BC Book-a-Thon Brings Literature Across Borders, Cultures

Everyone has a story, but not every story can be understood by everyone. Native languages mean that students around the globe do not have the same access to reading material as an English-speaking student does. An unexpected meeting between Erik Owens, the interim director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, and his former student Amie Harris, BC ’11, at a conference in Washington, D.C., sparked an attempt to address this problem.

Harris works at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), where she is a central figure in a pilot program, a Book-a-Thon, that takes stories written by anyone in the world and brings them across borders, across cultures, and across languages to children in need. Owens has worked to bring this pilot program to Boston College with an upcoming event, titled “Stories That Move,” which will bring a new software called BLOOM to campus. With this software, anyone can write in his preferred language and upload his final product, a short book, to an online and free digital library, where the book is translated into over 50 languages and made available to download. This makes a wide variety of writing from across the globe available for consumption to those who would otherwise go without.

“Everyone has an identity that’s really valuable,” said Omeed Alidadi, MCAS ’18, an undergraduate research assistant who has been vital in the planning of the event. “Any small story that you have can be framed in such a way that can really inspire people around the world.”

Children’s literature is the main emphasis of the event, as each attendee will be given the chance to write his own story that will be made available throughout the world to improve literacy resources.

The event will be held Tuesday Nov. 15, from 4:30 to 7 in Campion 016. It will begin with an introduction from Harris and Christie Vilsack, a senior adviser for international education at USAID. Then, a keynote presentation will be given by Peter Reynolds, a New York Times bestselling children’s author who has sold 20 million books in 25 languages worldwide. His 2003 children’s book The Dot, about the power and universality of artistic creation, has even started an international movement to inspire youth creativity, including a specific date called International Dot Day.

During the speech, attendees will have notecards available to brainstorm and plan out the stories they want to create.

“This will fuel some imagination among the audience,” Alidadi said. Each attendee will be able to plan out what they would like to write and then interact with the BLOOM software on laptops that will be available for them to use. They can then use the software to translate their writing and make their work available for the promotion of literacy worldwide. It is this promotion of international education and literacy that interested Alidadi, who also founded a writing group for international graduate students.

“I think all of us can find our voices through writing and be able to use our writing as a way to help and serve others,” Alidadi said. The event offers this opportunity directly, as the short books that students write are made available and can directly benefit the education of children in underprivileged nations.

This cause has received University-wide support, as the event is sponsored by the Lynch School of Education, the Morrissey College of Arts of Sciences, and the School of Social Work, as well as the Boisi Center. Owens believes the event embodies many important themes of a BC education that the University wants to emphasize. To promote the idea of men and women for others, for example, the event works toward social justice and achieving worldwide literacy. It brings together many of the concerns of BC students and faculty—education, literacy, international issues, and more—and allows participants to do something that directly benefits these causes.

“Each of these different schools … they all have a unique and special interest in this kind of thing as well, and that’s why we’ve had such an enthusiastic response,” Owens said. In the relatively short time that Owens and the others have planned this event, they have received considerable support and are looking forward to learning from the pilot program and continuing the work of promoting international literacy.  

The Book-a-Thon is planned to be a yearly event. After this year’s pilot program, USAID is planning to launch a full program in the future, and BC would be able to continue hosting the events and generating writing to help children across the globe learn how to read.

Students who are interested in being a part of this effort must register to attend the event, as the space is limited. The event will also be promoted through a student committee and through social media campaigns, such the hashtag #BCbookathon.

“We’re trying to really have more of a long term impact, more longevity,” Aladadi said. “So the program doesn’t just sit as a program, as an event on a single day, but is more of a long-term impact.”


Featured Image by James Lucey / Heights Editor

Maddie Phelps

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