Reach Out and Read Volunteer Group

I still remember walking into the waiting room at the Baylor clinic here on my first day in Lesotho. Seeing the dozens of children and mothers sitting solemnly in the waiting area with emotionless looks on their faces made me wonder what could be done about the depressing situation of the waiting room. After all, they should not spend the entire day in this state. After reading to patients on my own the first few weeks and introducing coloring book activities with word searches and other activities, I realized that despite the benefits of being able to offer my own storytime with the children while I am here, there would be no one to continue reading and volunteering once I am gone.

After some conversations with the staff and management here, we decided to build on the Reach Out and Read program here and create a volunteer process whereby youth and adults could participate in increasing family literacy and brightening the waiting room environment. The Reach Out and Read program in the U.S. and here in Lesotho focuses on increases family literacy and children’s interest in reading by having pediatricians hand out books at periodic check-ups and encourage parents to read to their children as a part of the developmental process.

Having worked with the youth at SOS, we introduced the idea of volunteering to the students and teachers there and received and overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. I was quite surprised at the spirit of volunteerism the students presented and there was a line at least 30 students long waiting to sign-up just to receive the application!

We trained the first group last week and have been pleased at their first performance reading with the children on one of the busiest days at the clinic. Now we want to make sure this program lasts and encourage the students to volunteer on a periodic basis.

I was also surprised to learn that there are almost no children’s books written in Sesotho. This poses a problem for any literacy initiatives and it is difficult to import books and translate them into Sesotho because of customs fees and other barriers. The Reach Out and Read program in Lesotho had the wonderful idea of starting a story-writing competition in which Basotho people of all ages were encouraged to submit children’s stories they have written. There was a judging panel that selected the best stories and there are cash prizes and the chance to be published for the winning authors! Apparently there were 288 entries from school children, adults, and people from all walks of life. It will be exciting to see what the outcome of the competition is and what types of children’s books can finally be published in Lesotho. That is another interesting part of the initiative… local artists and publishers will finally get a chance to participate in the publishing of these books, and this will open up the possibility of working on a new market and industry in Lesotho

Below are pictures of our volunteers!

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