The Maskwacis Cultural College (MCC) Summer Reading Program began four years ago as a library-in-a-box with 20 people involved and has grown to stretch across multiple First Nation communities in two provinces.
“It’s all done by word of mouth,” said program co-ordinator Manisha Khetarpal.
“In 2012 we started with 20 people, we now have 300 people,” she added
Khetarpal says at the beginning of the reading program this year there were approximately 20,000 books available, all donated by Scholastic. She is now down from four rooms filled with books to two.
In its first year the library-in-a-box program encouraged parents and children to read for 60 days over the summer, at least five minutes a day.
Khetarpal says the program has grown to such a magnitude she can only keep track of all the readers through the registration forms.
Those in the community looking for books can fill out a registration card naming how many they are taking and they can also take a web access code for e-reader opportunities.
With the reading program Khetarpal has developed a sharing network to introduce the books to classrooms and community members on other reserves.
On Aug. 13 Allison Stewart, Stoney Plain Public Library director, dropped by MCC to pick up a shipment of books that would be given to the Alexis and Paul Band Reserves.
Neither reserve has a library and on the Alexis Reserve a small space in the band office has been turned into a pick up library.
“(But) the majority will go into classrooms,” Stewart explained. “We’re going to share the love.”
More books were given to the Kasohkowew Child Wellness Society to be handed out to children in care at a “back to school” barbecue in the Maskwacis community.
In mid-July Khetarpal attended the Awasisak Conference, which was also attended by several other reserve representatives; 5,000 books were given away there.
Another 5,000 were given to the Saskatchewan Provincial Library to be placed in literacy reading program serving First Nation communities.
Khetarpal says one of the biggest benefits of the program is how much access people are being given to the books. “We’re giving them books to read in a place where we do not have public libraries.”
“To the non-readers it’s like pre-literacy skills, (it’s) about print awareness and print motivation,” she added.
Khetarpal says another benefit is all the relationships being fostered between schools, libraries, children, parents, other communities and community agencies. She feels sharing and giving away books feeds into the community’s cultural elements. “It’s all about community participation right from a grassroots level.”