The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

If you could…would you?

Recently I’ve been mulling this question:

If you could spend a modest amount of money or time and open the world of reading for the most brilliant, motivated, determined kids in your neighborhood, would you?

I think most of my friends wouldn’t pause to answer a big ol’ YES.

(The reader in this picture is the brilliant, motivated, determined young reader who was in my neighborhood once upon a time–my daughter, now in a PhD program in English literature.)

Many of my friends are teachers, librarians, writers…all of those avid readers…who have seen the thrilldom of watching the power of a book to open the world around and inside a child.

Pure joy.

And that’s the joy of volunteering for Ethiopia Reads (

I spent a lot of this week preparing for our annual board retreat that will happen in Denver next week.  I had a phone conversation with another I’m-hooked Ethiopia volunteer about a young Ethiopian man who will be part of planning conversations in Denver.  He was born into an unusual family in a remote part of Ethiopia and now has a masters degree and wants to figure out how to get books to young people in the area where he grew up.  His reading journey shows that even a thin lifeline will be grabbed by those with fierce determination and courage.  Lucky reader. Lucky us.

Yesterday, I spent an hour or more on the phone with Stephanie from Art Aid International who took this picture when she was visiting one of the libraries Ethiopia Reads planted in 2011.  An eagle appeared–no, literally–on her end while we were talking.

I feel powerful wings flapping around this particular chance to bring art and literature into the lives of kids.

How many readers in 2012 will see that brilliant, motivated, determined youngsters are in our neighborhood (even though they live in far-away Ethiopia) and we can spend modest amounts of money and time and get them books?

My experience tells me the answer is…a LOT.

Can you believe that in 2011 donors raised or gave money for a model school library in all but one of the eleven regions in Ethiopia?

I barely can believe it myself.

Stephanie volunteered in Ethiopia in December and wrote about this scene:

“Meanwhile, inside the library, a local Ethiopian artist named Aklilu was working with the kids on a project where children became the ‘canvas.’  They used what they found outside the school to turn themselves into beautiful flowers. The idea was to get them to think about the things around them every day that they can create with. They don’t have to wait for art class to be creative.  All one needs is imagination.”

A retreat takes imagination, too.

We’ll have to imagine outcomes and wrestle tough questions.

Should we set up literacy and library situations where we can have more control over quality or should we do what we can to work with overcrowded, intense government schools where thousands of kids are learning to read without ever holding a book?

Should we build schools in regions where there are none?  (Lots of money needed for that.)

Should we focus on improving schools?  (Money goes further, but can we make ENOUGH difference?)

Should we reach some communities with deep, inter-connected services or a lot of communities with a little bit–knowing even a little will surely be enough for some kids?

Can we find new creative ways to get books and reading to lots of kids?

We’ll experiment with all of the above in 2012 and hope to have some answers for 2013.

And while we experiment, we’ll feel the thrilldom you feel when you flip a last page and turn to someone and say, “Wow.  You have to read this!”

The thrilldom you feel when you watch a child whose mind seems to suddenly go…


The thrilldom of spending a modest amount of money and time and opening the world of reading for some resourceful, motivated, determined kids who share this earth with us.

3 thoughts on “If you could…would you?”

    • Glad if my following my passion can be an inspiration to anyone! I really do find it fulfilling that the opportunity has come in this lifetime to share reading and writing with so many kids in Ethiopia as well as kids here in the US!


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