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How to promote a reading culture among Ugandans

July 1, 2022, was Uganda’s National Drop Everything and Read (DEAR DAY).

The day exists to promote the continued growth of a positive reading culture among Ugandans. On this day every year, everyone is encouraged to stop whatever they are doing and read something for at least 30 minutes.

However, we don’t have to wait for this once in a year day to drop everything and read. We must develop the habit of reading daily either individually, as part of a group or in our families to reap the fruits of reading.

Studies have shown that reading extensively, or intensively has numerous advantages. It reduces stress, depression relief, unlocks opportunities in life, introduces the reader to new ideas and enhances creativity, improves literacy, helps prevent age-related cognitive decline, and many readers have better communication skills.

So, how do we promote a reading culture not only for academic purposes but also for leisure? Today, I have two suggestions. First, targeting children. As a country and continent at large, we must deliberately put a lot of focus on teaching our children to read right from the time they are toddlers, and it starts with parents/caretakers.

As parents, make it a point to read together with your children for at least 15-20 minutes every day. Studies show that early reading with your kids helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with you and read early themselves. For those that cannot read yet, read aloud to them. For children who can read on their own, provide reading materials, and encourage them to read.

Read age-appropriate, simple books that interest them like; lullabies, picture books, alphabet books, song books among others. Don’t make reading seem like a chore, they may resist it, make it fun and simple. Remember, reading is a journey, not a one-day event, don’t complicate it.

Lead by example, the more your children see you reading, they will also want to read. Children imitate behaviors by watching and listening to others. Proverbs 22:6 KJV: Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

I strongly believe that if we teach our children to read early on in life, they will grow up loving to read, and we shall have better readers and leaders in future. It is said that readers make great leaders!

Second; establishing book clubs. A book club is a group of people who meet to talk about a book or books they have all read. Book clubs are very effective in promoting a reading culture as long as group members are dedicated and deliberate.

In 2020 during COVID-19 lockdown, I joined a book club (Spark Club) created by Hellen Kithingi, a Kenyan business coach, and Best Selling Author for the book; “Limitless Success”.

The club had over 30 women from different professions, and countries including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, U.S.A, and Australia among others. We read several books within few months such as; The Success Principles, The 5am Club, Atomic Habits, The Magic of Thinking Big, You Can Heal Your Life, The Four Agreements etc.

Each month, we read one book. Every day, every member was expected to read 15 pages or more of the book of the month. We would then converge virtually either weekly or bi-weekly, and volunteers would review different chapters of the book. Apart from creating a bond of sisterhood which was like therapy during those difficulty times, the club also pushed members to read more.

Linda Muyumbu, a Regional Technical Advisor for Strategic Information and Monitoring and Evaluation, FHI360, Kenya said; “It was a great opportunity for me in many ways. I read a total of 8 books in 11 months, I would never have done this on my own. I created the discipline to read which I continue to date. I introduced many of my friends and relatives to the club and they got great value from the experience.

I would advocate for establishment of book clubs in schools right from nursery schools up to higher institutions of learning, then at workplaces and amongst friends.

Is promoting a reading culture among Ugandans possible? It is possible. There are many challenges of course, for example, lack of or limited reading materials in many schools, poor attitude towards reading, high illiteracy levels.

It won’t be easy, but we have got to start somewhere. Parents who can afford to buy reading materials for your children, do so and promote a reading culture in your homes. Government can partner with different players and provide reading materials in schools. We must all work together to raise a generation of readers.

The writer is a journalist, and consultant editor.

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