I turned my video camera on and focused on her big brown eyes. She is 15 and told me she had thoughts this summer. Thoughts of suicide. The book in her hands is the very first book that she has owned. She proudly wrote her name on it. She loves mystery books and because of them wants to be a detective when she grows up. Getting lost in these stories is how she escapes the poverty she faces every single day.
This week I have been filming with Feed The Children in Oklahoma City and Muskogee, Oklahoma. Feed The Children does great things all over the world, and as their name implies, feeds many children all over the world. They also feed their minds.
Many people in the “West” believe that starving children, hungry minds and empty hearts only exist in the developing world. Feed The Children and Better World Books do a ton to help people in those countries. But there is also poverty in our very own backyard.
A little 6th grade boy told me about his friends that live in shelters. They come over to his house for food and fun. What do they do for fun? They read! This sweet boy was so proud that he can teach his homeless friends to read, understand and pronounce big words, “like onomatopoeia!” he smiles.
“My mom says we don’t have enough money,” a 1st grade girl wearing a bright pink ribbon explains to me why she does not have her own books at home. “My grandma is the only parent I’ve ever known,” shares an adorably toothless 1st grade boy. “My mom and dad don’t know English yet,” says another 1st grader, newly arrived from Mexico.
These are powerful statements made by young students in America. However, each student, no matter how rough their situation, cannot stop smiling. Sharing on camera makes them feel “special” they tell me. Getting to pick out a book they want to read, being able to write in it and read it at their own pace without having to worry about overdue fees gives them great joy and pride.
One young lady wants to tell me her story but cannot be on camera, she is a ward of the State of Oklahoma. “When I was five years old my brothers raped me,” she says matter-of-factly. She shares her story with the class, hoping to inspire them to be honest and not ashamed of their circumstances. “Living in a group home with nine other girls, there is a whole lot of drama and not many ways to relax. We share everything. Getting this stack of books from Better World Books is such a gift. I have a chance to be free,” she tells her peers.Her friend decides to speak up, too. He and family were recently evicted from their home. His dream is to be the first in his family to graduate college. He started this 9th grade year at a 5th grade reading level, and in one short month thanks to a remarkable teacher and the chance to pick and keep his own books, he is already up to a 7th grade reading level. I have no doubt this positive young man will exceed a 9th grade reading level this year. He picks up the book off his desk and says, “this is the first book I’ve ever gotten to keep and I cannot wait to impress my grandma by reading it to her.”
Another classmate speaks up. “My parents didn’t even finish middle school. They had to start working in Juarez when they were younger than me. My dad has diabetes so I want to work hard and become a doctor so I can save his life.”
Thanks to a partnership between Feed The Children and Better World Books, children in unbelievable situations like these are getting to choose and take ownership of books – developing a love for reading and learning. These kids, more than most, understand that education is their chance to break the cycle of poverty.
Every time you buy a book from www.betterworldbooks.com we donate a book to a person just like this in America or to a college student in Africa. Our projects with Feed The Children help pack donated backpacks full of level-appropriate books to unprivileged students across the country. Our books are also being sent in millions of food and necessity packages to people in poverty throughout the world. Teachers in Title 1 schools are now able to visit Feed the Children “Teacher Stores” where they shop for free supplies and books to stock their classroom libraries.
The stories above will be shared through video next month on our blog and social media outlets. Stay tuned and tell us your success stories through education, too!