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Rana Madanat and Growing with Books

June 4, 2009 by · No comments

Vanya Nikolaeva’s interview with the founder of the Growing with Books organization Rana Madanat

Because I believe a person is what she strives for, I am happy to introduce Rana Madanat to you. A strong and charismatic person, whose look brings light. She delights me with her humanity as well as her sincere activities for a better world. A world that many of us dream about but few find within ourselves the needed confidence to foster change.

If you are reading this, you are likely happy that you don’t belong to the 30% of the people in the world who cannot read. 98% of those who are illiterate are citizens of a country in the developing world. Two-thirds of those people are women, whose primary goal is to raise their children. In the weakest developed countries every second person doesn’t go to school when they are young.

While opening the pages of a book or while impatiently looking forward to a favorite publication, we are far removed from the immediacy of global illiteracy. Even though illiteracy is predominant in dozens of countries, it tends to be hidden from view of those of us fortunate to be reading articles like this.
Rana Madanat is a Jordanian woman and the founder of the Growing with Books organization, which is affiliated with educational programs and the building and upkeep of libraries. Its’ aim is to raise literacy in these problematic regions of the world.

Rana loved books as a child. Growing up in Jordan gave her the perspective to appreciate the high price of poverty and illiteracy, and how often reality oppresses one’s dreams. Rana realized early on that lack of easy access to books and information narrows the horizon of imagination, so she devoted herself to the necessity of bringing about change.

How and when was the idea of Growing with Books born?

The idea of Growing with Books came about in February of 2007. In November of 2006 while I was visiting my mom in Jordan, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. I spent a lot of time with my siblings during my stay. One of my sisters has three children, and at that time they were under the age of eight. One evening my four year old nephew was running around in circles, being a kid.

I asked him to bring me his favorite story so I could read to him before he went to bed. I asked him a few times and each time he looked at me until I realized he didn’t’t understand what I meant. When I asked my sister where she kept the books for her kids, she replied, with a quizzical look on her face, that there were no books for kids, and if there were any, she certainly couldn’t’t afford them. Their main concern was to keep food on their table and to keep a roof over their heads.

I remembered the best time I had with my children was when they were young at bedtime. They eagerly waited for me to read them a story. I remembered the smiles and laughter we shared together. That was a special time. I will cherish it forever. But, I was sad thinking about what my sister and her children were missing. This is when the idea of Growing with books was born.

Photo: cleverclaire1983

Why does Growing with Books exist, what difference does it make to the world?

Growing with Books is a non-profit organization that will give access to education to every child in each and every home. Parents will find the stories that they provide to their young children will nurture their child’s love of reading and creativity. Having easy access to books will help their children grow up to be active adults in their community and the world at-large.

Photo: aloshbennett

Your homeland, Jordan, is the first country chosen for the project. How is your organization accepted there?

The concept was graciously welcomed by the local government after spending time building trust. Jordanians’ strongly believe in early childhood education. The Minister of Education of Jordan also believes that children need to begin reading before they enter school. Every home should know what “story time” is all about. We have had great warm-hearted letters from parents in different daycare centers where we have provided shelved libraries.

What a difference those books have made in their children’s lives. The children have begun telling their parents the stories they have heard, word for word. Most of the children have a favorite story and start using the new vocabulary they have learned. One dad mentioned that there is no longer a fight when his daughter goes to bed in night. She wants to go to sleep so she can get up to go to the daycare center to hear her favorite story again. In addition, we have been getting many requests for books from other daycare centers and communities, such as doctor’s offices, refugee centers, and community clinics. I believe that when people are given the opportunity to read books, they see for themselves the positive impact that it has on their children and their family.

Photo: KellyB

In general, do you face any obstacles on the road and what are they?

The main obstacle that I have faced so far is that there are few existing organizations that will work in the Middle East. Many people have the idea that all Middle East countries are wealthy, and because of this, there is no need for support from outside the country. However, Jordan is a poor country with limited resources. It houses more than 2 million refugees from the neighboring countries.

When I approach people for support, I need to explain the economic situation in Jordan; because most people do not understand the unique position Jordan is in. I am hoping at some point we do not have to look at the geographical area but look at education as a global need and that books are essential to each and every child. The second issue I have faced is being a single mom, a divorcee; some people from my culture do not want to support me because of this. It is shameful in my county to be divorced and it has, in some cases, become a barrier between me and my fellow countrymen.

I have found that some people do not want to work with or support the program because of the stigma attached to my name. Even though I have been divorced 10 years, to many it is as if only a day has passed. I, however, stay optimistic and truly believe that people will change their views. With education anything can change.

Photo: zoha_n

Would you broaden Growing with Books soon to more countries where illiteracy is a major problem?

I would love to broaden Growing with Books to other countries. My plan now is to expand, to have branches in Zarka and then to have libraries with branches in other cities in Jordan. And then who knows where it may grow. With support anything can happen. My view is that people need to have access to information and be educated to make better choices in their life. We live in a world with so many challenges; we really have to work on rethinking how we value literacy and how we can help others so they can help themselves. Everyone involved with Growing with Books is working hard to build a role model that can be easily adapted in different communities/countries where help is desperately needed.

Photo: zedzap

You have a very interesting and touching life story. What are the most valuable or important moments or people which/who helped you become what you are now?

My mom was the most important person in my life, my inspiration. She was a giver all her life. When I was a child she would take me with her to work on Sundays, and we would walk around the refugee camps in Zarka, where more than 50,000 thousand Palestinians lived at that time. She would go door-to-door to make sure that the mothers and their children were healthy and that they had enough food to eat. She would also check to see if their immunization shots were up-to-date. She always had a smile on her face and people kept inviting her to their home and offered her coffee and tea. (Even though our family is Christian, they accepted her as a family member.) Through her commitment to her work, she made many great friendships, which lasted a life time.

And now, I must say my children are the most important people in my life. They have taught me unconditional love, simplicity, and purity. My family has given me the strength to carry on. Without them I would not be the person I am today.

Photo: le vent le cri

What would the world be like with no books?

I can’t even imagine a world without books, without a way to connect through words with each other. Our ability to understand and to share our ideas and gain knowledge would be like a dark empty space.

Photo: wandy.arhol

Are the libraries and the books in general threatened in a way by the fast Internet conquest?

I really don’t feel that way. Maybe the new generation depends on fast information and on the fast Internet, but I do believe nothing will replace a great book to have in your hand to read.

What do you think about the paradox that people in the advanced countries tend to read less, while people from the poor ones dream to be able to read more?

I believe that many people in advanced countries, like myself, take things for granted. We think this is the way it is and there is nothing missing from our lives. People in poor countries value things they don’t have—they feel they are missing something. They know reading and being educated is the way to get out of poverty. They want to read to get an education to help themselves. It is a dream, a way out to a better life.

Photo: vox_efx

What values would you like your children to have?

The main thing I keep enforcing with my children is to love and respect themselves so others will respect them. I have taught them to treat others like they want to be treated, and most importantly they always need to give service to others in their community.

What is your biggest dream as a founder of Growing with Books and what is your biggest dream as a person?

My biggest dream as founder is to make books available for every child around the globe and see young women get an education and value themselves as valuable, important people in society. My dream for myself is to be able to spend my summer not working but traveling and reading stories to children.

Photo: alicepopkorn

What cannot be learned from books?

I believe we can read lots of books about other people and feel we know them through their stories, but unless we go through the same experience, we will never know it fully. It is not possible to be in someone else’s shoes.

What are your favorite books and authors?

My favorite children’s books are; Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Train Spotting by Irvin Welsh and I Was Amazed by Dostoevsky. Some of my favorite novels are; Notes From Underground, Robinson Crusoe and the Kit Runner. I would also include any novels that touch us as human beings, make us think and talk about our humanity and our relationship to each other and to the universe.

Your favorite sentence?

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them”. Mother Theresa

Photo: celerrimus

I would never…

Say never.

I will always …

Be grateful for who I am.

Would you like to add something in conclusion?

I would love to extend an invitation to everyone who loves to support Growing with Books, so we together could create a future that will fit for our children, a future where children live in peace and dignity.

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