Pamela Mohr 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Literacy Projects Light Up the World Kathy Zhao is proof that wisdom doesn’t necessarily only come with age. At 17, the New Jersey high school senior is already a strong supporter of International President Wayne Madden’s worldwide literacy campaign and is actively working to put books into the hands of young readers in Africa. As president of the East Brunswick Leo Club, Zhao led the new Edison and Highland Park Leo Clubs in a campaign to collect books and ship them to Africa. All three are sponsored by the Edison Metro Lions Club. “I once saw big boxes of books being thrown into a dumpster at the public library and I thought it was such a waste. The books looked new and still had shiny covers,” she says. “It was later while I was researching for a Model United Nations paper about child soldiers that I learned education in Africa was inadequate, with many students not having enough learning materials. I remembered those books at the library and how they were thrown away so carelessly, when there were children in other parts of the world who didn’t have access to books.” Zhao had previous experience when she organized a similar project for children in China. President Madden’s focus is literacy—for all ages. As a former educator, he says that both he and his wife, Linda, a career teacher, “know firsthand the importance of obtaining even basic reading skills—and the consequences of not doing so.” In a world in which 1 billion people are considered functionally illiterate, Madden believes that Lions are critical in the fight against global illiteracy. During the recent International Convention in Busan, Korea, Lions agreed to partner with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and World Vision on a two-year agreement to improve early childhood reading in developing nations. Members worldwide are expected to help USAID reach its target goal of improving the literacy rates of 100 million children in developing nations by 2015. The initiative is called All Children Reading. “Lions can make a difference,” President Madden emphasizes. Zhao shares that belief. “Each new library that is created impacts the lives of about 400 children. We want to help as many of them as we can,” she points out. Edison Metro Lions were firmly behind the Leos once the book collection project got started. Lion Eddie Hui contacted the Dar Es Salaam Pwani Lions in Tanzania for help unloading the books once they arrived. Shipping costs skyrocketed because some companies refused to sail off the East coast of Africa where Somali pirates roamed. Lion Kirby Tan helped rescue the project with the assistance of a friend in the shipping industry, who agreed to ship the books at a discount. Several others, including Tan, donated to the cost and Lions paid the balance. The 1,600 books weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Friends of Leos and teachers donated books. Zhao says after asking one library supervisor if there were any books available for donation, “She went into the storage room and packed three boxes for me. I’m glad that we were able to save so many books from being dumped and turn them into brand new libraries.” A second large collection of books is expected to be sent to Tanzania in November. Madden explains that the basic definition of literacy throughout the world is a person’s ability to write his name and simply read at the level of a 10-year-old. And yet, globally one out of four people of reading age are illiterate. Literacy is a challenge in the United States, too, where 21 million people are unable to read. “Lions are simply too big-hearted and too compassionate to let problems like illiteracy and empty bookshelves exist—not when there is so much we can do about it,” he emphasizes. Lions in Russellville, Arkansas, don’t like to see empty bookshelves, either. In fact, for the past five years they have not only built 50 bookcases annually for children who are enrolled in a Head Start program, they also give each child a collection of 10 books—launching them on what they hope will be a lifetime love of reading. The bookcase project was the idea of Conway Lion Jim Davidson, a newspaper columnist whose club started a similar endeavor in his community 46 miles from Russellville. Lion Jim Wescott and two helpers build the two-shelf oak cabinets from donated wood. Each piece is then stained and lacquered by Lion Steve Wiman in his air-conditioned and dust-free shop. “We do get a splinter or two in our hands,” says project chair Gerald Hook. Wiman, a used book store owner, also purchases and donates books to the children. Books are collected year-round by schools, churches and businesses and stored along with the finished bookcases at a car dealership owned by Lion Gene Daughtry. Books not considered in optimal condition are donated to shelters or missions. “The need greatly exceeds the club’s ability to supply,” says Lion Lori Kamerling, who is employed by the company that administers the Russellville Head Start program. The ages of recipients range from 3 to 5, and each bookcase they receive bears a brass nameplate donated by a local business. Some of the project’s biggest supporters are also the smallest. One recent donation for $700 to buy books was collected by K-5 students at St. John Catholic School. “The children brought in pennies on Monday, nickels on Tuesday, dimes on Wednesday, quarters on Thursday and dollars on Friday,” Hook says. “We’ve had book collections in the Russellville Middle School handled by an art teacher. Each of her classes competed with one another to collect the most books. That yielded several hundred.” Kamerling recalls one child, a Hurricane Katrina evacuee, whose mother died shortly after becoming ill with cancer. Since his father wasn’t a part of his life, an aunt became the boy’s guardian. “His bookcase was one of his most prized possessions,” Kamerling says. “We like to think we were a bright spot in all that tragedy.” Tiny Advance, Indiana, is a town with a single stop light that Zionsville Lion Tom Melind, 79, and his son, Andy, visited one day in 2007. They learned that the community of 500 could use a little Lions TLC. “Eighty years ago Advance had 500 people and 30 businesses. Now it has 500 people and three businesses,” Melind says. He led the charge to give residents a library. With a $20,000 grant, Melind, Lions and a crew of helpers turned a former bank into a library. Located just steps from the only school bus stop in town, the building is informally called the “Bus Stop Library,” quips Melind. It also serves a dual purpose. He says, “The kids not only check out books, they also use the library as a warming center when they’re waiting for the bus in winter. “We raised money 500 ways to build the library,” he says. Fundraisers helped, but the generosity of the public was overwhelming, he points out. “Probably half the books were donated by people in the Zionsville Lions Club.” A friend of Melind’s who owns a carpet store donated the library’s floor coverings. Local woodcrafters volunteered to build and stain shelves and people donated books from their home libraries. “We also have several publishing companies in the area and they donated books, too,” he says. “Everybody helped. Books are everywhere.” The library is still a work in progress, he adds—another grant will soon help the library acquire computers and gain Internet access. Launching a literacy project can begin by simply reading a book to children at a preschool or day care center. Learn more about International President Wayne Madden’s literacy initiative by searching for “Reading Action Program” at www.lionsclubs.org.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Lions+and+Literacy/1145798/122435/article.html.