For the past three summer vacations, several children have sat in libraries across the island developing a love for reading and seeking knowledge. From as young as three years old, they have been encouraged to use their imaginations and let their creative juices flow as they come to realize that books can indeed be fun. They are participants in the Read For Life Summer Programme which is the brainchild of 22-year-old author Gillian Rowe who, along with her core team of Jamila Walton and Faith Millington, has been rekindling a love for books and libraries in several communities. Rowe believes there is a lot to be gained from reading regularly and thinking creatively. “There is a lot of rote teaching, so there is less creative and innovative thinking that needs to go into one finding an answer. There needs to be an understanding that in life things aren’t just right and wrong. “There is quite a lot of leeway [for] someone to use their creativity and their imagination and apply it through discipline to reach an end result that is indeed positive, but importantly, that the world has not seen before,” she said, suggesting that Barbados needed more creative workers and leaders. The author of the illustrated children’s book But Johnny Didn’t Hear Me believes that libraries need to be in every community so that children have the choice of learning more than they are taught in school. Read For Life does not take an academic approach to reading. “What we wanted to do was be the example, so Read For Life exists to inspire, empower and encourage. “We encourage children to come and use the resources in library branches for themselves, to help them with their schoolwork, to help them with general knowledge and to help them as they try to find a profession and way of life for themselves,” she said of the programme which caters to those up to the age of 18. The non-profit organization is staffed by a number of volunteers, many of whom are former teachers and principals and students who want to become teachers. However, anyone who is passionate about encouraging children and helping them to develop is welcome to volunteer since they are trained before being placed in the libraries. Rowe, a history student at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus, is satisfied that Read For Life has helped to increase the usage of libraries especially during the summer. “Besides the enthusiasm, we have seen children grow in their personal development after being at libraries for three consecutive years,” she added. Research has been a critical part of the programme. In the first year, volunteers went into the community to learn about the reading habits of children from their parents. In the second year, the children themselves were surveyed in order to find out what their favourite books were, who read to them, if they enjoyed reading and if they liked drawing pictures or imagining stories after reading a book. Based on this feedback, the third year has been focused around finding more books that the children can relate to culturally. “We realized that the stories and issues in children’s lives are the things they want to hear about. Those are the things they have questions about,” she said. Rowe suggested that there were not enough Barbadian and Caribbean books for children. “We have too many teachers, we have too many writers, we have too many literary students coming out of UWI,” she said, noting that there should be some “easy publishing platform” set up to purposefully boost the number of regional books. “We have a National Independence Festival Of Creative Arts (NIFCA) and many submissions are put in there. Why can’t I find a shelf of just winning submissions to NIFCA?” She revealed that Read For Life had partnered with the LITE Remedial Reading Centre to offer assistance to those children who need extra help. “Parents have come to us saying, ‘I want my child to be able to read better, feel more comfortable with a book in front of them. How can you help? “We forward them to this remedial reading centre especially for parents who are very concerned with the level at which their child is reading,” she said. Come January, the organization will be launching the pilot phase of its Homework Helper programme which will include three schools and three branch libraries. “At the end of the school day the children who’ve been selected by the schools will be allowed to come to the libraries and get assistance with their homework. “We are working with our volunteer base to have volunteers stationed at these three libraries so that when the children come, they have one-on-one assistance,” she said. In the meantime, there will be two end of year readings on December 22 and 29 at the Bridgetown Library from 10 a.m. until noon which will allow parents to have their children occupied while they do their Christmas shopping. • Positive Youth is a series highlighting the efforts of some of the youth in our nation who are engaging in positive pursuits.