By ROBERTA ALVES AND MARIE L'HERMINE
Photos taken by AVSI staff in Ivory Coast
In a country where only 56.9% of the population are able to read and write, AVSI found an easy and exciting way to bring thousands of new books to children’s doorsteps: foldable mobile libraries. As part of the project implemented by AVSI under the leadership of the World Food Programme (WFP), “Integrated Support for Sustainable School Canteens and Early Grade Reading in Ivory Coast” (2016-2020), 80,000 books will be distributed to 613 schools in seven program regions: Cavally, Bafing, Bagoue, Poro, Tchologo, Boukani and Gontougo. Each school will receive a mobile library which can hold up to 30 books and will include titles written by Ivorian, African and Francophone authors.
The project aims to improve the literacy skills of children attending primary school in Ivory Coast by assisting the Ministry of Education with the implementation of its new early grade reading curriculum including training teachers and facilitating parent and community involvement in literacy related activities. The World Food Programme (WFP) will be implementing a school feeding program in the same 613 schools with the intention of improving the nutritional status of children. Both sets of outcomes—nutrition and early reading skills—will complement each other for greater impact on the lives of these children in Ivory Coast.
Research has shown the importance that access to books has in promoting a love of reading and fundamental skills at a young age.
“We want to give children a broader understanding of the French language,” explains Elly Bahati, AVSI Education Officer and Program Manager in Ivory Coast. “We began by choosing Ivorian authors as a priority and then we expanded with titles published in African Francophone countries and finally we included other books written in French”.
In July, the first step in this five-year project funded by the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program through USDA, came to a close. AVSI, in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Ivory Coast Ministry of Education, and the National Statistical Institute (INS) carried out a robust baseline assessment of schools targeted for the project. AVSI brought on board the services of IMPAQ International, a DC based firm with plenty of experience in education evaluation, to test the reading skills of students in 100 primary schools in the seven regions. 1,181 students went through the testing—a combination of a reading assessment and school and household surveys. The main goal was to understand how many students can read according at grade level at the beginning of the project.
The results were poor, but not unexpected. Very few students can read at grade level: only 5% of first graders passed the acceptable reading threshold for their grade. Reading proficiency levels were low across all grades and the numbers seem to get worse as the children grow older: 14% of second graders, 22% of third graders, 11% of fourth graders, 6% of fifth graders, and 8% of sixth graders read at grade level. Across all grades, girls demonstrated lower reading skills than boys.
One positive finding was the widespread interest that children expressed towards reading. “Although there is a low presence of books outside of schools and low parental engagement in reading at home, children show a positive attitude towards reading and a growing desire for having access to more books,” says Bahati.
In the next few months, children at these schools in mostly rural regions of the country, will have the opportunity to be introduced to the mobile libraries through interactive activities like story time, music, theater and individual reading. The mobile libraries have already been used in big cities like the capital, Abidjan, but this will be the first time they are introduced in these regions. They were created with the idea of introducing books to children in a fun way.
AVSI Network was able to collect 30,000 books around the World
Once the project is completed, 125,000 children will have access to 80,000 books. 30,000 of them were donated to AVSI from francophone countries like Switzerland and France. The other 50,000 will be bought. Once each school has their library, children will be able to take books home on a regular basis to read with their families.
As part of the project, teachers working in the seven regions will also receive training on how to use improved tools to teach math and reading. The main new tools are a series of booklets designed to help students have a better understanding of letters and sounds in order to decode words and be able to read.
“This project is fundamental to deal with the current struggle with illiteracy in Ivory Coast and we are confident it will bring positive changes,” says Coulibaly Adama, General Adjunct of the National Ministry of Education.
AT THE CENTER OF ATTENTION WITH RIO OLYMPICS, COUNTRY EXPERIENCES ITS WORST ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CRISIS
By FABRIZIO Pellicelli *
Photos by Gabriel Nacimento (top) and Antonello Veneri (slideshow)
In these days, when Brazil is at the center of international attention with the Rio Olympics, the country is experiencing the worst economic crisis, and political and institutional reforms of its democratic history. The striking contrast between the grandeur of the opening ceremony and the actual condition of the majority of Brazilians forces basic questions: how is it possible that these two realities continue to coexist? How is it possible that tens of millions of people still live in extreme poverty, with no water, food, education, hospitals, work? Is there a common understanding, either in Brazil or in the rest of the world, as to the reasons for this great disparity and social injustice?
On the opening day of Rio 2016, I happened to be in the Sertão, the semi-arid Brazilian outback, a very poor region north of Rio, which alone represents 9% of the Brazilian territory and is home to 11% of the entire population. I was there to start a development project on behalf of some local communities that AVSI Brazil intends to implement with a large Italian industrial group which has expanded its activities to that region. The project aims to contribute to the improvement of living conditions for hundreds of local families.
The Sertão is the clearest mirror of Brazilian inequality. In this region, unlike the area surrounding Rio which has been polished up for the big event, there are no roads without potholes. The local roads are largely unpaved and red Brazilian earth soils the white of the horses.
There has been no rain in the Sertão since January; a tragedy in a place where the local water depends mainly on rainfall. Though high quality underground water flows in abundance, the State, which has invested billions of Reals to extract of oil in the pre-salt region, is unable to build water wells for its population.
The positive international image of Brazil being broadcast in these day is surely helpful: an emerging country, thanks in part to Olympics. But this growth should generate new wealth to reinvest in development policies. The State has a duty to ensure access to basic services for people, to ensure a basic infrastructure and to attract private investment in a sustainable manner, which is also compatible with its land and culture.
Private businesses are vital players when seeking a better redistribution of wealth. In Brazil, corporate social responsibility models have reached very advanced stages. They are based on the concept of mutual gain for the private sector and for society as a whole, which is seen as a set of stakeholders in a given region.
These models call for the active involvement of the third (non-profit) sector, through partnerships that create wealth for the region, stimulate employment, promote access to new knowledge and technology, and form the basis of thoughtful cultural and environmental development the country.
The associations of the Brazilian non-profit sector can be effective in promoting sustainable development. They guarantee a stable presence in contexts where the State struggles, or is has no interest, to serve. Even in the poorest places in Brazil, there exist non-profit associations that arose in response to the practical needs of the people and the desire of people at all levels of society to be protagonists of their own development.
The faces and stories of the people of the Sertão may appear "unnecessary" in a society where a "culture gap" dominates, but they can teach us to rediscover the value of solidarity and the positivity of life, even in extreme conditions. The Olympics may represent a unique opportunity to reveal this other face of Brazil.
* Fabrizio Pellicelli is CEO of AVSI Brazil. AVSI has been present in Brazil since the
1980's and works in various fields of development, such as urban development, energy efficiency and education. The staff of AVSI, is composed of over 1,000 people and its programs reaches 2.6 million direct beneficiaries worldwide.
Read, watch, listen and share news and stories of our work, initiatives and more