Teacher Using Books to Form a Link with Ethiopia

Memoir Project
Memoir Project

Alicia Van Borssum is a very talented ESL teacher who has contributed to our student publishing efforts with The Memoir Project – Memoirs and artwork by three young ESL students from the Ukraine. More on the book at Read > Think > Write > Publish

Alicia is now working to raise funds to bring books and staff development to Ethiopia this summer. I’ve reprinted an article below. For more information about projects for literacy in Ethiopia, go online at www.ethiopiareads.org.  For information about Alicia Van Borssum’s effort to bring books to Ethiopia, e-mail her at aliciavb@frontiernet.net. Donations can be made out to Ethiopian Books for Children and mailed to Van Borssum at 15 Fairwood Drive, Hilton, NY 14468. The organization is nonprofit and tax-deductible.

Greece Teacher Using Books to Form a Link with Ethiopia
Jim Memmott
Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle

(January 27, 2007) — If all goes well, Alicia Van Borssum of Hilton NY will be in Ethiopia this summer showing teachers and librarians there about using wordless picture books for language learning and literacy.

Van Borssum, a teacher of English to speakers of other languages in the Greece school district, hopes that her efforts will bring the joys and power of reading to children in very tough circumstances. And she hopes she can create a connection between this area and Ethiopia that leads to greater understanding. “It’s no big idea,” she says with a laugh. “It’s just peace on Earth is what I’m after.” Van Borssum is poking a little fun at herself.

However, she stresses that her experience as a teacher of students from several countries shows that people from quite different backgrounds can get along.  “I see peace every day with these kids,” she says. This week, that sort of peaceful interaction was obvious as Van Borssum worked on her Ethiopia project with the fifth-graders in Janet Boccacino’s class at Craig Hill Elementary School in Greece NY.

In addition to the students born in this country, the class has several students from other countries who are helped with their English by Van Borssum.  They fit right in, working closely with the other students. “I love this class,” Van Borssum says. “They’ve got amazing heart.”  The students are doing the groundwork for “Bucks for Books,” a project to raise money to purchase the books for Ethiopia. “This means a lot to me because I love to help people,” says Sadé Green, 10. “It’s nice to know we’re making a difference.” “You know you’re doing something good,” said Ryan Fritz, 11. “And it’s fun when you’re doing it.”

Van Borssum got the idea to help Ethiopian children and teachers when she attended a conference in March 2006 and met Jane Kurtz, a children’s author. Kurtz grew up in Ethiopia and is part of the group, Ethiopian Books for Children, that has begun to establish free libraries in Ethiopia. And it has helped publish Ethiopian-themed books for children in English and in local Ethiopian languages.

Van Borssum hopes to raise $5,000, all of which will go toward books for Ethiopia, as she’s paying her own travel expenses for her trip there this summer. The money raised will buy 25 copies each of 10 different wordless picture books. She’ll then give a set of 10 different titles to each of the 25 teachers and librarians from Ethiopia. About eight or nine other teachers from the United States are taking part in the project, each of them bringing books.

The idea of using picture books to teach language is not familiar to everyone, though it is a familiar practice in classes for English to speakers of other languages. “With wordless books, you can teach vocabulary in context because they comprehend the story,” Van Borssum says. The students in Greece have gone on Web sites about Ethiopia; they’ve come up with some fundraising slogans. They’ve created informative and colorful collection cans for the donations they’ll receive.

Students in Hilton, where Van Borssum used to teach, are also raising funds for the project. In addition, Van Borssum has been speaking to civic groups and other organizations this week. “I was nervous about it before,” she says of her fundraising efforts. “But now I’m not. It’s just taken off.”

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