I read a book!

As you will have seen in some previous posts, I try to give something back to the community by supporting charity events.  It’s very rewarding to participate in such activities.

Again, I’m not talking about the need to donate money, but to donate time.  I rarely trust all these charity organizations that attempts to collect money for what appears honorable causes.  But, it then turns out that the money collected is spent on paying administrative staff or that the items collected end up in the hands of some strange mad dictator, like Kony, as they control the infrastructure.  So, by the time the funds or resources reach the people who really needs help, then it’s a fraction of what was collected.

The best ways, in my humble opinion, to help out is to donate tools for the people to create their own farms, water pumps, etc. or my favorite is to help local communities.

My latest adventure saw me participate in a fantastic initiative; donate books to elementary and middle schools.  Basically, the aim was to enhance the literacy levels in local communities, by encouraging kids to read books and at the same time help the kids getting their first book.  The cool thing, and yet very daunting, was that as part of this initiative I had to read the book out loud, for the entire class.

The were about 20 of us from work, who volunteered for this activity.  We met one warm spring day and jumped on a bus, and headed towards Union City (NJ).  We were visiting a 6th grade class, to read a book out loud called ‘Hoot‘.

I’m not going to retell the story here, but it’s a very nice little story about a kid who moves to Florida and meets some interesting characters and saves owls.

I’ve participated in a few other inner-city charity events, so I had some idea what to expect when heading towards Union City.  It’s a low-income area, largely Hispanic (approx. 85%), high crime rate and according to some New Jersey residents (word of mouth) the 3rd worst place in regards to crime – only topped by Paterson and Newark.

Coming from the “safe” suburbs of Dublin, I’m pretty familiar with tough neighborhoods, but I must admit that some of these hoods we passed through were a little rougher than I had envisaged.  It wasn’t that the bus was being attacked by hooded individuals or that I was fearing for my life.  I guess it was just the run-down neighborhood, the barred windows, and some shady characters walking the streets.

Anyway, we pulled up in front of the school, got out and walked into the school.  You could tell that people were both surprised and happy for our visit, and we were quickly shown to the various classrooms we had to read for.

Along the way, we passed the stairs to be basement, which had a little sign that was clearly (I hope) a leftover from the cold war.

Now, I have no problem reading out loud for my kids or elementary aged kids, but I was getting pretty nervous having to read out loud to 11-13 year old kids.  These guys would catch me out straight away, if I misread something, or be a hard crowd to amuse.

Me and a fellow reader were shown our room, and walked in.  The teacher was, to say the least, very surprised.  She was teaching a bi-lingual class, and unless we had the book in Spanish or could translate on the fly, then we were not going to read much.

My Spanish is nowhere near conversation nor reading level, and neither was my colleague’s, so we were in a bit of a bind.

We ended up telling the kids about ourselves, what education level we had, what we do at work and where we’re from – all while the teacher was translating for the kids.

Then we turned the table and asked them to tell about themselves, to have an engaging conversation.  I think it was a good session and I was so glad to hear that many of the kids had big ambitions like becoming a doctor, dentist, baseball player, architect, etc..  So, despite not having English as primary language and limited reading skills, they had dreams and goals.

They should stick to these goals and they will come through, as long as they keep at it.

One thing that really made me sit up, and which was completely unexpected, was the story behind the school uniforms.  School uniforms is not enforced in public schools in the US, but these kids all wore uniforms.  The reason; due to the increase in gangs in the area, for the past decade, uniforms had been introduced to avoid kids wearing gang colors.

I have to admit, spending a few hours in the school, with these kids, made me want to help the achieve their goals and dreams.  It wouldn’t take too much.  All they need is encouragement and support, showing them the way.

For me, this was an eye-opening experience and it will stick with me for a long time.  I can strongly encourage you to get involved with kids in local communities, who needs help with something we might take for granted – such as reading.

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