We sat down with Rania El Turk, founder of ReadingStart, a program that seeks to promote the value of reading from a young age, who shared with us how it all began and how it hopes to reach a larger expanse of the region. Rania explained to us that being read to from early on is essential to a child’s emotional and cognitive development, not to mention essential to developing a love of reading.
While attending graduate school at Harvard University, Rania was inspired by a presentation by Earl Phalen of Reach out and Read, an organization where pediatricians promote reading aloud to young children. After returning to the Middle East, she knew she had to develop a similar program for the region, one that could be easily integrated into local healthcare clinics. “In the United States, the buy-in from the medical sector is strong. It took a while to tweak the model so that it would fit into the system here,” says Rania. She was finally able to launch the pilot program in Lebanon, running a crowd-funding campaign on gofundme.com to raise the funds needed to provide book packages and advice on reading to 1500 families.
The next step for ReadingStart was to partner with healthcare clinics and centers, and ask them to become the champions for reading. “We have two clinics on board now, Tahadi Clinic and the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation. At each clinic, when a family comes in for vaccines, the nurse takes a few moments to talk to the parents about the importance of reading aloud to their child. She encourages them to take time to expose kids to books and tell stories, even if they’re not reading the text but just using the pictures. The nurse, who is our advocate for reading, then gives the parents our book package, which contains two board books and a leaflet on reading together,” says Rania. This system works well, as people typically value the advice of medical professionals. Rania says that ultimately, “Reading and storytelling are a good way for parents and children to bond, to create positive family dynamics, to expose kids to print, and to nurture a love of books from a young age.”
Currently, ReadingStart is only in Lebanon, but Rania hopes they can soon expand to Jordan. Partnering with the Lebanese Board on Books for Young People earlier this year has ensured that the program in Lebanon will be funded until January 2016. This has opened up the opportunity to expand to other countries.
To learn more about the initiative or get involved, visit www.readingstart.org.