Delighting Children from Deprived Backgrounds, with Books and Smiles!
As part of Cisco’s Global Service week, where employees can volunteer with charitable partners benefitting local communities, a few colleagues and myself got involved with a charity called Delight. The Delight charity, set up and run by Kathryn Mills, uses original arts experiences and books to improve literacy in children particularly those at Key Stage 1 (KS1) and Key Stage 2 (KS2) and through the work of Delight, the charity supports the national curriculum helping schools to get the best literacy outcomes from their children.
It’s a sad fact that in a country like the UK where we believe it is affluent and successful, there is poverty. For example, in Surrey where Delight mainly operates, 27,000 children live in a poverty or come from a deprived background1. That’s 1 in every 3 children in this county alone. Quite a startling fact.
Talking with Kathryn, she told me that on World Book Day one child brought in a shopping catalogue as he wanted to bring something in, but did not own any books. Poverty strips children of life experiences and deprives them of the opportunity to grow successfully and academically. Additionally, many of these children do not get access to basic things we take for granted, such as books. I can’t imagine a world where children don’t have the variety, richness and joy that a book can bring – but sadly it’s here, right now and on my doorstep. Being a parent myself, I see first-hand how books play a massive part in the development of my children.
We helped Kathryn and her team to prepare for a book day at a local school. The morning started in a rundown unit on a small business estate in Redhill. The first job of the day was to sort donated books. All of Delight’s books are donated by the public and in a typical year they will handle over 70,000.
As part of the sorting, Kathryn explained that we need to be ruthless in our filtering. Anything that didn’t look as good as new would be recycled. Her reason? She wants every child to see they are getting something of quality. No dog ears, no tears, no marks, no stains. Every child needs to feel they are the first owner of a book.
After sorting them into two age groups (KS1 and KS2), we boxed them up and headed for St. John’s Primary School in Dorking. Immediately on entering the school, you could sense the pride both teachers and children had through the display of their work adorning every square inch of wall – pictures, photos and motivational words.
Next job – preparing for the children. We set up lots of tables and then did our best to display
as many of the books as possible. We had with us well over 1,000 books! Kathryn explained that every child in the school had received a voucher – and this entitled them to choose a book and take it away for free.
Year R were the first to come into the hall and quietly sat down on the floor waiting in anticipation as Kathryn helped them understand what they should do. And then, as quick as flash lots of children were excitedly looking at the books and choosing one in exchange for a voucher. What sticks with me now is the warm glow on every child’s excited face as they chose their book and went running off to show their teacher what they had chosen. It was like Christmas had come early for them. It was genuinely an emotional moment.
As the day progressed we saw more and more children and the excitement never stopped. Our job was to not only help them with their book choice, but to encourage them to read it – and to make it a family event.
Finally, the last part of the day was to let parents come into the hall, accompanied by their children (in fact I will say the children dragged them in!) where they could buy a book for just 20p. Talking with parents, everyone was saying what a fantastic idea it was. One parent told me she was so grateful as there was no way she could afford books, even though she knew how important they were. Her child had the remains of her birthday money which totalled 60p and wanted to spend it on books. Even though she chose 5, I put the extra 40p in to ensure she got the ones she wanted!
In total, 871 books were taken by the children and we engaged 90 parents. If we helped to develop just one child’s love of books and literacy, then to me that was worth the entire day we spent with the charity. Job done.
1 Research conducted by Surrey Community Foundation Services, 2015Tags: