Over the course of a few months, Coronavirus has shown how quickly everyday life can be flipped on its head, and how it has disproportionately affected those in under-resourced communities. When the pandemic hit, the digital divide increased. Educators and families needed to get creative to provide children ways to stay connected.
After virtually meeting with an educator in South Africa as part of a needs assessment assignment for her Health Promotion and Wellness capstone project, Sabrina Smith, a third-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student, responded to the call for educational materials to send to Pamela Ben Kantor, a fourth grade teacher in South Africa and founder of Read for Hope.
When schools were forced to close at the beginning of the pandemic, Kantor recognized that many of her students live in homes without resources to pursue online schooling. Read for Hope was then created with the goal of giving hope, self-belief and an educational opportunity through reading to children living in disadvantaged communities. Kantor initially started the initiative by recording herself reading books and sending the stories to her students through WhatsApp, a free messaging platform. The initiative has expanded throughout South Africa and other countries through Facebook and personal contacts.
Since their meeting in late June, Smith has encouraged friends, family and peers to get involved. She also worked with Ellen Waidner, a fellow third-year DPT student who is on the oversight committee of the COVID-19 Student Service Corps, to establish the project as part of the interprofessional service group to help communities in Gainesville, and recruited physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, language and pathology, and dentistry students. Volunteers recorded themselves reading books and breaking out in song and dance to help expand the types of videos the children would receive.
Within a few weeks, Smith created a plan, developed volunteer documents and examples, and was able to start collecting videos. To supplement the Read for Hope videos, Smith also worked with Kayce Whitbeck and Ashley Tringas, fellow third-year DPT students, who had created and collected activity videos as a part of their Children on the Go Google classroom project that was completed earlier in the summer.
On August 1, Smith sent Kantor 30 videos and will continue to send videos on the first of each month as they come in. Among those videos, she shared a few of her childhood favorites – reading “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak and doing a song and dance to Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea.”
“I have absolutely loved working on this project,” Smith said. “In a time where COVID has forced us to isolate ourselves from family, friends, and classmates, it can sometimes feel very lonely. This project has allowed me to feel like I am a part of a community that’s bigger and better than myself.”
The Read for Hope project is now on the CSSC special population’s page, which has allowed Smith to reach a wider audience as she hopes to get more volunteers involved.
Although still in its early stages, Read for Hope is steadily growing into an international educational initiative.
“Thanks to all of you I have been able to expand the Initiative and I have now been able to send stories via WhatsApp to more than a 200 different underprivileged communities (Schools, NGO’s, Orphanages and the Visually Impaired Communities). The initiative is now in most of the Provinces of South Africa and has gone global,” Kantor said in a thank you letter to PT and OT students who submitted videos, as well as Smith and Dr. Kim Dunleavy – who connected Smith with Kanton – for facilitating the project locally. “From a little acorn this initiative has grown into a mighty oak tree and couldn’t have gotten to where it is right now if people like yourselves hadn’t come forward and helped.”
Interested in Volunteering?
Email Sabrina Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will send you the necessary documents with details of what is needed and how to create the videos.