What was the first book you remember reading? Do you remember how it made you feel? The scenes it painted in your mind? Our childhoods were influenced by the books we first read. We’d fantasize about the stories we want for ourselves.
Given the chance, we’d write our lives perfect down to the last detail—as inspired by our favorite characters, with loving families, not a care in the world. After all, we are the protagonists of our lives.
The big plot twist
However, not all kids are born into the privilege that could afford them literature. While they also fantasize perfect futures like we do, they are less equipped to make those dreams a reality. Luckily, there exist campaigns and projects that want to address this. One such project is called: Inspiring Minds with the Gift of Literacy.
The project, which was launched in 2018, aims to provide 50,000 new books and 20 mobile libraries to 100 schools over the next two years. The program is aimed at underserved urban and rural communities—upgrading their learning and other educational resources—and will directly benefit 500,000 students and teachers across these areas.
Why is access to reading important?
The students of these underserved communities get a little more—a little more help, a little more service, a little more hope. Against the greater systemic problem of poverty, every little effort counts. The students get a better glimpse of the world in the books they read so that maybe they could reach beyond the four walls of their classrooms and communities.
At the end of the day, reading develops skills that can open new worlds. We’ve heard about escaping into written worlds, but when you come out, you take something with you. Here are four ways that reading opens your world.
1. It expands your knowledge.
Beginning with the obvious, the more you read, the more you know. Any well-written book is packed with information. Before the internet and mass printing, books were means to document important events and knowledge. All the knowledge we have now was built off of the knowledge found in ancient manuscripts and tomes.
Now we have school textbooks that contain condensed and updated information. Rifle through any given elementary textbook, and you’re sure to pick up something new. Whether you didn’t know, or maybe you just forgot, all that information is just a page away.
It doesn’t end there. When it comes to works of fiction, aside from being escapes from reality, they also contain moral lessons for readers to pick up. Any given fictional work reflects the values of the time they were written in. It’s like studying history, but more fun, if you knew what to look for.
2. It develops critical thinking.
When you read, you’re always comparing what you’re discovering to what you already know. Whether you’ve read a thousand books before or just one, you’re always gathering information. You have your own set of beliefs which are put into question whenever a book mentions other options.
Choosing to accept or reject this new knowledge presented is an exercise in critical thinking. Not only do you pick up facts. You also learn how to think for yourself. After all, we aren’t just sponges, absorbing and accepting everything we’re told. Oh, what a gullible world that would be.
3. Reading is an exercise in creativity.
To understand what’s written on the pages, you have to lose yourself in it. Whether it’s fiction or otherwise, reading develops razor-sharp focus. You become attuned to details you wouldn’t have picked up by just skimming the page. It’s how the words on paper become sights, smells, and sounds in your mind.
The thing about that though is, no else will experience a book the same way you do. Whatever scenes play out in your head are unique to the way your mind colors the words on the page. Even science books take a certain amount of imagination when reading through them. Until you’ve seen it for yourself, it’s up to your mind’s eye to fill in the details.
None of us have ever been to Venus, but we’re all just a book away from knowing what it’s like to stand on its surface.
4. Reading is an exercise in empathy.
When you read, you’re immersed in someone else’s perspective, be it a character’s or the author’s. That’s the beginning of empathy. While sympathy may translate as pity, it has a certain detachment from the situation someone else is experiencing.
In contrast to that, empathy is the active choice to feel what the other is feeling—to put yourself in their shoes rather than standing by as a spectator. Surely you’ve rooted for a character at one point or another—hoping they would overcome their struggle, wondering what else they could do.
That happens because you’ve invested your emotions in their experience. It doesn’t mean you have to swoop in to save them from their problems. For someone going through tough times (not strictly referring to fictional characters), it means a lot to have someone who fully understands.
Because of all the people we will ever encounter, this skill is important in navigating through life.
What is left unwritten?
Reading allows us to write the world’s collective story better. The more you read, the more you know, the more you practice these skills. Of the four mentioned above, the most important thing to develop is empathy. Knowledge, creativity, and critical thinking mean little without it.
It’s empathy that allows us to contextualize our actions to make a better mark on the world. Every book is an opportunity to learn, and challenge what we know and ultimately, ourselves. As with any challenge, we grow as we resolve or overcome them. Needless to say, an inspired mind can move mountains and see beyond the horizon.
In a bid to push this, the MoneyGram Foundation made an initiative to mark the project’s halfway point with an event in the Herminigildo J. Atienza Elementary School in Manila City, earlier this June. Volunteers from The Storytelling Project had the students reenacting tales from children’s books as they read aloud.
This was followed by the representatives of the MoneyGram Foundation and Asia Foundation turning the new books over in a ceremony. Aside from the “MoneyGram Gift Cart,” a library on wheels, the school library’s catalogue will also be updated and upgraded.
Through the campaign, students born into adversity become better equipped to write better lives for themselves and their families. Education is, after all, a key (albeit not the only) factor to success.
A question now remains for you, dear reader: what kind of story are you writing?
When people read about your life, what will they find? Does your story uplift others? Does it inspire hope? Your book is unfinished. How will you write the rest?