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South Jordan Journal

Daybreak fourth-grade students holds book drive for Ugandan children

May 30, 2022 05:20PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was a lesson far beyond the original thought of Daybreak fourth-grade teacher Tawna Pippen.

“It started as a book drive as a service project, but it became a great opportunity for them to see how reading and books can impact other kids around the world,” she said. “It was really good for them to feel and realize what they were doing is going to make a difference to someone, somewhere.”

Pippen had learned about Kids Read Uganda while attending an event during the winter and tucked it away until this past spring when it would be a great time for her students to do a service project and get books in the hands of other children this summer.

“I thought it’s pretty easy to do and most of the kids can participate if they have even one book at home they can donate,” she said, adding that it became a grade-level project. “We had some students create skits and share with other classes and other students made posters. We held it for one week and came up with a goal of 150 based on if every fourth-grader could bring a book. We talked about how they were going to collect the books, how to count them and keep a running tally. The kids were excited about it.”

When the students surpassed their goal with 331 books, Pippen reached out to the nonprofit and learned that the Kids Read Uganda chief financial officer, David Muyanja, was visiting from Uganda. He offered to give a presentation and personally thank the students.

Muyanja shared with students about their daily life in Uganda, how families purchase live chickens off of a truck or bananas from someone pedaling a bicycle. Women walk with wheat in baskets on their head and hang clothes to dry outside.

“Our students should be here enjoying the same classes and facilities as these students, but with the disparities, they don’t,” he said. “It may be shocking to our kids to know that these kids here are seeing their pictures I shared on a big projected screen, because there, they’ve never had access to that.”

Muyanja also pointed out that most Ugandan families don’t have access to smartphones or the internet.

“These are things that help open their minds. For them, if children even attend school, they walk for miles. They learn outside,” he said. “Even the simple things here are not common there. There, bread is a luxury, not a staple. They will not buy bread when they need a kilo of maize flour to prepare for one, two, or three kids at home. Everywhere in the U.S., you can drink the water. It’s not the same in Uganda or many African countries. You need to boil it. If you don’t, it’s going to make you sick with typhoid dysentery.”

That is why he, Lynda Smart-Brown and others are passionate about the Kids Read libraries they’re establishing in some Ugandan villages. These libraries are similar to the Little Free Libraries that have popped up across the United States.

The first half-dozen libraries, each costing about $150 to build and stock full of books, have been strategically placed in villages where there has been little access to reading material. Before COVID-19, children could check out a book from the ambassador who oversaw the library. When the pandemic hit, the libraries closed and books were given away, Muyanja said.

Now, they’re in the process of restocking the books that are written in English.

“English is the language that is commonly used, but not all children know English.  Many parents in these communities have not been to school and may not know how to read these books. In fact, sometimes when they first hold a book, it may be upside down. We want them to have books with pictures of things that is similar with what they have within the culture and the community, something that easily blends into the child’s life,” he said. “We want to help children read. At the end of the day, a person who has no trade, a person who cannot even read signposts along the road, almost becomes useless in today’s world.”

Smart-Brown remembers when they opened the first Ugandan library filled with books.

“I saw the children’s faces asking, ‘What is it? What do I do? Can I touch it? Is that permitted?’” she recalled. “I could just see the impact on their little faces.  We had over 100 children come to see their first book — and we served cake. It was not only their first book they ever saw, but also the first piece of cake. That just shocks me. It’s so humbling."

While the program re-establishes itself in Uganda, Smart-Brown is also focusing her efforts to help children who live in the Salt Lake Valley with Kids Read libraries.

“We’re placing them in the communities around the 48 Title I schools because these kids don’t have books. That’s why we’re doing it, to make books more accessible. We’re reaching out to have people help sponsor a library, take care of a library or donate books,” she said, adding that not only these Daybreak students, but businesses and book clubs may be able to support the Kids Read Salt Lake Valley libraries.

Books donated locally will stay local; books for Uganda will be purchased there to help with their economy and save on the cost of shipping, she said.

“We’re trying to help every child be able to read and have access to books,” she said.

Pippen said it was a much more broadening experience than she envisioned.

“I had showed them on a map where Uganda was, so they were able to see how far it was from Utah, but with them sharing, our students were able to learn about kids their age living in a different part of the world. I love giving our kids this experience to learn about Uganda,” she said. “Ultimately, this is what they’re going to remember years from now. I always tell my students that you might remember the water cycle or when you learned fractions and decimals, but you will certainly remember moments that make an impact on your life or on others and this may be one of those moments.”