Making Sense of Senseless Loss and Unfair Disparities
Opa and grand-daughter enjoying a great book. Generations connecting through the wonder of literacy.
I have not written for a bit because there has just been too much going on. As I previously shared, my dad died unexpectedly after a fall and surgery in November. Then my mom was diagnosed with cancer less than two weeks later – both such painful events I am not ready to write about them in detail yet.
And to top it off, I had a huge fundraiser for my not for profit, Open Hearts Big Dreams, on December 9. Many people had been planning all year and as they say “the show must go on.” It was both a welcome healing distraction and a challenge that often felt like more than I could handle. I looked for synergies and ways to connect efforts. When I thought what I wanted to say at the event, it started to come together more clearly.
My parents were both teachers and immigrants and believed in the power of opportunity through education and hard work (the latter we were not always thrilled about growing up).
A painful truth is kids’ potential around the world is equal but their opportunity is not.
This became super personal to us nine years ago when we brought home our daughter and compared the opportunities she had living in the US to the opportunities of a little girl growing up in her birth country.
The huge disparity is wrong. So two years later we started figuring out what we could do. We first funded an Ethiopia Reads library in the town where our daughter was born –Bahir Dar. It serves over two thousand kids, many of whom are hearing impaired. We are super excited it is expanding this year to accommodate all the kids who want to use it.
And we then started Open Hearts Big Dreams because we believed with both (and open wallets don’t hurt either), we could make this change possible. Over the last six years, many people around the globe helped us raised close to half a million dollars toward that goal.
Two years ago, we started thinking about how to have an even larger impact.
Where were the gaps and projects that if addressed would be game changers?
And we decided we needed a new model launched Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund as it’s own NGO. Ready Set Go Books is our first game changing project.
Take a moment and ask yourself two questions:
- Do you know how to read?
- Did you learn to read with books?
For more than half the kids (and adults) in Ethiopia, the answer to the first question is, “No.” And for a large number of those who can answer “Yes.” to the first question, the answer is “No.” to the second question.
Can you imagine never getting the chance to learn to read. And even if you did, never getting to hold a book in your hand?
We have BIG, audacious goals: We want to improve the literacy rate in Ethiopia by closing a key gap – early language books. But we can’t do it alone, we need help from all corners of the globe and all skills sets.
- We need to create the books: We need 200 at least – each one a work of art that takes lots of time, effort, and talent – mostly volunteer at this point. We have 12 completed so far and lots more in earlier stages – we need to greatly accelerate their creation over the next 24 months. Proceeds from sales on Amazon will fund creating more.
- We need to print and distribute the books: Ethiopia Reads (ER) just did a successful local test print run of 10,000 books in Addis Ababa. We need hundreds of thousands all across Ethiopia. ER is ready to distribute through their libraries and be the distribution center within Ethiopia for other interested organizations. We are also in conversations with the Ethiopia Red Cross who may distribute through their youth centers.
- We need to teach the teachers: Their instruction needs to include how to use the books to help more kids learn to read. We also know these kids can then teach their parents and communities. We have the curriculum build by some fantastic academics and Ethiopia Reads is ready to set up the training.
- Is it crazy to think we can improve the literacy rate of a country? And not a small one either – a huge country with a population approaching 100 MM?
- Are we insane to even try without huge dollars or an extensive organization backing us?
- Can ordinary people like us really make this type of impact?
Steve Jobs said it best:
“The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
I want to be one of those crazy ones!! My little daughter inspires us every day to make the impossible possible for kids like her. And I hope I will make my dad and mom proud in the process.