completely on funds we raise to continue supporting existing projects and to start new ones.  I would ask readers of this interview to consider a donation, in any amount, and to ask interested friends as well, to help, as the need we are meeting is so great and the appreciation of children, villagers, teachers, and librarians WBO is serving is immense.  Click here to be taken to our Donate page. Thank you so much!  


Published September 2014


To access our archive of Books + Literacy Updates click here.

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