Energy Meets Action: Activist and LottoLove Founder Laura Beck on Making Change in Our World

Life isn’t about getting and having, it’s about giving and being.

– Kevin Kruse

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Written by Laura Beck, pictured above in Kibera.

All of the following images were taken by LottoLove during their most recent trip to Kibera.

With the creation of LottoLove, I saw an opportunity that used my experience, passion, and talents to build something with the sole mission of doing good. LottoLove has been working with LitWorld for several years, and in May I was able to visit one of the sites of their LitCamps at the Red Rose School. The school is tucked away in Kibera.

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The morning began at the Kenya Education Fund, a partner of LitWorld, and there I met Geoffrey. Geoffrey was our guide in Kibera and he explained where Kenya’s educational system stands today. High school is not free. Books and literacy tools are virtually nonexistent. Teachers are scarce. Classrooms are overcrowded. 50% of kids are not in school. Desks are rarely available. The dropout rate is extremely high. The list went on. We loaded into the car and made our way to Kibera. In an instant the landscape around me changed from municipal buildings and shopping malls to an overcrowded landmass that is home to over 2 million people.

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Our first stop was to visit the Power Women’s Group, a collective of entrepreneurs who have created lives free of dependency. It is the workplace of about 15 HIV positive women. The women hold a variety of jobs: tailors, jewelry makers, babysitters, and hairdressers. Everyone in Kenya knows about 3 languages. Growing up, they learn their local language and typically speak Swahili at home. In school, they learn English and only speak and write in English.

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Next we visited the Red Rose School, home to one of LitWorld’s thriving LitClubs. One of the many reasons LottoLove supports LitWorld is their holistic approach to literacy. LitWorld gives people the resources to learn how to read and write, but they are also creating a space for joyful learning, creative expression, community building, and social-emotional skills development. I entered the classroom which was empty of desks and chairs. Pillows rested on the ground in a circle. Everyone took their seat. True to LitClub fashion, the class began with a song that continued until each person introduced themselves. As the song ended the teacher spread out her arms addressing each person in the circle and together everyone sang ‘hello friends, we’re glad to see you here.’

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The class continued with a group activity. The activity was one I actually love to do with my family and friends. All 15 girls took turns explaining if their week was a rose, a bud, or a thorn. A rose being something beautiful, positive, or happy. The bud being something exciting coming up or something highly anticipated. The thorn being a tough experience or sad moment. Fourteen out of 15 girls chose to talk about their rose of the week. Roses like...

‘I’m about to become a sister.’

‘I had a good dinner.’

‘I played with my friends.’

‘I’m happy to be in this class.’

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After reading and discussing the book Black Beauty, we moved onto the main activity of the day, the heart map. Each girl grabbed their school folders from a pile. We all sat on the floor as we drew our heart. Inside each heart we were told to draw images and words that represent what we love and who we are. The room was quiet. The result was beautiful. Their hearts were colorful and bright. Each filled from edge to edge. No empty spaces. But, I already knew this to be true.

As we all shared our hearts it was clear that we shared a lot of the same joys and roles in life. There was a lot of love for food, dancing, reading, nature, singing, drawing, and sleeping. There were many sisters, daughters, students, and friends. I remember one girl said her favorite activity was smiling. LitWorld created a gesture called ‘shooting stars’. Typically after someone speaks everyone brings their hands to their mouths and moves their hands down as they twinkle their fingers, like shooting stars. After the last shooting star, the class came to an end. We were all hugging goodbye when two girls came over and asked me if they could have my heart map.

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These are the lessons I’ve learned from the people I met:

Be grateful for what you have.

Find the beauty in life.

Focus on the positive.

Smiling is a universal language.

The trip was truly magical. LitWorld is doing amazing things for people all around the world. I am excited for the day I return to Kenya and for the future visits to the sites of our wonderful partners.

LottoLove has donated over 16,000 sets of literacy tools to LitWorld. To learn more about their work visit givelottolove.com.

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Uniting LitClubs in East Africa

“As with any LitWorld event, the week was filled with joy”

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LitWorld’s East Africa Partnership Coordinator Conference, hosted in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda, was the second of its kind. It first launched in August 2017 in Colombia for seven of LitWorld’s Latin American partners. This second conference brought together Partnership Coordinators and mentors from Eastern and Southern Africa for a full week of training and learning. Partners were from: Kenya (Kenya Education Fund, Milele, and NEWI), Uganda (Art of a Child), Rwanda (Ready for Ready), and Zambia (GoYe Therefore). The conference served as an opportunity for Partnership Coordinators and Mentors to share best practices and lessons learned in their experience of running LitWorld programming.

We kicked off the week by joining Ready for Reading’s annual LitCamp. Over 200 LitClub members from Rwinkwavu and nearby Kayonza participated in the three day LitCamp which culminated in reading, writing, singing and dancing. As with any LitWorld event, the week was filled with joy! One of the highlights of the conference was to be able to meet in person. Everyone shared experiences and highlighted the unique work that they each do within and outside of their work with LitWorld. We also had the chance to visit some of Ready for Reading’s LitClubs, including a LitMoms visit led by Mentor Colette. Not only was this an opportunity for us and the conference participants to observe and participate in the LitClubs in Rwanda, but the boys, girls, and moms were amazed to learn that there are other LitClubs around the world. For them, it was a moment of belonging to the larger LitWorld family.

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Another highlight of the conference was sharing various community building activities with one another. One of the favorites of the week was a song called, “Insari, Sari, Sari” created by some of the mentors at Ready for Reading. Every day, the LitWorld Programming team led trainings ranging from Creating a Collection of Stories to Goal Setting and more. For some of the conference participants, it was their first time learning about SMART goals. We even debuted LitWorld’s new and improved library training!

Sanyambe, LitWorld’s Partnership Coordinator from Zambia, shared that she made great connections with other coordinators, she now knows here colleagues, from around the region. She said she now has a pool of resources she did not previously have and she will collaborate with other Coordinators on programming and other activities. Sylvie, a mentor from Ready For Reading in Rwanda shared that the conference helped her think creatively and innovatively during her mentorship activities. Because of the conference, she has learned from other mentors and formed relationships to continue growing as a strong LitClub mentor. In follow up conversations with Partnership Coordinators, several of them have mentioned that their mentoring skills, especially the read aloud, have dramatically improved.

As a result of the Partnership Coordinator Conference, our expansive network has grown closer together. We have all learned new skills, made new friends, and deepened our connections with people who will continue to help us grow in the future. We hope that it serves as a launching pad for Partnership Coordinators to come closer together to supporting each other, not only in their work with LitWorld, but their work as professionals trying to create a stronger network of individuals who believe the power of story can change the world.

This post was authored by LitWorld team members Oriana Stern, Director of Program Operations, and Marielle Ali, Program Coordinator.

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A Tour of the Heart Map

Share your story, explore your heart.

Enjoy this video exploration of the HeartMap Project: an interactive, public art installation created by LitWorld resident artist Tina Villadolid in collaboration with Broadway Housing Communities at the Sugar Hill Project.

The above video was shot and editing by Sean McCoy.

Mapping the Heart of a Community: Tina Villadolid, In Her Own Words

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“If you could do something really big for us, what would it be?”

What an honor to be asked this question by Pam Allyn, the founder of LitWorld, in the fall of 2017. It was an opportunity to enact an idea that had taken up residence in my brain: collect data from communities in the form of art, in order to humanize the information. Despite the artistic elements of charts and graphs, their colorful lines, bars, and circles don’t express the stories of the humans that inhabit the statistics. What if the data collected could reveal what we have in common inside our hearts, despite differences in culture, class, age, race, gender, and language?

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The Heart Map Project was launched this past August at the Arab-American Family Support Center in Brooklyn, and at Sugar Hill in Harlem, a Broadway Housing Community. The participants created individual pieces in response to these three workshop themes:

People we love

Places in our heart

Who we are

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Amassing the individual artwork from each workshop to form 3 chambers of the community’s heart, I created a walk-through installation at each of the two sites. The trust that I was given to do so was such a gift (not knowing for certain what a site-specific installation will look like while asking permission to transform a space can be challenging!). It was moving to witness the participants finding their own work in the installation, to listen to the dialogues that began, and to see the bonding that occurred from the shared experience. Visitors to the installations wrote the names of people they love on an anatomical drawing of a human heart, adding it to that chamber and becoming part of it themselves.

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I am an artist and an educator with a “long game” credo.

Humanizing data

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What’s missing from the data?

Making the story visible

Breathing in and out, flow in and out, asks and offers

Maps help us get our bearings of where we are in the world, in life

Atlas of human emotions

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The ongoing collection of 3-D Heart Maps provide visual information that yield another art form: a chart/graph/map that measures the components and commonalities of each community represented. A living visual document is created by the “data” compiled from the hearts of each community, expressed through art. The stories, faces, and spirits become an integral component of informational “data” and “data gaps.” The hope is that this living art form and the visceral response to it may spark an urgency and duty toward increased humanitarianism.

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The heart map expands from an individual exercise into a group collaboration. Inclusive of all genders and generations that are parts of the whole, the 3-D Heart Map explores and reveals what binds a community together at its heart.

Visual storytelling activities build community while creating a unified art piece comprised of many individual parts, a reflection of the group itself.

The heart map expands from an individual exercise into a group collaboration. Inclusive of all genders and generations that are parts of the whole, the 3-D Heart Map explores and reveals what binds a community together at its heart.

Visual storytelling activities build community while creating a unified art piece comprised of many individual parts, a reflection of the group itself.

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Summer Reading Assignment: Read "Middlemarch", Change the World

“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?”

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This blog post is from our Communications Intern, Olivia Luntz, a rising Sophomore at Amherst College. Although she remains a major fan of the Magic Tree House books and attributes her current wisdom to late-night, under-the-covers reading of this series, the book which has most impacted her life to date is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. In this blog post, she will elaborate on how reading Middlemarch has altered her outlook on existing in college, her community, and our world. Her journey with Middlemarch serves both as an example of how much impact reading the right book at the right time can have, and as an embodiment of much of the work LitWorld does around the world. Additionally, Olivia will also identify, in her opinion, the 750 most important words of the 316,059 word novel.

In December of 1871, George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Anne Evans) published the first volume of what would become her most popular and well-known novel, Middlemarch. In September of 2017, on my first day of college, I listened as my professor read aloud the novel’s Prelude. In it Eliot waxes about the “blundering lives” of “later-born [Saint] Theresas”: women whose passion and beliefs could have altered history, but because of time or circumstance were unable to accomplish a “long-recognizable deed”. After that class, for the first few months of my college career, my increasingly worn copy of Middlemarch was my most constant companion. I could be spotted with my face hidden within its pages in every building on campus, and more often than I wished, while speed-walking to English class. The more time I spent with my face in-between the novel’s covers, the more I felt that it was looking back at me, into my head, picking apart the stereotypical anxieties and doubts of a freshly-minted college student. Although I had arrived at college relatively assured in myself and in my abilities, I was shocked upon getting to know my peers at what they had already accomplished, and what they were sure they would accomplish in the future. I felt as if I was a later-born Theresa, destined to live my life floundering because I had not found a great calling by the time I was eighteen. Thankfully, however, this is not the lesson that Middlemarch taught me; rather Middlemarch showed me that the value of a life is not defined by fame or one colossal achievement, but rather by the small acts of kindness and the effects of these acts on others.

Everyone deserves to have a moment in which reading a book feels akin to looking in a mirror. It is so easy to feel isolated in the world and in your experience, and what a comfort it is to discover that someone else has walked a similar path to yours, and that they have left a trail. It also serves as a great reminder to step out of yourself and see how similar your life is to others, rather than how different. This summer, I have been so lucky to be a part of the work LitWorld is doing to make it possible for kids everywhere to share their stories and hear the stories of others, including kids right here in New York City. My summer experience has not only given me a chance to help give kids access to their own literary experiences, but has also furthered my belief in the importance of small acts. Overcoming illiteracy or the barriers that prevent girls from receiving an education are imposing tasks, but this does not mean that we should not work towards them. Every step toward this goal is valuable as it is a step in the direction of a better world. Every time a child is given the opportunity to read, write, and create, that child’s world is transformed, and the world we all share is changed as well. Seeing the kind and wonderful people at LitWorld work every day toward bettering children’s lives has given me so much hope for the world these children will one day shape.

However, our world today is still one that is increasingly tumultuous, confusing and terrifying. Accordingly, I believe the lessons and philosophy within Middlemarch are more relevant than ever, however, I recognize that advocating for small acts and then encouraging you to read an 850-page book seems hypocritical. Therefore, I propose an easier reading assignment: the novel’s Prelude and the last two paragraphs of the Finale, three pages, 750 words total. I have chosen this excerpt from Middlemarch to share with you because it perfectly demonstrates the shift in belief that the novel’s unknown narrator and its protagonist, Dorothea, experience in who exactly it is that impacts our world. In the Prelude, the narrator portrays the lives of those “Theresas” who do not reach a world-altering accomplishment as pathetic and pitiful, “sob[bing] after an unattained goodness”. However, as the novel progresses this depiction is altered because of Dorothea, the novel’s own “Theresa”. At the start of the novel, Dorothea is an aspirational, but slightly naive, young woman, who strives to reform the cottages of the poor. She eventually marries the much older Reverend Edward Casaubon, with the goal of helping him finally complete his interminable research project. Unfortunately, the marriage ends up being a colossal failure, with Casaubon dying with his research unfinished, and Dorothea left directionless without a project that she thinks will contribute to the greater good. However, the novel’s Finale stresses that Dorothea’s eventual fate of remarrying for love and living as a wife and mother is not a failure because it will not be immortalized, but is rather just as important as the life of famous figures. In the last sentence of the novel the narrator states: “But the effect of [Dorothea] on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

This last line, taken in the context of the Prelude, has been the one that has most often come to my mind since finishing Middlemarch. After months of opening my phone to news of another unthinkable tragedy: school shootings, mothers torn away from their children at the border, natural disasters and war leaving families homeless; it can be easy to react to more bad news with anger and apathy. I have thought to myself many times that I am powerless against the seemingly unstoppable tide of hatred and ignorance flooding our world. But in times of hopelessness, I am reminded of Eliot’s belief in the “many Dorotheas”, people whose lives and accomplishments were not eternalized, but have still made our world a better one to live in. I have realized that I do not have to make history, but rather, the small positive acts I accomplish will multiply and spread, and mix with the acts of others. Like wildflowers that will grow and propagate over the course of a spring, we all only need to plant one seed to have a garden bloom. I think back to the time I spent my first semester, sitting in the library, half-heartedly attempting to write an essay, and how I felt that I was accomplishing nothing. I wish I had looked and seen how the world was changing all around me: there were people reading to children, or hiding Easter eggs filled with candy in the stacks for students to come across, or helping their friends solve a physics problem. I similarly wish I had been able to see myself: walking to town to pick up surprise Insomnia Cookies for my roommate, helping my classmates find books for their research projects, talking long into the night with an old friend, and see how in all of these small actions, I was making the world better. We have all have the opportunity to make our world a better one to live in, all we have to do is recognize the power we have. Make a conscious effort to help others, encourage those around you to do the same, and celebrate those who make your life an easier one to live.

Dorothea reminds me to follow this advice and strive to improve the lives of those around me. To remain hopeful and see the positives in trying circumstances. To revel in small victories, knowing that individual acts of kindness and compassion, taken together, change our world. As Dorothea said, “what do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” Coming to work at LitWorld and being greeted with new photos from our partners of children all over the world reading, learning, smiling, and laughing, never fails to fill my heart with joy and gratitude, as I realize that I am adding to the “growing good” of our world. The best and most memorable experiences I have had this summer have been when I had the opportunity to see the impact of LitWorld first-hand in the LitCamp held at PS 257 in Brooklyn. There I talked to children about stories they had written about friendship was amazed by both the touching and heartfelt stories the children told me about their sisters and cousins, but also the pride they had in what they had written. I listened to the LitCamp teachers about how they had seen their students' passion for reading, confidence, and curiosity blossom this summer, and I was in awe of the dedication I saw they had for their students and their success. When these children share their stories and when their teachers give them the confidence to do so, they are bettering the world, and by being there to listen, so am I. And if we all work with positive intentions and put our efforts toward improving the lives of others, we can all change the world.


What reading experiences have impacted your worldview? What books have taken you months to finish but were well worth it? I invite you to participate in my Middlemarch reading assignment here and write to LitWorld to share with us a reading assignment of your own creation!