Book Tree Children’s Library is open! We have accomplished a lot, but we still have so much to do! Adding books and programs will be an ongoing process, but we are so excited that this part of our vision is beginning to take shape.
Our Goal Is Overwhelming—But Doable, One Child at a Time
With the library, we aim to contribute to improving literacy rates amongst children in Liberia, and by doing so equip young people with the knowledge, tools and opportunity to rise out of poverty and significantly improve their quality of life. Liberia has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world—it’s ranked 182 out of 197 countries in the world literacy ranking. Illiteracy has a significant impact on individuals in Liberia, creating a poverty trap from which it is difficult to escape.
The Need for Literacy Is Great—And It Starts with Schools and Libraries
Liberia Tops The List Of Poorest Countries In The World 2020, with a Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of $710. If you think you misread that, you didn’t. $710/year for an individual—and in many instances, an entire family—to live on. According to the World Bank, the poverty level (people living on less than $2.00/day) in Liberia was 55.5% in 2019, and predicted to rise as high as 68.9% in 2020. Figures aren’t yet in for the year, but with COVID not even in sight when the predictions were made, it’s likely the true poverty levels for 2020 are much higher.
It’s clear that much of the Liberian population is born into poverty. Because of their poverty, most Liberians are unable to get the education they need; children work to supplement the family’s meagre income, so there is no time or money to attend school. This lack of education creates a lack of understanding of basic information, which, in turn, leads to unemployment, low income, lower-quality jobs and a lack of opportunity to progress. It is a vicious cycle that prevents even the hardest workers from elevating themselves and their families out of poverty.
Ri’ayah’s Book Tree Children’s Library and Literacy Programs
Our intervention consists of two elements: the establishment of a small library and the introduction of educational programs, based at the library, that will focus on reading, writing and mathematics. Our library programs will target all children—those who are attending school and those who are unable to attend school due to socio-economic reasons. One of the tremendous benefits of reading is that it is a great equalizer: research shows that reading for leisure is more important for a child’s educational attainment than their family’s socio-economic status. In Liberia, children read less frequently for leisure than in other countries due to the lack of availability of books. This means that children are losing out on a simple activity that could have a significant and positive impact on their development. We are working to address this gap by making books available to children to read for leisure. The joy that lights up their face as they get to take a book to read, just for fun, is fulfilling in itself, but is not the long-term goal: we want to help them learn to read and enable them with the skills needed to improve their lives.
Our team is developing programs to address these three main areas of focus commonly referred to as “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” These “afterschool club” sessions will take place at the library once a week for reading, once a week for writing and once a week for math. The sessions will run during term and over the school holidays, with occasional breaks and a short break over the summer. Children will take a reading, writing and mathematics test before joining the club and take a test at 6 months and at 12 months, to measure their progress. To support their reading and writing, children will be encouraged to borrow books from the library, participate in discussions about the books they have read, and asked to write book reports and reviews over the books they read. Additionally, children will be encouraged to attend other library events like story hour, poetry events, music events, creative writing sessions, etc. This will help improve their reading and writing skills in a fun and engaging way, both through the events themselves and by having to write reports about these events or read any material related to these events.
Similar to the afterschool club, learning clubs will be developed for children who are not able to attend school. As these children are likely to have very low literacy levels, this program will start by assessing each child and will aim to get them to the expected reading, writing and numeracy level for their age. These clubs will be held twice a week; as children’s literacy skills develop, they too will be encouraged to borrow books to develop their reading further. They will also be encouraged to attend events at the library as described for the afterschool club children, and their progress will be measured through relevant testing before, during, and after the intervention.
Books Alone Aren’t Enough
Libraries can be an effective way of improving literacy in poor countries where books are not easily available or affordable. However, a qualitative research project (“A Malawian school library: culture, literacy and reader development”) demonstrated that more than just the provision of books is needed to make significant improvement in literacy levels. Reader development programs are required alongside the provision of books. Together, book provision and educational programs are effective in improving literacy and ensuring books are used to their full potential. Supporting this, research published by Kupetz in 1993 showed that children attending a library literacy program had better literary behaviours and pre-reading skills and were able to read significantly more words correctly than children who did not attend such a program.
Therefore, one of the key aims of libraries is to promote reading as a leisure activity. The benefits of reading for leisure have been widely studied. Children who frequently read in their leisure time do better in school, are better communicators and command a richer vocabulary. When children read widely, they are exposed to different ideas, cultures and situations, which enrich their outlook on life. Consequently, they are more likely to develop a better understanding of the world around them, including an appreciation of different cultures and perspectives. A strong reading culture also improves general knowledge and helps children relate to others better. Children who regularly read in their leisure show improved brain function and have better imagination. All these benefits contribute immensely to the ability to obtain and hold a job as an adult, and will serve to help Liberian children break the chains of poverty and become self-supporting, productive citizens.
Library Computer Training Programs
Students Are Anxious to Learn Computer Skills
Computer literacy is another extension of the library programs that will be offered. Unlike individuals in many countries, most Liberian homes do not own a computer or iPad or even a mobile phone. Students will receive training on our library computers to learn the computer skills they need to have to get and hold a job in today’s world.
The building is finished…the students are ready…the computers are in place…. “What’s the holdup?” you may ask.
We still need to get a generator and fuel to provide electricity to the library, as electricity is not available in Clay-Ashland—or in most of Liberia. The most recent figures (2016) show that around 81% of the Liberian population do not have access to electricity. Most homes use charcoal or kerosene for cooking and heating. Of those who do have electricity, only around 4% have access to publicly provided electricity, while the rest use their own or a community diesel or gasoline generator or vehicle batteries.
Once we obtain a generator for the library, the computer classes will commence!
Ri’ayah has made a start, but your help is needed to provide more books and to support the literacy programs that greatly increase the effectiveness of the library. The building is up. The bookshelves are built. We are working on getting a generator to provide electricity to the library (unlike much of the world, many villages in Liberia don’t have electricity). We also envision a vehicle for a mobile library to provide children in remote villages with access to books.
If you love to read, and you can’t imagine a child with no books of their own or even anyone who can read to them, you may find yourself wanting to help put books into their hands or help provide teachers to teach them how to read and write. If you would like to donate to our library program, please click