GV sisters create literacy nonprofit

GVL / Courtesy - Rebecca and Elizabeth Williams

GVL / Courtesy – Rebecca and Elizabeth Williams

Doctor Seuss once said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Believing in this idea that knowledge is power, Grand Valley State University sisters Elizabeth and Rebecca Williams started Books IV Bonding, a nonprofit organization focused on the literacy of high school students abroad and in the U.S. Their goal is to promote international communication and foster understanding of the similarities between different nations.

“We want to give students reading materials so they can identify with characters and blog on our website,” said Elizabeth, a junior majoring in advertising and public relations. “We wanted to promote literacy for high school students and provide cross-cultural literature.”

Scholastic invited the sisters to the “Bigger Than Words” webcast in New York City on Nov. 6, where they received 2,000 books for their nonprofit. The girls are internationally certified ambassadors for Usher’s New Look Foundation, which collaborated with Scholastic at the event.

Elizabeth said these books will benefit 9th through 12th grade students in Kibera, Kenya, who will read and discuss books with students from Detroit Public Schools. This is their first initiative.

“Kibera is the slums of Kenya, where there is a dire need for food, water and housing,” she said. “Surprisingly, they have technology, but no books. They long to have books, but they don’t have access to them.”

Rebecca, a GVSU senior majoring in public administration, said the idea for Books IV Bonding came from her 2011 trip to Kenya, where Usher’s New Look established a chapter. While there, she built close-knit relationships with the students and saw that they face similar social issues to children in the U.S. She knew books could be part of the solution.

“When you help broaden someone’s perspective, you shift their world, their possibility, their creativity,” she said. “You can also ignite their passion for something they never knew existed. Knowledge is one of the greatest treasures that you can never take away from anyone.”

She added that the goal is for Books IV Bonding to become a global nonprofit that will allow youth to reflect on their personal experiences, find commonalities with other students and develop new perspectives.

“This will help create a band of leaders who learn how to be conscious global citizens,” Rebecca said. “They will have a better understanding of their global community. Young people can open a world of possibilities at a young age.”

The Williams sisters are planning a trip to Kenya within the next two years to work directly with their connections in the country.

“It saddens me to be in a place of abundance when my peers in Kibera, Kenya don’t have the same privilege,” Elizabeth said. “In America, it’s an abundance of books and libraries, but in a place of despair, there’s a dire need for reading and education when there’s a lack of books.”

According to the United States Agency for International Development, 40 percent of school-age children in Africa do not attend school. Forty-six million African children have never set foot in a classroom.

Most African children who attend school have never owned a book of their own. In many classrooms, 10 to 20 students share one textbook.

For more information about Books IV Bonding, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Books-IV-Bonding/1494936344123899. For more information about Usher’s New Look, visit www.ushersnewlook.org. To watch the full webcast, visit www.usherwebcast.scholastic.com.

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