Wafa Abu Naser, a mother of three girls, reads to her children almost every day. Their favorite bedtime story is Cinderella. She buys them new books, whenever it is possible and makes sure they have a new book to read every now and then.
“I feel that my kids really benefit from my reading aloud to them. They enjoy listening to stories and are always attentive,” says Wafa. Wafa likes quizzing them about their bedtime stories, and is always baffled by how well they memorize even the smallest of details.
Hala is Wafa’s youngest daughter. She attends Al-Isra’ preschool in Qalandia Refugee Camp where she lives. ‘Snooty Girl’ is one of Hala’s favorite stories, which the teacher sometimes reads aloud to her and her friends. Aside from listening to stories, she enjoys preschool activities, like learning how to write. “I can write ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’ and my own name all by myself,” she boasts.
Al-Isra’ is one of 14 preschools in Jerusalem and Hebron that Anera is currently rehabilitating through its early childhood development program. Apart from infrastructural rehabilitation and cosmetic enhancement, each of these preschools has received play equipment, fixtures, furniture, fittings, vital toys and learning materials, like books.
There are very limited places in the West Bank where children can address their own inquisitiveness and need for stimulation. Anera believes that books provide that haven where kids can escape and explore the world around them.
“It’s going to take a long time to provide children with adequate kindergartens and safe places to play in the West Bank. In the meantime, we need to provide them with alternative options and opportunities,” explains Sulieman Mleahat, Anera’s education program manager. He continues: “That is why we are working on programs like Hayya Naqra’ [Let’s Read!] to encourage parents to read for children at home.”
Let’s Read! in the West Bank and Gaza
Hayya Naqra’ was first launched in Gaza in 2012. This year, with funding from Dubai Cares, the program has also reached the West Bank through take-home reading bags. Each bag is comprised of simple story books, picture books, and coloring sets. They also contain an information leaflet for parents and teachers with tips for optimizing their use of the resources. 2,000 reading packs are expected to reach preschools across Gaza and the West Bank this year.
Today is Hala’s last school day. Preschoolers and parents were requested to drop by the preschool to pick up the end-of-year gift. When Wafa and Hala came to the preschool for the gift, they were delightfully surprised to learn that the gift was a reading pack.
“I never expected to see such a great gift. The bag design suits their age, and the books are excellent,” says Wafa.
“Reading aloud to children alleviates much of the parents’ load on the long-run, as it provides children with life-long skills,” says Sulieman. He says that children who are often read to tend to make a habit of reading as they grow older, and it immensely helps them with their language and literacy skills, as well as getting homework done themselves.
Wafa says most parents don’t practice reading aloud to their children in her community. She thinks it could be attributable to the parents’ lack of time or poor education.
“I read to my daughters because I want them to play vital roles in society when they grow up. I’m helping them build a strong foundation, upon which they can thrive.”