As I expected, one of the best presentations at TEDxRamallah was the talk by Fadi Ghandour. Now, I have something of a love-hate relationship with his company Aramex. They provide a needed service, but somehow I just can’t get over the drivers who cut you off and double (and triple) park and really drive you crazy. Having said that, I have nothing but respect for Fadi himself. His work as a prominent entrepreneur in Jordan is commendable. His work helping the next generation, even more so. So, I was pleased to hear him speak for the first time.
Fadi talked primarily about his charitable give-back work with the organization he founded in Jabal Nadheef, Ruwad. The work that they have done up there is inspiring in its own right. One of the primary messages I heard from him is that they have really been about helping the resident of Nadheef own responsibility for their homes. Yes, they build skills. Yes, they offer programs. But the most important thing they do is help the people of Nadheef find ways to be responsible for their home and themselves, whether it’s by keeping it clean or learning new things. I was particularly interested in their program to get Jabal Nadheef reading.
For those who may not be aware, UNESCO did a study on reading around the world. What they found was, in many ways, horrifying. The average Jordanian child reads 6 minutes… a year! Well, you may be thinking that’s just a number out of context. You’re right. In his talk, Fadi put it into context and it became worse than I had realized. The average Western child reads 12,000 minutes a year. Okay, can I say YIKES!
I know that reading in Arabic is hard (believe me, I know!), so read in English… or French… or German. If you read in other languages you do yourself a double benefit. You expand your mind and build your language skills. But also, read in Arabic. Because again you expand your mind and build your skills in a vocabulary that is astonishingly rich and powerful. Currently, the only Arabic I can read is at the level of children’s books. But, read them I do. I read to the beans at night when El 3atal is otherwise busy. I’ve been doing that for years. I even read to them every night for the year he spent every week in Dubai. And it has built my comprehension of Arabic. It also helps me read the subtitles on TV!
Okay, off my soapbox about that. I found Ruwad’s approach to this problem to be an absolutely spot-on take. Their goal is to increase the children of Jabal Nadheef from 6 minutes a year to 6 minutes a day. While this will still put them 26 minutes a day behind the West, it will put them 2100 ahead of their peers. Talk about building a competitive advantage in a marginalized community! And small goals are typically best. What I expect to hear in a few years is that the young readers of Nadheef have far surpassed that goal. Once they begin reading 6 minutes a day, they will find exciting books that they can’t put down. They’ll double, triple, even quadruple that number. Because, once you start reading, you often find a world in books that is so counter your own that you want to know more.
As a mom, I believe that building a love of reading in kids is vital. I also think it’s fairly simple. First read to your kids, many people do this with somewhat limited success in building readers. Second, encourage your kid to read. Go out and find engaging books for their age group. If in doubt, start with books that have won the major awards (for English books anyway) like Caldecott and Newbury. There’s even a wonderful little shop here in Amman that specializes in importing award winners (you didn’t know that did you?). The shop’s name is Majdalawi Masterpieces and it’s located near Capital Bank in Shmeisani. I think this is more effective than just reading to your kids. But one of the most important and most neglected ways of building readers is… let them see YOU read! Your kids want to be like you. You are their first and best role model. So, model good reading behavior. If you only read at night before bed, then talk to them some about what you’re reading. If it’s a story engage them in the plot line and talk with them about how much you are enjoying it. If it’s non-fiction tell them about what you’ve learned from the book. Basically, let them know you’re reading. If you do all three steps, I predict you will have kids that read.
As a side note and personal story, I turned El 3atal into a reader. In college, he never read more than school assignments (and often not even those, am I allowed to say that?). He simply wasn’t a reader. I’ve always been a big, big reader. In fact, if you ask any members of my family what they remember most clearly about me at family gatherings, I guarantee that they will talk about the fact that I always had my nose in a book – always. I had just finished reading a book about a family with strong familial ties, strong community presence, and engaging writing. You may have heard of it (or at least its movie) – The Godfather ;). I urged, pushed, cajoled, and bullied El 3atal into reading it. And… he was hooked. I challenge you now to ask him what he’s reading. He’s always got a book going. He still doesn’t read nearly as much as I do (who does). I’ve read 21 books so far in the first 17 weeks of this year. And that number is pretty low since I got bogged down in an 800 page novel for book club that was SLOOOOW. It took me three weeks to finish. And even so, I’ve finished better than a book a week. But El 3atal is a steady reader who reads a mix of novels, best sellers, business books, interest pieces. He has a broad appetite. So, creating a reader, to me, is as much about choosing good materials and patterning good behavior as it is anything else. Given the dearth of libraries here in Jordan, I’ll be doing my own summer reading program for the Beans to reward, award, and encourage them to read, read, read. Come and join us!