Rana Dajani is working to foster a culture of literacy in Jordan and the wider Arab world - where studies estimate that children read a fraction of what they do in the United States - by establishing a library in every neighborhood. Community libraries are rare outside of urban hubs, and Rana’s initiative, We Love Reading, introduces a community-based library model for Jordan.
Rana’s work began in 2006, when she held weekly storytelling sessions at a community mosque for children ages 4-10. After each interactive storytelling session, Rana allowed children to borrow books to read at home with their parents, passing the experience along from child to parent in an attempt to change attitudes towards reading. Since launching her program, Rana has successfully cultivated a number of young children who love to read, and whose educational and professional horizons will be expanded through this passion.
We Love Reading’s model is sustainable and cost-efficient. It involves training members of each community to read aloud to children ages 4-10. Significant numbers of adults trained in reading-aloud techniques creates an informal and sustainable network of model readers that will inspire children and the communities in which they are raised to read and learn more.
We Love Reading has trained 730 storytellers, all of them women. As a result 330 libraries have been established in various areas of Jordan reaching out to more than 10,000 children, 60% female and 40% male. These children have learned to read for pleasure.
In addition to promoting the experience of reading, WLR empowers women readers to become leaders in their communities, builds ownership in the children and community members and serves as a platform for raising awareness on issues such as health and environment.
The model can be replicated anywhere. It uses an existing common public space e.g. the mosque or community center. It doesn’t need a bookshelf since all books are given out, requiring only a collection of books that are read again and again. Rana’s model has spread to Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, Tunisia, Turkey, Thailand, Mexico, Malaysia, Uganda, Germany and Azerbaijan. In addition to its Synergos fellowship, We Love Reading has partnered with Reliance Way, Mercy Corps, Ruwwad (ARAMEX) and Injaz-Jordan, and has research partnerships with Yale University and the University of Chicago.
The woman who reads aloud doesn’t have to be highly educated and trained. The women receiving training are required to “pay it forward“ by sharing newly acquired knowledge and training another woman to become a reader creating a domino effect. The trained reader is welcomed because she is from the neighborhood. The community starts to respect women and supports their roles as leaders and future change agents even within mosques. The community also starts to invest in the collection, building ownership and responsibility of the library. Reading has traditionally been considered boring or a waste of time outside of academic or religious contexts. WLR is changing attitudes and letting people know that reading is fun.
WLR has developed 10 books for children that focus on energy and water conservation and littering. Neighborhood men from refugee camps encourage women library leaders. Mosque clerics proudly open their doors to women to administer read-aloud sessions and donate funds to buy books. Children have developed a culture of literacy discussing and recommending books and authors to their friends. Older children continue to be readers. Parents report thattheir children exhibit higher self-confidence in academics and they are likely to buy and read books rather than toys.
For More Information
Watch a Synergos video about Rana and We Love Reading.
Watch Rana present her work at TEDx Red Sea
Watch Rana speak at WISE Award 2014.