It started six years ago with a 12-year old California girl passionate about reading who wanted to do something to help children across the world in Africa. She was stunned to learn that as many as 3 out of 4 children in some African nations do not know how to read because they do not have access to books. Now 18, Tatiana Grossman has started 21 libraries for 22,000 people in six African nations. Tatiana’s story of giving is so inspiring as she started with a simple book drive table and has continued to scale and change lives through founding Spread the Words – all while keeping up the busy life as a student (and soon to be Stanford freshman).
My daughter and I met Tatiana through the annual Stanford Beyond the Farm charity day. Our dear friend Ellen invited us to sort books for Africa. We joined with 25 other volunteers to sort 3,700 books that had been accumulated over the year through Tatiana’s efforts and her family’s support (imagine how full their garage was with all of the books).
Why send books to Africa? Books provide the vehicle to education which is the key to climbing out of poverty and overall survival. Africa has the highest illiteracy rate in the world and most African children do not grow up with books. (This is in stark contrast to our bookshelves where the problem is finding the time to read what we have.)
To get the books to Africa, Tatiana works with the African Library Project who finds a village or school in need of a library. Often, the library is non-existent in the town or school until the connection is made and a commitment of 1,000 books to create the library is completed. In many cases, the teachers are teaching basic courses of reading, writing and arithmetic without any books.
Tatiana started by sending books to Africa, but she is also focused on addressing the illiteracy gap through scale with her own organization Spread the Words to inspire other children to help. Spread the Words, provides information on how others and can create and support school libraries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, whether it is creating your own book drives or donating to Tatiana’s organization.
The next big leap for Share the Words in addressing the literacy gap is to deliver portable solar-powered digital projectors with textbooks, educational videos and early reading books pre-loaded. Through grants, a team of Silicon Valley tech and education resources, and through award recognition from the World of Children, this dream is becoming a reality for Tatiana’s organization and Sub-Saharan Africa.
I asked Tatiana what has been her biggest surprise:
Do you have an inspiring tween or teen making a difference in your community or beyond? Share in the comments below!
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