Sharing the Joy of Reading with an African Child
for 25 years

Reflections: Noreen Mian

Noreen is on the beach with a friend.

I started each day by sweeping the sand out the door of our one-room library. Sometimes, Vivian, the librarian and I would use the grass brooms to chase the toads out of the corners of the room. Occasionally, we also had bats and mice to contend with. Once these jobs were done, Vivian always filled plastic basins with clean water and soap, so the kids could wash their hands before coming inside.

As the school day began, at least 100 kids packed the small room. They laid on the floor and underneath tables because there were not enough stools for everyone. The library buzzed with the sound of voices carefully reading allowed. The room was always extremely hot.

Before I arrived in Ghana, I pictured myself teaching kids to read, and inspiring creativity through art. I came prepared with lesson plans and craft supplies. However, I quickly learned that despite the common language of English, I still faced a communication barrier. Often, when I would read stories out loud, Vivian would have to repeat what I had said in English. My accent and flow of speech was hard for the children to understand. I felt defeated. I wanted to teach kids how to love books and I wanted to share my love of art work at the same time, but if they couldn’t understand me, how could I even begin to do this?

With these ideas in mind, the reading tree was born. The reading tree began as a large painted trunk on the wall of the library. Each library member read their favourite book and then and explained what made it special to them. I showed them how to make a mango leaf print using white paper and crayons. After writing their name, and the title of their book, the each leaf was added to the tree.

Day by day, the reading tree grew more leaves. Children were coming up to me and telling me they had more than one favourite book. They wanted to tell me about it so they could make another leaf. As the tree grew, so did my confidence. I started teaching the kids simple games and songs. Before I knew it, everywhere I went I was greeted with a chorus.

Recently, I received over 100 thank you notes from library members in Goi. One young girl writes: Thank you for teaching us so many new things that we will remember always. Thank you too, for helping me to understand books better.” Each time I read this line, tears come to my eyes.

For some, books are pleasure and for others, they are a luxury. For me, books became a tool that transcended culture, allowing me to both teach and learn from others, one page at a time.

Noreen Mian