Changing lives, one ebook at a time

Danielle Zacarias • 22 December 2014

E for ebook, E for empowerment. Danielle Zacarias on a ground-breaking reading campaign for schoolchildren in sub-Saharan Africa.
This holiday season, Worldreader is teaming up with RosettaBooks and Publerati to bring more ebooks to classrooms in sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout December both publishers are donating portions of their sales to fund Worldreader projects.

Funds raised will have an immediate impact on the children we work with, but thinking long term there is even more to be excited about. On the ground we're reaching thousands of students, each of whom has a story to tell. Empowered by the books they've been reading, some of them are making the transition from reader to writer. It's not too hard to imagine a world in which a Worldreader alum finds her voice and one day becomes published by the very publishers who, with their generosity, enabled her to begin her journey. In fact, we're almost already there.

Holiday campaigns
RosettaBooks' campaign is called #WeReadBecause: Never Underestimate the Power of a Good Book. It includes 152 ebooks that have been discounted to $3.99 or below;10% of proceeds from all sales go back to Worldreader. As part of the month-long campaign, bestselling books such as Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford, William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut will fill your home while helping young readers grow their minds.

"To us it might just be a wonderful book, but to the kids and families in the Worldreader program, it's life-changing," said Arthur Klebanoff, CEO of RosettaBooks. Meanwhile, Publerati's campaign, which is running through to 26 December, aims to donate 100% of their publisher share of books to Worldreader. Also, for today only BookShout is promoting Don Trowden's Normal Family, for $1.99.

Both the content and proceeds donated to Worldreader by Publerati and RosettaBooks will go to schools and libraries like the Kibera Girl's Soccer Academy (KGSA), which is located in the second largest urban slum in sub-Saharan Africa.

The founder of KGSA, Abdul Kassim, is a Kibera native who was troubled by how hard it was for the girls in the slum to succeed. In addition to struggling with the everyday realities of poverty, they were often subjected to extreme sexism. To combat this and give the girls a place to build an emotionally supportive community, Abul started a girls soccer team. His protégés learned quickly, and soon they were competing against the community's boys' teams.

Despite the programme's success, Abdul was not able to save many of the girls from many of the realities of living in Kibera - some were raped, forced into prostitution, suffered disease or turned to drugs. The soccer programme was a good start, but Abdul knew a more systematic change needed to have the impact he hoped for. A school, for instance, could bring about longer-term change.

In 2006, with the help of friends, Abdul established KGSA. Today, KGSA has 20 full-time staff members and more than 130 students annually, the majority of whom are able to access a world of books for the first time through Worldreader. Across the continent in Ghana, an alumni of a Worldreader programme, Okanta Kate, has a story that we hope to see replicated in schools like KGSA. Kate is an alumni of Adeiso, which was one of the first schools in sub-Saharan Africa to receive a shipment of e-readers loaded with thousands of books. In one year she read 100 books, and declared that she intended to become a writer herself. Today, she is published on Worldreader Mobile, and thousands of readers have read her poem Agony of a Woman.

tells the story of a woman shunned by her community because she is barren. It is weighty subject matter and, looking at it with Western eyes, it's almost hard to believe that the writer was 17 at the time it was written. Harder to accept is the notion that it might never have been told in the first place. All writers necessarily begin as readers, and so a world in which girls like Okanta Kate don't receive books means a world in which we are all deprived of their stories. Who knows exactly what the future will bring, but this holiday season I am hoping that one day the girls at KGSA will send us their stories, that Okanta Kate will keep writing, and that a publisher who has supported us the way RosettaBooks and Publerati have will tell me they just signed a great new author.

Danielle Zacarias (left) is Senior Manager, Digital Publishing at Worldreader. She works on the Mobile and Digital Publishing team, working closely with publishers across the Americas and monitoring reading trends across our platforms to ensure our readers have access to the literature they want and need. She started out with Pearson Education, but gravitated toward non-profits in 2009 and has volunteered at a woman's shelter in Thailand and worked with Engineers Without Borders Canada. Zacarias holds degrees in criminology and English from the University of Toronto.