Reading is a valuable life skill that can often be taken for granted as many begin learning very early in life, but sometimes what people read has the power to stick with them and inspire action.
This is what happened to 15-year-old Amira Horowitz when she read an article about how economic factors can have an effect on the literacy rates of a community, inspiring her to organize a school-wide book drive to establish a library in Africa for her Integrated Project Based Learning project in eighth grade at Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood.
“I read an article that in Africa, a one-month salary can be equivalent to one children’s book,” Amira, now a sophomore at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, told the Cleveland Jewish News. “And this is part of the reason for this lack of literacy available and books available for the children. So, I was very struck by that because I love to read – there was one year I read like a hundred books and I was very proud of that.”
Amira, the daughter of Lisa Bernd and Ed Horowitz of Cleveland Heights, understands the value of not only learning to read, but learning to love to read as she said reading was something she had struggled with when she was younger. As she researched how she could create a volunteer project around boosting literacy, she discovered the African Library Project and its mission of creating libraries with 1,000 donated books.
Still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic and as an at-risk individual due to a rare autoimmune disease called Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis, Amira began her book drive in May 2021 with the help of her teachers and family and gave virtual presentations to Mandel students.
“I really wanted it to be successful since I needed to (collect) 1,000 books, which was a lot of books,” said Amira, a member of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike. “And I presented, I went to each grade and gave them a presentation about my project, about why donating your books and helping others is important, and I gave them more information about African politics.”
At the end of just two weeks, she had doubled her original goal and collected about 2,150 books, enough to create two libraries in Africa. With some delays due to the pandemic, she was finally paired with a school and community in need of books to send the first 1,000 to the Machaba Primary School in South Africa in November.
“In the application, they expressed their need for books because their current classroom that held the books was damaged with water issues,” Amira said.
This summer, she said she will be sending the second set of books to the ADECCO Employment Skills Development Center in Uganda, a community library for all ages whether its adults looking for employment skills development or children learning communication, literacy or digital literacy skills. To send the books, Amira also raised funds through a GoFundMe fundraising campaign to cover the cost of shipping.
This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last, Amira has seen the value of donating books, as she previously donated 100 books to a synagogue library in Akron after a fire. As a member of Hathaway Brown’s first robotics team, The Fighting Unicorns, she said her passion for literacy extends to STEM literacy as well.
“I’ve always seen the impact that reading has on people,” Amira said. “It gives you so much more knowledge of what the world has. ... I want to bring this joy and this fantasy to other children.”
To donate to Amira’s GoFundMe campaign, visit bit.ly/3yo2YVD