News / Middle East

Grassroots Libraries Promote Love of Reading

After living in the US, Professor Rana Dajani went home to create dozens of libraries in neighborhoods across Jordan

Rana Dajani began her library program by reading to children in a neighborhoodl mosque in her native Jordan.
Rana Dajani began her library program by reading to children in a neighborhoodl mosque in her native Jordan.
Faiza Elmasry

During the five years Jordanian Rana Dajani and her family lived in the United States, the local public library was a big part of the family's life.

"When I was doing my PhD in the United States, on a Fulbright scholarship, I used to spend all my evenings with my mice in the lab and my children - I have four children - they spent all their time in the public library," she says. "It's full of not just books, but activities, volunteerism, read-aloud [sessions], puppet shows and so on."

No libraries

She says that's why, when the family moved back to Jordan, the public library was what they all missed the most.

"We realized there were no libraries and if they were, they were very few," she says. "Most importantly, they didn't have any activities. We looked at the statistics and it turned out that the number of pages read in the Middle East per year is half a page, compared to the U.S. where it is 11 books per year.  When I say reading, I mean reading for pleasure, not reading of education because the education level in Jordan is pretty high. We're talking about reading that creates imagination, thinking outside the box, that there is more to life than my immediate environment, that there are other solutions out there."

Dajani, a biology professor at the Hashemite University in Jordan,  looked closely at the problem to figure out why children in Jordan do not read.

"The reason they don't read was not for lack of books, but most important it's for lack of experience," she explains. "Nobody reads to them. In order to plant the love of reading, you have to read to your children at an early age. Nobody does that. It's not a habit in Jordan."

We Love Reading

So, with the encouragement and help of her children, Dajani took it upon herself to create a public library in their neighborhood. In 2006, she began holding story-telling sessions for 8 to 10-year olds in a nearby mosque.

"We announced through the Friday prayers that there was going to be a read-aloud on Saturday morning," she says. "So the parents dragged their children, but after that, the children were coming by themselves. They would wake up really early in the morning and say, 'We want to go to the story telling, we want to listen to the stories.'"

After each story-telling session, the children are allowed to check out a copy of the book, take it home and read it with their parents. Dajani says that's how We Love Reading was born. The project has created a cadre of young readers in the neighborhood.

"The proof of this is that, when they line up to take the books home, they know the name of the authors," she says. "They recommend books to each other."

Reading, Dajani says, has had a positive impact on many aspects of the children's lives.

"First, they are off the street. It saves some lives," she says. "On the educational level, these children will be doing better in school. Reading will provide them with a greater vocabulary. So they will hopefully be writers in the future because it is a circle - the more readers you have, the more writers you have. And parents are so happy that the children are spending more time doing useful things and learning the enjoyment of reading because nothing can substitute for that, not TV, not the Internet, just to enjoy the written word."

Furthering the dream

Dajani's dream - to see the We Love Reading project expand beyond her neighborhood - became a reality a few years later.

"In 2008, I won an award from Synergos, which is a New York-based organization that fights poverty and injustice in the world. They have started a program called 'The Arab World Social innovators,'" she says. "So I won the award and that provided me with enough funding to be able to start a training program for ladies in their local neighborhood. We would train them how to read aloud. The fund also gave me the ability to buy them books. I would buy 20 books for every lady. We've trained 380 ladies. This training for the ladies hasn't just given them the ability to read aloud, it has empowered them to be civically and socially responsible outside their home."

Eighty local libraries have been established in communities throughout Jordan, serving more than 4,000 children.

Expanded opportunity

Dajani joined other activists, academics and private citizens from around the world at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York. Each year the organization  - which was founded in 2005 by President Bill Clinton - brings together dozens of innovators who  work to solve community problems in sustainable and effective ways.

Dajani says her participation in the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative conference gave her the opportunity to further expand the program, and gain valuable insights into social activism.

"I met women from different areas of the world: from Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia," she says. "And we've actually set up partnerships with these different women, like they're planning to copy our model in Indonesia, Peru and, hopefully, in other Middle Eastern countries. On the other hand, I've also learned about how people are facing other problems, how people are working in teams to solve problems such as women's economic independence, such as environmental awareness. So it's been an eye-opener on how everybody plays a role in trying to make this world a better place for everyone."

During the conference, We Love Reading made a commitment to establish 100 more libraries throughout Jordan over the next five years. Visitors to Rana Dajani's website can learn how to create a library in their neighborhood.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs