“What’s your favorite book?” is a common question asked by new friends or job interviews. We often assume that everyone has one. When I ask this question of my public high school students in NYC the majority respond, “I don’t have a favorite.” After prying a little more, they admit that they’ve never read a book that wasn’t assigned to them in school. No wonder they don’t have a favorite! Thinking back to my own school days, I rarely liked the books we read in school, principally because they were assigned as homework and because I hadn’t chosen to read them of my own accord. This seems to be a common phenomenon.
In Panama, we often ask our scholarship recipients a series of questions to get to know them better. In previous years we would ask them to list their favorite book; every single student would respond “the Bible.” We gleaned from this response that for many of our students that the only book in their homes is a copy of the Bible. This reality crystallized for us this year on our annual trip to the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé for the Few for Change scholarship ceremony.
After the ceremony, we visited two of the communities where our volunteers and students live. We stayed in Hato Chami with our community volunteer Agripina Sandoya, her husband, and three children, Kevin, Kenneth, and Karen. During our stay went on a tour of the town with Agripina’s son Kevin, a Few for Change scholarship recipient who graduated from high school last year. Kevin took us through the community and led us around the school, which was getting ready for the academic year to begin a few weeks later. As often happens in Panama, it started pouring and we sought shelter under a gazebo in the school yard.
Under the gazebo, Kevin told us about his last year of high school and that he had read his first novel! He was excited because he had previously thought that he didn’t like books. We asked what other books he had read and he said that he had only read his school textbooks up until that point. We all laughed and commiserated with Kevin, agreeing that if we had only been reading textbooks we wouldn’t have liked books either.
Back at his family’s house, we discovered the novel, a Spanish language version of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. The book stood out in the understated wooden house with its bright orange and gilt cover. We asked where the book came from and Agripina told us that FFC volunteer Abby Outterson had mailed the book to them from Panama City following her visit to the Comarca this past July. Kevin’s younger brother Kenneth had voraciously read Abby’s copy of Harry Potter in Spanish when she stayed with the family and she had found The Alchemist at one of the country’s few bookstores and mailed it to them.
This got us thinking: we should recreate this experience for all of our scholarship recipients! In honor of World Book Day, we are setting a goal of giving all 26 of our students a book. If we can help foster a love of reading, this just might translate into a deeper love of learning in general, and spark their imaginations.
World Book Day takes place each year on April 23. According to the UN, “23 April is a symbolic date for world literature. It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Maurice Druon, Haldor K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo.”
To celebrate World Book Day, we are starting a book drive for the FFC scholarship recipients. Visit our Amazon wishlist to help us realize this goal and buy one of the listed books, or share one of your own favorite titles for our lending library! Help us recreate what Abby did for Kevin and Kenneth for all 26 of our scholarship recipients! (Remember - Students in the Comarca speak Spanish, so please only purchase books that are in Spanish!)