The children at El-Shatee Refugee Camp Preschool couldn’t believe their eyes when they opened their brand new book bags.
Inside the bright purple bags, they discovered colorful books and alphabet sheets, posters, crayons and a leaflet for parents and caregivers on the importance of reading.
The Haya Naqra book bags were distributed during a festive ceremony June 5,2012 to officially launch the reading program in Gaza. Children were excited by the chance to sing, draw and listen to stories in their new reading corner.
Young Sibah liked the colors and Ahmed liked the alphabets sheet. Sahar Salem, mother of Sibah, was delighted to read a story to her five-year-old daughter from one of the books in the bag. “Sibah is fond of stories. She listens carefully and asks questions,” says Saher. “We need time to read together and everything in this bag will help create this habit for us.”
Anera’s “Let’s Read” initiative is part of Right Start!, a USAID-funded program managed by Mercy Corps through the Palestinian Community Assistance Program (PCAP). The initiative targets 60 preschools and 30 community-based organizations in Gaza.
Mona Zakout, program manager of Right Start!, expects the program will reach 10,000 children to promote the love of reading and storytelling. Under the program, Anera has established and equipped special “reading corners” in 29 preschools and 15 community centers across Gaza.
Studies show that parents and adults reading to children at an early age contributes to the development of language, concentration and learning skills. The reading corners will be used daily to offer children the space and opportunity to enjoy reading and storytelling sessions with their teachers.
El-Shatee kindergarten director Abeer Saleha already has noticed a difference in the children’s behavior since the program was initiated earlier this year. “Reading becomes part of our daily routine and our reading corner is lined with shelves filled with colorful books and educational materials.”
Sahar El-Sayed says the daily reading schedule assigns teachers to read a story to the children but the kids get to choose which one. “They help me select the story,” she says, “They love looking at the pictures and the drawings, especially animals and birds.”
The two-year project will provide specialist training for preschool teachers and principals; rehabilitation and provision of equipment and learning materials as well as educational development activities such as reading, painting, drama and summer camps.
“Reading aloud is one of the most important activities parents and teachers can do with their children. Reading helps with brain development and develops the child’s listening and speaking skills,” says Sulieman Mleahat, Anera’s Early Childhood Education Coordinator. “Research shows that children who are read to from a very young age do better at school and have better prospects for the future.”