Reading for Life Overview
Reading for Life is the name of our literacy program in Guatemala. Each year more than 13,000 children are inspired to read by teachers and librarians who have been trained by Child Aid. Our Guatemalan staff, many who speak the indigenous language of the children, significantly increase the effectiveness of Guatemalan teachers and librarians. These teachers and librarians are able to leverage the impact of tens of thousands of children’s books we distribute each year.
Increasing literacy is a proven and effective approach to alleviating poverty, which currently afflicts 54 percent of the Guatemalan population and over 70 percent of the rural population where we work.
As our program spreads, each community’s capacity to speak up for better educational support also increases. We seek to impact system-wide changes in educational standards, teacher training and school funding priorities through the grassroots advocacy of our Guatemalan teachers, principals, school administrators, community leaders and parents.
Reading for Life is effective because it is multifaceted.
- Group literacy trainings for librarians and teachers.
- One-on-one training in each teacher’s classroom.
- Provision of training materials.
- Distribution of Spanish-language children’s books for use during reading activities.
- Provision of books to libraries agreeing to robust lending practices.
- Summer and vacation reading programs in libraries.
- Provision of mini grants to communities to support librarians.
Education improves maternal, child and family health. It slows the spread of HIV/AIDS, decreases violent crime and improves the overall economic health of communities. We know of no other approach to alleviating poverty that has an impact this broad and long-lasting.
Guatemala classroom instruction depends almost totally on rote memorization with little opportunity for comprehension or critical thinking. There are few if any books in classrooms and those few are generally outdated, irrelevant or damaged. All of this is exacerbated by parents’ own illiteracy and no reading materials in the home.
Rural communities also lack libraries; those that exist lack stable funding. Librarians generally are untrained and see their job as protector of the sparse book collection. Open stacks and book lending are generally entirely absent.
These poor educational opportunities make it harder for parents to justify the considerable economic sacrifice represented by the loss of a child’s labor. This is especially true for girls who are often tasked with caring for younger children while their mothers work.
All of these factors contribute to the fact that Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate in Latin America, especially among the indigenous population. Nearly half of indigenous children are not educated beyond primary school, and girls are over 3 times more likely than boys to have fewer years in school.
Thus, by increasing the effectiveness of teachers and librarians through intensive and on-going training and support, and by providing Spanish language books to schools and libraries, we increase a community’s capacity to reduce poverty. In addition, we build a community of literacy advocates that can then impact teacher and librarian professional standards throughout Guatemala.