Better World Books Travels to Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona

Impact.

It is what we at Better World Books are all about in our mission to actively promote literacy on four continents.

We partner with non-profit partners who know how to stretch a dollar and get things done.  Solid track records.  Passion that is laser-focused and results driven.  Promotion of self-sustaining, long term, scalable solutions on how to bring literacy and education to the highest at-risk communities here in the U.S. and around the world.

Impact.

Better World Books delivers it, measures it, inspects it.  We have been to Africa with our partner Books for Africa.  We have been in Mexico City with our partner Worldfund.  We see first hand what our partners are doing and how they are making a difference… one book, one library, one classroom, one child at a time.

Earlier this month a small group of us had the opportunity to get a very close look at the work of one of our non-profit literacy partners, The National Center for Family Literacy (“NCFL”), on a Native American Indian Reservation in Arizona.  Eight Better World Books employees joined three NCFL staff members on the Tohono O’odham Reservation to look closely at the FACE (Family and Child Education) Program; a federal program sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Education and NCFL on reservations throughout the United States.

Tohono O’odham Nation Facts:

  • Comparable in size to the state of Connecticut (more than 2.8 million acres) and is the third largest Indian reservation in the U.S.
  • Total population is approximately 24,000 people living on the reservation
  • Per capita income is $3,113 (compared with more than $14,000 nationally), the lowest of all U.S. reservations
  • 65.7% of the population is below the poverty level (compared to 13.1% nationally)
  • 62.7% of the adult population is unemployed
  • 47% of households have no telephone
  • 29% lack plumbing
  • 47% have no vehicle

Enter NCFL and the FACE Program being delivered at the Santa Rosa Boarding and Day School on the reservation.  The FACE Program essentially has three components:

1.   Prenatal and early childhood education:  FACE team members visit the homes of expecting mothers and provide education on prenatal care, nutrition, and the importance of reading to the child (even when the baby is in the womb and certainly in the very early years leading up to formal school).  FACE team members stay very close to the mother and child in these first few years of the child’s life and encourage the parent(s) to then bring the child to the School to begin the second phase of the FACE Program.

2.  The parent(s) will then bring their young child/children, typically age 2-4, to the School.  FACE actually contracts with existing schools on the reservation (like Santa Rosa) to provide for:  a) Transportation – mother and child typically ride the school bus with the older children;  b) Meals – breakfast and lunch are served at the school;  c)  Space – the School has to free up the space to accommodate both the child and the parent(s) for each of their programs;  and d) Full and part time instructors and all related educational materials.  The children are brought to one room for their day of learning, fun and activities.

We were privileged to meet Sandra Schafer here… the full time instructor for the children as well as her assistant, Lillian Wood.  Sandra is a gifted and experienced teacher who has taught in Poland and China.  She brings a high level of enthusiasm and knowledge to the Santa Rosa FACE classroom… and it is clear that Lillian has a very calming, nurturing presence in the classroom with these children.  All of us were able to meet the children and interact with them in the classroom; several BWB employees (along with NCFL staff) also helped Sandra and Lillian get their classroom ready for the children (we arrived the day before school opened for the new year).  Better World Books also delivered approximately 200 children’s books from its Indiana warehouse to Sandra and Lillian’s program… some of which were permanent “take home gifts” for the children at the end of their first day of school.

3.  Once the parent(s) has dropped off their child with Sandra for the day, they go to their own room across the hall with Sister Val (Valerie Beuke, from the school Sisters of Notre Dame; home province in Saint Louis, MO).

Sister Val, who has been actively involved in teaching on Indian Reservations for 23 years, is a deeply committed teacher of the “Adult Ed” component of the FACE Program… working directly with the parents of the children to help them obtain their GED certification, or simply improve their literacy skills and get them better prepared for more advanced education and/or certain employment opportunities.  We were all able to meet and interact with Sister Val’s students and BWB also delivered approximately 150 books to be used by Sister Val in this part of the program.

In addition to being able to really get to see and understand the FACE Program in action and better appreciate NCFL’s role in sponsoring and helping to architect the program, we all had the chance to pitch in and help get the Santa Rosa School itself “in shape” for the opening of school.  My thanks to Walter, Aaron, Sarah Lynne, Jacob, Damara, Abby and Geoff for the tremendous work you all did in cutting grass, cleaning and landscaping the area around the dorm (not easy in 105 degree heat!), picking up trash, getting rid of graffiti, moving furniture, adjusting desks, putting furniture together, sorting books, organizing some basketball activities during recess, reading to and spending time with the children, helping out in the classroom itself (primarily first grade class), hooking up computers in some of the classrooms, and lots of other activities over the three days we spent at Santa Rosa.

We were humbled by the experience…  especially the amazing enthusiasm and tremendous sacrifice and commitment that we saw so clearly in the teachers, administrators (Keith, Linda, Norma… and “Coach”), and staff (we certainly want to thank all those in the school cafeteria who helped prepare meals each day for the students as well as ourselves during “lunch period”).  And we will never forget the children and their parents… their smiles and warmth and sincere hospitality and appreciation for our efforts… as well as their determined efforts to try to improve their lives…  and the lives of their children… by taking advantage of FACE and the opportunities they know will only come with more education.  In so many ways, whether it is here in Tohono O’odham Nation, Tanzania, Mexico or Nepal… it is for these moments that we do what we do at Better World Books.  Better World Books will now be sending books to Santa Rosa on a regular basis… doing what we can to try and make a difference and open up the world of possibility for the parents and children of Santa Rosa and the FACE Program.

Impact.

David Murphy,  President and CEO

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