Dispatching Volunteer Bibliotherapy Teams to the Flooded Regions
Reaching out to children in crisis is one of the fundamental goals of the “Read with Me” program. Which is why Read with Me experts are responsible to be around these children in their hardships and lessen their pains. Therefore, ever since the beginnings of the series of destructive floods all over Iran in spring 2019, Read with Me experts have been attempting to evaluate the possibilities and conditions to organize a schedule for helping flooded regions in Lorestan, Khouzestan and Golestan provinces. Read with Me hopes to utilize its 2-year long experience among children shaken by the Kermanshah earthquakes for this pursuit.
Taking its former experiences with children in crisis into account, the “Read with Me” program has introduced two major phases for helping children and families struggling with flooding:
- Short-term: dispatching trained volunteers with Book Backpacks and Book Packages to flooded regions during the initial days and weeks of flooding with the purpose of Bibliotherapy through Reading Aloud quality books, having dialogue with children and carrying out various book-related activities, in order to help them cope better with the emotional pressures of this crisis.
- Long-term: Continuous training workshops for volunteers, tutors and residents of flooded regions as well as establishing child-centered libraries as lasting education bases for children and their families.
Accordingly, Read with Me follows three steps:
- Inviting “Read with Me” volunteers for dispatching to flooded regions.
- Providing quality books that are relevant to the conditions of children in crisis in the form of Book Backpacks and Book Packages, along with book-related activity equipment such as coloring and crafting tools.
- Providing guidelines and hand books on children in crisis and trauma for tutors and volunteers.
During natural disasters and the events that follow, children are extremely vulnerable and are often neglected in the course of assistances. Reading books, theater and games have been proven to reduce anxiety, create opportunities for recovery and have overall healing effects on children under emotional pressures caused by disastrous events such as floods and earthquakes. Child development experts have encouraged Bibliotherapy for hospitalized children, children who have lost friends or parents and children of war or natural disasters. Literature can help children understand their emotions, empathize with the characters who are going through the same problems and gain a new perspective on how to deal with people with the same troubles. It serves as a mirror that reflects their physical appearances, social relations, emotions and thoughts. Books can invite children to observe beyond themselves and their environment in order to connect to the characters and their states.
In Group Bibliotherapy, children and young adults read stories aloud, or are read aloud to. The dialogic reading aloud sessions and the related activities such as performing plays, make them realize they are not alone and can share their troubles and sadness with others.
Child-centered Library: A Safe Home to Children and Families
The experiences of Read with Me in crisis-stricken areas, especially those gained during Kermanshah earthquakes have shown that in case reading and its related activities are carried out systematically, pursuing goal-oriented schedules with child-centered libraries that can meet children’s needs, eventually these libraries turn into safe bases for children and their families, helping out children and young adults with their development, education and problem-solving skills.
Read with Me first started its implementation in Lorestan Province in 2014 and has since, with the cooperation of the Lorestan Education Office, covered a number of cities, villages and nomadic schools in Kouhdasht, KhorramAbad and Sepiddasht. With the emergence of natural disasters, “Read with Me” project supervisors have tried to contact the Education Office and tutors that had been trained by them in the past years, in order to inquire about the situation of the covered schools, students and their physical and emotional states and their needs as well as assessing damage to the libraries and books.
Unfortunately, it was revealed that:
KhorramAbad Child-centered Library which had been established in 2017 by the supports of Yarra Foundation and served as a base for the region’s schools, nearby village and nomadic schools in particular, has been severely damaged due to the flooding, with more than 200 books destroyed and library equipment harmed.
Classrooms and “Read with Me” school libraries in a number of villages such as Dehbozorg’s Zeyn-ol-Abedin Elementary School have also been damaged by the flood.
The destruction of roads that connected Read with Me covered areas has also led to accessibility difficulties for school teachers.
Assisting Children in Crisis Association sought to provide a safe and joyous atmosphere for children and find methods of necessary trainings in crisis preparation from the very beginnings of flooding in Poldokhtar region. In their course of investigations, they reached the conclusion that children of Poldokhtar don’t have access to any quality books and no books are being read in this region. So they invited the “Read with Me” team to fill in the lack of quality books and bring the joy of reading to children in Poldokhtar. The Read with Me team was set out immediately.
The first dispatched team arrived at Poldokhtar on 22 April 2019 and started the Bibliotherapy process through Reading Aloud quality books and book-related activities, helping children deal better with the pressures of the disastrous event.
In addition to holding Reading Aloud sessions and book-related activities in the two main camps of the city (sheltering 75 families), one kindergarten and “Cham Mehr”, “Baba Zeyd” and “Mourani” villages, this team, consisting of “Read with Me” experts and volunteers, evaluated the region for planning a long-term support for its children.
Furthermore, a number of mothers, tutors and volunteers were given simple instructions along with Book Packages so that they would continue to read with children.
Two weeks later, following the alleviation of the initial crisis, many disaster assistance teams departed the region, leaving children and families in serious financial and emotional crisis. Therefore, by arranging yet another trip, the region’s project supervisor, two read with me members , traveled to the region. By inviting Poldokhtar tutors and teachers to cooperate and proposing the establishment of either a permanent or a mobile library, they tried to ensure the sustainability of “Read with Me” in this area so that they could offer much more lasting supports to children and families.
Plans and Suggestions:
- One of the region’s teachers who has been living in the flood relief camps, has shown interest and has volunteered to cooperate. She is a suitable option for implementing the Read with Me program among the children of flooded Poldokhtar in the long run. By training and supporting her, she could become one of the local promoters of Read with Me in this region.
- In case of providing the necessary resources, Read with Me is now prepared to build a library as its base, in a building or a camp and start purposefully training locals, teachers and mothers in addition to providing Book Backpacks.
Chegini – Roudbar Regions
In the course of implementing the Read with Me program in Lorestan schools, and due its positive effect on the children of this region, Lorestan Education Office has been very cooperative, and introduced a number of flooded yet neglected areas to the Read with Me team. Hence, the second “Read with Me” team was dispatched to this province on 28 April 2019 with Elaheh Siavoshin as project supervisor.
Firstly, the team assessed damage to KhorramAbad Library and gave necessary instructions to its librarian along with a number of books.
Then, the team was set out to villages in Chegini and Roudbar regions accompanied by members of the Education Office, Iranian Red Crescent Society and a number of volunteers from Kouhdasht who had been formerly trained by “Read with Me” experts. Despite the serious inflicted damage to this area, the number of groups dispatched for assistance were surprisingly low.
During this trip, in addition to Reading Aloud to children, the Read with Me team spoke with a number of interested teachers, evaluating their potential in carrying out the project. One of the teachers was also given a Book Backpack.
Plans and Suggestions:
- As of now, two teachers in two villages have expressed their willingness in Reading Aloud to children. Following arrangements with the Education Office, a school has to be chosen as base so that these two teachers, with the supervision of one of the local volunteers trained by Read with Me, start holding Reading Aloud sessions and lending books to children throughout the summer using the Book Packages that have been sent to them. If this project proves successful, it is possible to consider building a permanent base in this region.
- It is necessary to compensate for damages inflicted to KhorramAbad Library and replacing the lost books and equipment. Active Read with Me school libraries have to recover as well.
The third Read with Me team dispatched to flooded regions traveled to a number of flood-stricken areas in Khouzestan on 10 May 2019. Accompanied by two volunteer locals who had a thorough knowledge of the region’s conditions and needs, the Read with Me team visited four villages and two areas damaged by flood. The team spoke with tutors, teachers and families after having had Reading Aloud and book-related activity sessions with children. A 5-hour long workshop was also held for 40 tutors, volunteers and mothers about how to hold Reading Aloud sessions for children. In the end, a number of quality books were given out among the participants so that they could alternately use them to hold Reading Aloud sessions for children of the nearby villages.
Separate meetings with Gouriyeh County and City Council were held in which both agreed to cooperate.
Plans and Suggestions:
- Gouriyeh city has a lot of potential in continuing the implementation of the Read with Me program. The presence of one of the active Read with Me enthusiasts who is familiar with children’s literature, has connections in the region and is trusted among its people is a great advantage. There are about 700 households in Gouriyeh which means a great number of children can be covered in this city. Moreover, this city has 56 villages in the vicinity, all of which need assistance.
- Currently, there are 22 interested volunteers who will be participating in the Read with Me Basic Literacy Workshop and Art Workshop by the end of June 2019. Each of these volunteers will receive a Book Backpack including Learning Phonological and Phonemic Awareness Skills and Learning Numeracy Packages in order to work with children in the nearby villages, especially in kindergartens. Since children are bilingual in this region, these packages can be helpful.
- A place was suggested in the Gouriyeh Amusement Park for establishing a Read with Me child-centered library. By financing the library, this place can serve as a base for assisting local children.
- By now, two book displays containing quality books for different age groups will be set up in Gouriyeh Amusement Park so that in addition to lending books to children, trained volunteers can hold Reading Aloud sessions in this location.
- Consults with Education office are in progress in order to get the necessary licenses for Read with Me volunteers to be able to hold the same sessions in school classes for certain hours a week.
- In the long run, it is necessary to find a way of paying the volunteers.