Here is a story that was brought to my attention by Public Relations Consultant, Dana Swinney about how one American psychotherapist and author from New Hampshire, and one literacy educator from Ibadan, Nigeria, met spontaneously at an international literacy conference in Boston, and forged a professional relationship and partnership that transcend the world’s borders, political boundaries and time zones.

Dana recounts that never in their wildest dreams did these two women imagine their happenstance meeting at the Boston conference would lead to a program that is changing the lives of children in one of the world’s most literacy-challenged nations.

Their remarkable story has captured the interest of Nigeria’s national press and their story has been featured in all six of the nation’s top newspapers, from Lagos, to Ibadan, to Abuja.

Award-winning children’s book author, Kathy Brodsky bumped into Nigerian literacy coach Oluwasen Aina while Aina, who runs the Magical Book Club in Ibadan, Nigeria, was attending the conference to gain better exposure to children-focused literature. When the two met serendipitously, something magical took place.  They understood each other on both an emotional and deeply intellectual level and both understood how reading can quite literally change a nation. This amazing story is one of how two women helped revive a children’s literacy program in Africa.

The Magical Book Club is a literacy and reading program for Nigerian youth, founded by Aina several years ago while she was getting her masters degree. She credits Kathy's nine separate book titles with bringing new life to her program. The kids are able to learn new lessons from Kathy's books, and gain new perspective they didn't have previously from the Nigerian books. 

Brodsky, whose 10 children’s books have won multiple awards, including Book of the Year from Creative Child Magazine in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2016, gave Aina her newest book, High Wire Act.  A short time later when Aina returned to Nigeria, Brodsky donated her entire collection of books following an engaging and exhilarating Skype session with the children at the Magical Book Club.  Since then, Brodsky and Aina have collaborated on numerous interactive video work sessions with students, and are working on ways to bring even more books and more literacy education to Nigeria.

Nigeria, with a population of more than 188 million people, is the most populous country in Africa. Nigeria has become richer and richer over the past three decades thanks to the exploitation of its oil resources. Ironically, despite being the 3rd largest economy in Africa, Nigeria ranks 160th out of 177 countries on the scale of Human Development Index (HDI).  And illiteracy is a huge part of the problem - especially in rural areas.  As Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria has some 10 million children of school age who do not attend school, government figures state. Primary school enrollment is just 54 percent. 

What Kathy Brodsky and Oluwasen Aina are focused on is bringing more books, more reading classes and more education to the people of Nigeria - even if it is one book at a time.

Brodsky has been inspired and encouraged by the way the Nigerian students are using her books.

"It's so gratifying that these kids, who are 5000 miles away, are using my books to learn to read," Brodsky says.

This program is especially important because it’s bringing something about literacy to a population that is being ignored, says Brodsky, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Psychotherapist. “Nigeria has a rich history of storytelling that has been handed down orally, generation to generation,” Brodsky says.  “We need to begin to capture these stories in book form.  That means we need to teach more people to read, and equally important, write.” 

Aina says, "Kathy also writes with the intention of actively involving her readers. Children are encouraged to think deeply about themselves, their environment, research, write, draw, sing and do much more especially through her question guide at the end of each of her books. Kathy also fosters a deep connection with her readers by sharing events that led to the development of each story. I believe this will encourage her readers to write too. Her books can also be enjoyed by both children and adults. There is always something to learn for both groups.”

I’ll give you one practical illustrative example of something new that the children are getting from Kathy's books that they were not exposed to previously. In Kathy's book The Inside Story, it discusses the mail system and recycling. These young students were faintly aware of how to write and mail an actual letter, and had no knowledge at all of recycling or what it meant. So Aina used the book as a springboard -- The children wrote actual letters (which they had never done before),  and she said they are planning a field trip to recycling facility to learn more about it.  

The kids video conference regularly with Kathy, where she explores the multiple meanings behind many of her stories. As a psychotherapist, Kathy brings an added dimension to her writing and also to these interactive transatlantic video sessions with the kids. Some of the links in the Nigeria press touch on a few of these details.

We intend to keep promoting literacy in Nigeria,” Brodsky adds.  “We want the world to know that the children of Nigeria are not forgotten. Today, it’s supporting the Magical Book Club and all of the good work Aina and her colleagues are doing in Nigeria.  In due time, we hope our efforts capture the imagination and the support of the Nigerian government and Nigerian businesses.  Together, we can truly change the lives of millions of children not only in Nigeria but throughout the continent of Africa - one book at a time.”

Ademola Tiamiyu, 11 years old, also reflects on Kathy’s book, The Winner Is. “The Winner Is teaches us that we should try not to be like someone else, Tiamiyu says.  “We should be happy with who we are.” 

Brodsky, who is also a literacy advocate and speaker in her own community,  also plans to send her books to several other African nations including Ghana and Liberia (with a male literacy rate 62.4% and female literacy rate of 32.8%) so teachers can use her writings in the same way Aina has used Kathy’s books to promote literacy and improve children’s lives.

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