Imagine growing up in a household without any books at all. No books lying around to trigger your curiosity or rituals of being read to by a loving parent at bedtime. Now imagine that the first time you touch a book is your first day of school. Imagine how quickly your disadvantage would sink in as you see other children sounding out words and enjoying books around you.
For millions of children in Turkey, this is the reality.
This wasn’t my reality and most probably it wasn’t yours either. I am who I am today because of the diverse library I had access to when I was growing up. Even though I wasn’t a good student at school, I ranked in the top 100 in the university entrance exam because of the books we had at home. Books changed my destiny and I believe it can change the fate of many children in Turkey.
The reason why I bring this up with you is simple. As a developmental psychologist if there is one thing I know about child development it is this simple fact: there is no better time to support children, especially disadvantaged children, than during the first three years of life in which more than 90 percent of brain development is completed. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Heckman calculated, this is the period where we get the highest rate of return for our investment. In fact, he famously noted that “starting at age three or four is too little too late.“
The good news is we know what works!
Reading to children during the first 36 months of life is one simple and practical step we can take. Developmentally and culturally appropriate books provide ample opportunities to stimulate children’s brain development. I believe every child in Turkey, no matter where they live, deserves this opportunity. Therefore, I am partnering with Turkish Philanthropy Funds for an exciting new project. We want to give each child born in Turkey his or her first book-set that includes six children’s books I have developed with my team. This is a bold move so we cannot do this alone. That’s why I am writing to invite you to join us in this new journey.
Here are three reasons to consider partnering with the 1 Million Children. 6 Million Books. Project:
1. The need is real.
In Turkey more than half of the households with children have 20 or fewer books of any kind in their homes. This leaves such a big gap that children without books at home are missing out on 30 million vocabulary words by age three. Further, much of the children’s literature available in Turkey is imported from elsewhere and then translated to Turkish with little attention to culture. Through our Program, we’re targeting to reach 1 million children in the next three years and provide a total of 6 million books to children in Turkey. Once completed, this will be the largest intervention of its kind.
2. We directly implement our own programs.
This is not a project to distribute books. On the contrary, the main purpose of this intervention is to raise awareness about cognitive development and effective parenting. We know that more than 80 percent of children in Turkey are never read to by their parents. In order to change this sad reality, we will work directly with NGOs, hospitals, schools, municipalities, celebrities, and volunteers to not only distribute books but also support parents with education campaigns about effective reading practices. We want to change how we raise our children in Turkey during the most critical first 36 months of life.
3. We know how to scale quickly and sustainably.
We have a record of success in Turkey. We have already built thoughtful and thriving partnerships. We will work with local governments and hospitals to give each child who is three years or younger his/her first book-set, and educate their families about the importance of reading. We will quickly scale our effective and proven program across Turkey to create long-lasting change.
We hope you join our efforts in this bold and historical movement. Children who start reading early on have richer vocabulary, are able to express themselves in a more meaningful way and grow up to be more successful adults. Together we can spread the love of books to every child in Turkey and change the destiny of a generation. Donating one set of books costs only $14. Give here.
Thanking you in advance with our greatest gratitude,
Dr. Selçuk Şirin
Professor, New York University