My Interview with S.T.E.L.L.A.A. Co-Founder, Joanna Ferensowicz

As today is my stop on the S.T.E.L.L.A.A. blog tour (info in my original post here), I want to first tell you a little bit about my experience with reading.

I started reading as a very young child, as both my parents loved to read and championed books at every opportunity. I was lucky enough to get books for Christmas, birthdays, and even to be read to every night before I went to sleep. My mother was reminiscing yesterday about how much fun it was for her to read books written for young children and then, a few years later, for young adults. I was lucky to be given these wonderful tools growing up and I never took it for granted.

Last summer I watched the documentary Waiting for Superman with my mum and it really stunned me. I knew things were rough in many schools in the States; I knew that literacy was low, but I guess what I never really thought about was that there were certain children out there who wanted more than anything to learn, but weren’t given the proper tools. There is a little girl in the film who wants to be a veterinarian, but doesn’t get into the public-private school she wants to attend. This essentially means that she won’t be given the proper education in grade school so that when she enters high school, she’s already behind. Teachers think she’s not intelligent, she thinks she’s not intelligent, and she slips through the cracks. How can we fault these children for having low literacy levels if they’re not given the proper tools to learn? It’s a sad situation.

Watching this film led me to take action of my own. I think that one way have kids understand that literacy is important and to want to learn, is to foster in them a passion for reading. I did some research in Toronto and found a wonderful national organization called Frontier College. They have many excellent programs, but the one that fit in with my schedule was the homework club in Toronto’s Regent Park. Every week I got to work with kids on their homework while their parents were taking ESL classes down the hall. It was a great experience and I met many intelligent, interesting and funny kids who were all eager to learn.

While working with Frontier College, I was also sorting books for my local church’s annual book sale. I realized that there would be a great opportunity for patrons to donate a dollar at the checkout which would be used to buy a children’s book to give to a child in need. I decided to partner with a truly wonderful non-profit in Regent Park called the Children’s Book Bank. They operate a children’s book store where, if a child in the neighbourhood comes in with an adult, they can take a book home to keep. Free. At the end of our fundraiser, we raised $350 which we used to buy books for the Children’s Book Bank. It was a great way to get to know another bookish non-profit in the city, and to share the information about what they were doing.

Now, what about S.T.E.L.L.A.A.?

When I was telling friends on twitter about the book sale and the fundraiser, they had all pointed me to another, similar organization who works with children in Sub-Saharan Africa. Entirely run by volunteers, I was immediately very impressed with the work they have already done, and continue to do everyday. I hoped to get involved with this organization at some point but I wasn’t sure how. When I was approached by their newly appointed Social Media Coordinator, Carrie Macmillan, to be a stop on their blog tour, I jumped at the chance.

I was lucky enough to interview S.T.E.L.L.A.A.’s co-founder, Joanna Ferensowicz. Here is our conversation:

Allegra: What is your relationship with reading? Do you read fiction, non-fiction?

Joanna: I love to read. I think nothing develops the mind and expands one’s horizons better than reading. That being said, I read both fiction and non-fiction, magazines and news. I read non-fiction when I need to escape from my world into a world of peace and tranquility or new perspectives on unique situations. I love how reading introduces a reverence for differences, whether it be culture, class, race, location, age, personality and motivation.

Allegra: The day to day life in Sub-Saharan Africa is clearly vastly different for children than it is for children here in Canada. This being considered, what kind of books do you aim to send over?

Joanna: Although the cultures in Africa differ from Western world cultures, a child’s storybook that introduces everyday words by using pictures, or fairytales that inspire creativity and imagination are always great. As many of us read books to take us to different places, we want to offer this amazing experience to our recipients in Africa. Therefore, we accept fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books from an assortment of genres.

Nonetheless, we also accept textbooks and reference material, and therefore we want to ensure that the content is relevant. We accept International based and non-geographically specific books. For more information, please visit our guidelines.

Allegra: I strongly believe that fostering a love of reading in a child will lead them to be adult who will do the same for their own children. What tools do you provide the teachers with in Sub-Saharan Africa when they’re working with children to teach them to read?

Joanna: As a non-profit working to build libraries throughout sub-Saharan Africa, we aim to provide opportunities for educated community members to become librarians through training them. These librarians will, in turn, be provided with the necessary resources to provide literacy classes for the entire community.

Allegra: According to an article from the CBC on literacy in Canada, “By 2031, more than 15 million Canadian adults — three million more than today — will have low literacy levels…” Do you think there’s something that can be done here, in our own backyard, to change this prediction?

Joanna: There is always something that can be done. I know that the government and many non-profit organizations offer programs that encourage literary education and offer resources that help individuals develop literacy skills. The good thing is that in most areas in Canada the resources are there. We have libraries that offer access to books and programs If we all work together, and offer support, that number of illiterate adults will change in a positive direction.

Allegra: What’s the book you recommend most often to friends and family?

Joanna: Everyone has a different preference when it comes to books so I can’t pinpoint a specific ONE book. Plus, there are too many great books out there that I have still yet to read!

_____________________________________________________

Thank you so much to Joanna for answering my questions, and thank you to S.T.E.L.L.A.A. for offering me this wonderful opportunity to get involved and spread the word. I will be hosting a book drive for S.T.E.L.L.A.A. in the new year so please stay tuned for more information! To learn more about what you can do to help, please click here.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Amy says:

    Hey! I'm also based in Toronto and so was super excited to hear about the book store you mentioned for children. I've just set up a donation for there 🙂

    Also, was really great to read the interview.

  2. That's so wonderful to hear! Thanks for letting me know, Amy. It's such a fabulous organization and they're all so nice!

  3. Want to run that book drive together?

  4. Um, let me think about it.

    …. Yes.

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