Reading is a bridge to understanding the world. Reading gives this girl and others the opportunity to get to know the world better, to get a deeper understanding of it, and maybe even change it. I took this picture in a small village in the North of Madagascar.
In this satellite school in the Bandarban Hills in Bangladesh, these students are learning Bengali. The Bandarban Hills are remote and the people do not grow up speaking the national language. Bengali language skills will allow this new generation to have more opportunities in the future.
These girls share a book outside after school. This is important because reading helps them gather information that they may need in the future.
In Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru, children learn that reading inspires and motivates them to pursue their own interests, passions and dedications.
María de Jesús Ramírez is 101 years old and she just learned how to read and write. She feels very proud of this and says, "While God allows me and I have strength, I will continue attending school to learn even more."
Reading with hope; reading for hope – I hope reading can bring these two boys real hope.
Primary education builds the next generation and helps people become good citizens. Fortunately for these children, it’s compulsory and free in Bangladesh thanks to the government.
Although Beng Alba did not have a lot of toys growing up in the countryside, she did not feel deprived. Almost as soon as she learned how to make words out of letters, she discovered the magic, joy and love of reading. This love stayed with her until her adulthood and greatly influenced her choice of vocation. She writes books for kids and works as an editor in a publishing company. Reading charted the course of her life. She tells us, "I cannot imagine a more exciting journey than the one I’m in now."
Nine-year-old Devilal has a severe visual impairment, but for the past few years he has been attending his local school with Sightsavers support. Here he is doing his homework with his buddies.
In Tawang, India, reading is considered a way to worship God by the Buddhist scholars and children residing there. Reading is knowledge; reading is worship; reading is divine!
Living in a village in Dominican Republic, Odalis was already a mother at 14. When she enrolled her daughter in preschool, she became a classroom volunteer. Less than two years later, she’s on her way to becoming a certified teacher. Books have allowed Odalis to imagine, to learn and to grow. And now she’s sharing stories, lessons and knowledge with her student whose parents often cannot read. The children absolutely love her story time! Because Odalis can read, she’s changing the course of her life and taking her community along with her. There’s no knowing how many lives she’ll touch!
How reading changed his life? For people with disabilities, life isn't easy; they need more strength, courage, faith and knowledge to get through each day. This young man reads the classifieds in a newspaper, searching for a job that he could perform despite his disability. His determination, knowledge, and faith could help him achieve his goal.
Christina lives in a small village in Singida province, Tanzania. She is sixteen years old, and about to complete her high school education. "Being able to read is most important to me, because if you cannot read you cannot learn, and if you cannot learn you cannot live." Christina is the only literate girl in her family. But simply being able to read does not automatically grant her a bright future. "I like to read, but our school has few books. There is only one textbook for five students. I am literate, but I have few opportunities to read." This year a charity built Christina’s school a new library, and provided them with over 1000 textbooks. Christina volunteered to become a Library Prefect, sorting the shelves and helping other students find the books they need. "Today I am proud, because I have so many new books to read which will give me knowledge. These books will not only change my life, but the lives of everyone at my school. Reading is the key to our brighter future."
Education is the backbone of a nation. Access to an education must be the right of every child. In this photo, girls and boys in a very remote place of Bangladesh are going to school so that they can study and learn. By reading they can acquire new knowledge and change our society.
These children attending this class come from poor families. Getting an education is essential for their lives. In Bangladesh, the government alone is unable to ensure that all children have access to education, so some NGOs are stepping in to fill the gaps.
I volunteer with my theater group in Peru. This is a group of students that we work with after school.
This photo is of refugee children reading and writing in Gaza. Due to the blockade, Gaza suffers from severe fuel and electricity shortages resulting in 12-hour-blackouts each day. The children, undeterred, read by candlelight.
Basic education is fairly limited in rural China. Therefore, it is hard for children there to learn as much as those in the city. Reading is essential for these students to pass their exams and advance in the national education system. Today, only 7% of students from rural areas pass these critical exams. When children learn to enjoy reading at a young age, it opens the door to a bright future.
In the Maasai community of Kenya, 52% of girls never enroll in school. The reasons are many – economic restraints, far walking distances to the nearest school, household chores, and forced child marriages – to name a few. At Maasai Girls Education Fund (MGEF), girls like Lydia and her friend are granted an opportunity that will last a lifetime: to be able to read.
In the school library, this Ghanaian girl has her eye on an exciting book about the human body. This is the first time she came across a pop-up book that explains to her how the human body works. The photo was taken in the context of the Ghana Learning Project initiative. A group of students from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands spent two summers in Ghana to help schools develop or expand small libraries. The students spent several years collecting books from libraries, schools and individuals in the United Kingdom, which were then shipped to Ghana and distributed to 17 schools. The 11,000 books consisted of fiction, science, poetry, history and many other types of books, which will help widening the horizons of children and young people in Ghana.
Reading books improves people’s lives. Reading can even act as medicine. Those who read and learn, improve, and become more educated. They interact with their surroundings in a better way. They speak better, too. But, most importantly, people who can read and write can pass along their knowledge to future generations. The benefits of reading are endless!
Knowing how to read has made me who I am — from being able to write my full name to completing my university studies. It has helped me to discover an imaginary world through literature, and the real world through my travels. There is no better companion for each flight than a book waiting to be read. If I didn’t know how to read, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I am thankful each and every day for my extraordinarily good fortune.
These children study while their mother works in the field.
Everyday Rina, Sima and Nasima take this path to go to school. It is very difficult to reach the school, but they are determined. They are impressive members of their community.
This young Thai boy is hopeful. He has every reason to give up – to drop out of school and start working with his family. But he has hope, and a bright smile that draws you in. He lives in a community made up of factory workers, where trucks often cause tragic accidents with children. Many youth do not finish middle school in this area. Those who do are incredibly behind their grade reading levels. But this boy is causing change because he is not giving up. He loves to learn, read, and is ready to soak in knowledge at any moment. So while many youth around him aren’t able to see the importance of an education, he is holding on and enjoying his time as a child. He shines as bright light in his community for all to see.
Eleven year old Kalimuddin studies in a non-formal education center for children of migrant workers in Kanpur, North India. He belongs to a family of rag-pickers. Like many in his community, he works from 5am to 1pm. But he never misses going to the education center which begins at 2pm. Being able to read has motivated him so much that he wants other displaced children to go to school too. He volunteers to bring three younger children to school in a make-shift cart tied to his bicycle. The long journey, which is undertaken after a full day of working as a rag-picker, tires him out. But his desire for an education and for ensuring the education of other children is so great that he undertakes it quite cheerfully.
These women are attending an adult literacy class in Guinea, a country in West Africa. The women are committed to learning how to read so that they can better support their children's education and contribute to their families' and communities' financial health and economic well-being.
Moses was a street child. He lived on the streets collecting scrap metal to survive until one day he was taken in by the Atin Afrika Foundation which operates a transitional shelter for street kids in Lira, northern Uganda. The team at Atin quickly noticed that Moses was not like other boys on the street. He is deaf and as a result of growing up impoverished in Uganda he is mute. Atin spread the word and sponsors were found so that Moses could go to a boarding school for deaf children. After less than a semester he is beginning to read and write. In fact, his communication is so much better that we discovered his name isn't Moses. That was a nickname from the other kids on the street. His real name is Richard. Richard, we welcome you to the wonderful world of books!
This photograph shows a grandmother helping her grandson learn to read. The image also reflects an old and new generation sharing a good education together towards a brighter future.
Arpita (10) was living in the Narayanganj district inf Bangladesh, where she could not go to school because she is a visually impaired student. We met Arpita in 2011 when she told us, “My family loves me and cares for me. My mom teaches me alphabets and numbers (for sighted) at home by making me touch the letters. I know some English words like ‘mango,’ ‘water,’ ‘land’ and ‘house!’ I would like to go to school and enjoy being there with my friends. But if I’m not able to go, I’ll carry on learning with my mom at home. When I grow up I’d like to help people in some way and be able to look after myself.” We informed Arpita's parents that she could be enrolled at a school nearby with teachers trained to teach children with visual impairment alongside sighted children. The whole family moved and enrolled Arpita in this school practicing inclusive education. Arpita is now in 2nd grade and loves going to school!
This is a photo of one of my first grade students in the Kafulakuma village of Zambia. The community school cannot afford paper or pencils so each morning the students practice writing and reading letters in the sand.
As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was pile a huge stack of books by the couch and have my dad read them all to me. Reading is meant to be shared — whether on a couch or under a tree. In this photo, sixth grade students read with their second grade peers as part of a Buddy Reading program at a school in Lunga-Lunga, Kenya.
A few months ago this boy had never held a pencil or opened a book. He had never been to school because he was born in the rural north of Ghana, where many children are shepherd kids who look after cattle all day or help their parents on their farm. They fetch water, take care of their siblings, pound fufu and carry out 1059 other chores. His parents have now agreed he should go to a special open-air school in their community in the afternoon for a few hours – after he has finished with his chores. He is catching up on what his peers who go to the normal school have learned over the past years and will join 3rd grade of the formal school next school year. I love the determined look on his face. In the background you can see the older community members proudly looking on at him. I trust he is going to make it and that learning how to read and write will change his life.
A Cambodian boy visits a mobile library car and borrows a stack of picture books to read at home.
Reading can enrich our lives each day. It's important to take time to read. It benefits us and sets a good example for others. Life may only give us just a little, but reading can give us so much more. Reading is just like exercise.
Ever since I learned how to read, I couldn't stop reading everything around me! From street signs, to signboards … to everything! With my love for reading, I never thought it could impact me even more – until I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s disease 3 years ago. Reading became my coping mechanism. I escaped to the world of reading since it created a more bearable reality than mine. But it also helped me to move forward. I’m only 24 and I have dreams to fulfill. Reading made me realize that there’s still hope. More than just a passion, reading has become my lifeline.Jizlynn Co, Philippines
Dr. Seuss said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” This couldn't be more true. The boys in this picture are all former street children. They sniffed glue to escape their reality and stave off hunger. They slept on piles of rubbish to stay warm at night, ate garbage to sustain themselves and collected scrap metal to survive. They all dreamed of returning to school. They all dreamed of reading. Now they are in foster care and every day books take them on new grand adventures. Isaac, at age 14, could barely read, but today after 6 weeks at Atin Afrika Foundation, he has begun to read simple stories. His heart swells with pride when it is his turn to read with his friends. Through books they have beautiful adventures together and of course a happy ending. In January all of them will go back to school. All of them will learn to read. All of them will get a second chance.
These are my little neighbors during my time with the Peace Corps in Niger, West Africa. They were helping the teachers by carrying newly donated books that were delivered by bush taxi. They were very serious about their task but took a great detour to come show me the books since I was always telling them the importance of going to school. They got very serious when I took the picture but right before that they were talking excitedly about what they had already learned that day. UNICEF puts the adult literacy rate in Niger from 2005 to 2010 as low as 29%! I hope that we all can help this number drop in Niger and across the world so that other little children can be as excited about learning as my little neighbors!
I met this saint at the Brahma Temple in Pushkar, Rajasthan. When I asked him about his education, he attributed his knowledge to the holy books. Reading has indeed changed his life.
When I discovered that through books you could also travel and learn about other places, it changed my life. Thanks to classical stories and writers, I discovered that you could experience visiting unknown lands, fictional universes where you can meet people who do not really exist and have incredible experiences. A book can take us to Neverland, Wonderland, or any other imaginary place hidden within its pages – places that exist only in our minds and that are full of stories. Reading a book awakens the imagination, opens up the mind, and allows us to see further … because it is the gateway to incredible lands.
For ten-year-old Bontu, reading has unlocked a world of riddles. When she is not fetching water and firewood for her family or helping her mother prepare breakfast for her five siblings, she loves reading and telling riddles. One of her favorites is about an orange: “Two saw the orange, 10 touched it and 32 consumed it, how did this happen?” (The answer: The eyes are the two that saw, the fingers are the ten that touched, and the teeth are the 32 that consumed the orange). Bontu regularly borrows books from her local Literacy Boost Book Bank, a mobile library in her village of Boda, Ethiopia supported by Save the Children. She likes to read with her reading buddy, Kebenu, a 10-year-old boy who lives nearby.
Photo by Susan Warner for Save the Children.
This is Saleha, the daughter of migrant laborers from Assam, one of the poorest states in India. She used to work as a rag-picker to help her family make ends meet. Her family earns less than five dollars a day. Her life was transformed a few years ago during her family's seasonal migration, in search of work. In Kanpur, she enrolled in a school and learned how to read at a supplementary education center run by Apna Skool (literally, "Our School"), an organization in Kanpur dedicated to the education of children of migrant laborers. It was soon apparent that Saleha had a way with words. Last year, her poem was published by Chakmak, a reputed Indian children's magazine in Hindi. She is now pursuing her dream: to become a teacher and share the gift of reading with others.
My name is Ganesh Kunder from India. I volunteer with one of the social welfare organizations that focus on helping kids get an education. My contribution may be a drop of water in the desert...but at least it will quench the thirst of one particle of sand!
A book can shed light on your ideas. Reading takes you down the right path. With a book you illuminate yourself and your environment – just like a light!
"I had never heard of the Lorax until Johanny (the school librarian) read his story to us. Now I've discovered that we have tiny truffula trees growing on the way to school."
Pre-school student of Chukmuk School, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala
On a sunny day in January, four girls in a rural Nepali school were missing from class. We went looking for them and found them huddled together behind the school. They were each reading a book, which they would exchange with each other once they were done reading. When asked why they were not in class, they said they were worried they would have to return the books without finishing them. The books came out of a tin trunk library donated by the Kathmandu International Study Centre (KISC). I was very moved by the girls’ love of reading. In a country where most rural schools do not have libraries, it was interesting to see that tin trunk libraries were providing a creative solution to encourage literacy. This shows that by encouraging reading habits, we can improve the literacy rate in Nepal. Equipped with knowledge gained from the books, these Lamjung girls and the others will grow up to be responsible citizens. - Amrit Bahadur Poudel, KISC EQUIP Teacher Trainer
Knowing how to read brings happiness. This photo shows the classroom where I learned to read and write as a child in Messad, Algeria. The blackboard in front of me was full of letters that changed my view of the world. The day I was able to read my first words, I started to discover the secrets of life. When I was able to understand entire sentences, I thought that the universe was made of the pages of a book. Like these children, knowing how to read etched a smile on my heart and made me happy.
The East Africa Quality in Early Learning Project has supported 39 schools with resources in the Kinango district of Coastal Kenya, including story books that the children. At first, Ali said his parents forbade him from reading English stories. However, after accepting the importance of literacy, his parents now support him. He can now read books in English and Kiswahili. Ali even won a prize during a reading competition held at his school!
My name is Zahit and I live in Sakarya, Turkey. I am 14 years old. Reading books is very important. I love reading books. I like adventure books. I read books every day!
The gleaming opportunity of education – when given to a child – can help him discover his potential to envision a positive future.
Reading gives us knowledge and erudition. The knowledge that reading imparts to us is beyond our social identities, caste, age, nationality and politics.
Technology brings a new way of reading. Reading is a wonderful source of pleasure for many people, and can provide a healthy escape from a difficult life.
From left to right: Ramiro, Lucita, Estelita, and Paquito.
Knowing how to read has changed these children’s lives and offered them an opportunity to have a brighter future. The true goal of education is not only to train professionals, but also good men and women with principles and values, attitudes and behaviors that reflect respect for life, human beings and their dignity. It is also the goal of education to accord top priority to human rights, and reject all forms of violence. Values such as freedom, justice, solidarity, and tolerance, which come from education helps building a culture of peace. Investing in our children’s education is the path to shaping a peaceful future. Building a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence through education depends on our ATTITUDES and our ACTIONS.
Every book I open is like a window into another world. It is like sailing through a universe of imagination. The page is like my boat, submerging me in letters, words, images and characters. Reading has changed my life and continues to change it everyday. I could not imagine my life without a book in my hands!
An estimated 250 million primary school-aged children in developing countries are struggling to read even basic words. If children do not know how to read then they won’t be able to learn. If they can’t learn they are less likely to reach their potential or help in the development of their nation and our world.
Because of these challenges the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has set an ambitious goal: cut in half the number of non-reading children in early grades in at least 20 of its developing country partners by 2015. To do this we need the skill, resources and collaboration of our many capable partners, but perhaps just as importantly, we need to inspire the rest of the world to help in the effort.
This was the genesis of this project. The photos and videos in this volume demonstrate that something many of us take for granted—the skill of reading—can change a life, a community and the world. Our Reading Changed My Life Photo and Video Contest, launched by GPE and more than 100 co-sponsors in September 2012, asked people around the world to submit first-person photo and video essays about how reading changed their life or the life of someone they know.
The results were stunning: 1,000 incredible stories from 93 countries, a symphony of creativity, cultures and colors. A common thread was the absolute joy and lasting impact that reading has on their lives, something that we were excited to share with you.
We hope these stories inspire you to get involved in our efforts to help millions of children learn and grow
Lead International Affairs Officer
Global Partnership for Education
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Visit readingchangedmylife.org to check out the winners and all photo and video entries submitted to the contest.
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We thank our co-sponsors for their crucial support in promoting the Reading Changed My Life contest. They recruited the contestants who created these wonderful, impactful images.