The lives of millions of Syrian children have been disrupted by their country's ongoing civil war. As a result of this crisis, refugees from Syria have poured into camps in neighboring countries like Jordan, where children might not have an outlet to process their feelings or painful experiences.
According to The New York Times, an innovative reading program in Jordan is helping to heal some of these emotional wounds. The non-profit organization is called We Love Reading, and it has trained adult volunteers to read aloud to refugee children. It also designs and supplies the books, which have been written in such a way to include scenarios that are relevant to the children’s personal experiences.
For example, one book titled Above the Roof explains everyday weather events like wind and rain in an effort to alleviate fears among children who become frightened by sudden, loud noises. It appears to be working, too. Anecdotally, there have been reports of children starting to talk more freely about their fears after sitting through storytime. One child who had been wetting the bed because he was too afraid to use the bathroom by himself stopped doing so after a few reading sessions with a volunteer.
There has also been some scientific evidence of its efficacy, according to neuroscientist and Brown University associate professor Dima Amso. As part of a pilot study, she traveled to Jordan to assess the cognitive development of 30 to 40 children who had participated in the program. She and other researchers collected data before the children’s participation as well as three months into the program, then compared the results in the lab. Their findings reveal that the program appeared to improve the children's mental health and cognitive development.
“We can’t change [the children’s] political climate but what we can do is say, ‘Here are the resilience and risk factors that are going to make them most likely to benefit,’” Amso told The Brown Daily Herald last year.
The We Love Reading program was founded in 2006 by a Jordanian molecular biologist named Rana Dajani, who also spent some time in the U.S. as a Rita E. Hauser Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. More than 152,000 reading sessions have been held so far, and the program has since expanded to Africa, where volunteers work with South Sudanese refugees at the Kule Refugee Camp in Gambella, Ethiopia.
[h/t The New York Times]