The HerStory Campaign at CSW 2018

Our HerStory Director, Jennifer Estrada, on our UN Commission on the Status of Women parallel event (March 14th, 2018) and the Community Action Plans implemented by our international partners in their communities around the world.

The HerStory Campaign is hosting its fourth annual presentation during the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Leaders, mentors and girls from our partnerships—NEWI in Kenya, Rukmini Foundation in Nepal and Project PEARLS in the Philippines will join team members from LitWorld and our HerStory founding partner, Global G.L.O.W., to share the impact of our work with girls around the world.

Every year at the CSW, UN member states and NGO representatives come together to take stock of how far we’ve come and how far we have to go to reach global gender equality. This year’s theme is challenges facing rural women and girls and opportunities for rural women and girls to actively participate in the work toward sustainable development and gender equality in their own communities.

With this theme in mind, our team and our partners are excited to share HerStory’s innovative Community Action Plan (CAP) model and the impact this work is having in three rural communities. At HerStory Summits worldwide, girls and their mentors are invited to think about the challenges they see women and girls facing in their own communities and are given the tools and resources to design and implement CAPs: girl-led, creative solutions to those challenges.

 HerStory Director  Jennifer Estrada  marches with program participants at the conclusion of the National HerStory Summit in Kenya in 2016.

HerStory Director Jennifer Estrada marches with program participants at the conclusion of the National HerStory Summit in Kenya in 2016.

At our Global HerStory Summit in New York last March, HerStory ambassadors from ten countries designed CAPs to positively impact girls across their region. These ambitious, thoughtful projects included programs to combat negative stigmas around reproductive and mental health, workshops providing leadership and entrepreneurial skills, and access to safe space, educational resources and menstrual supplies.

At our CSW presentation this year, our Kenyan, Nepali and Filipina partners will share the purpose, impact and lessons learned on each of their CAPs.

In Kenya, HerStory girls built separate classrooms just for girls to use for studying, to store school supplies and to meet with their mentors. These secure spaces are helping girls successfully complete school, have access to higher education and career guidance, and receive ongoing support after they graduate.

In Nepal, HerStory girls brought together women from different communities to share ideas and plans for how to strengthen their lives and communities. The women formed Moms Clubs that are supporting their own learning lives and giving them tools to advocate for their daughters' education.

In the Philippines, HerStory girls took action to reduce teenage pregnancies and improve sexual health through education. They organized workshops on reproductive and sexual health, ensuring girls have access to the information they need to take care of their bodies, make healthy choices and stay in school.

The CAPs model has made it incredibly clear that when we listen to girls and give them tools and resources to support their ideas, they can have an incredible, sustainable impact on girls in their communities.

We can’t wait to share this exciting work with the UN audience and friends of LitWorld, Global G.L.O.W. and our international partners.

To join us on March 14th, RSVP here!

Author Veera Hiranandani on The Night Diary, "Diverse Diversity" & The 7 Strengths

Our Storytelling & Advocacy Coordinator, Jake Adler, recently had an opportunity to sit down with critically acclaimed author Veera Hiranandani. They discussed her newest novel, The Night Diary, South Asian history, the art of writing for children, the unique challenges kids around the world are facing today, and what it all has to do with LitWorld’s 7 Strengths.

“Writing about Partition is something I wanted to do for a long time,” said Veera Hiranandani, author of one of the newest—and most original—middle-grade novels to hit store shelves, The Night Diary. The novel takes the form of a personal diary authored in 1947 by 12-year old Nisha, a young Indian girl whose nation, home, and worldview are split and transformed at the end Great Britain’s colonial reign and the first days of the India’s independence, an event known as Partition.

“There aren’t a ton of books for young people about Partition. That's in part why I wanted to write one, to create a space in homes and classrooms to have discussions about it. It’s important to keep this history alive because of what it can teach—namely that we don't want to repeat it,” she said.

“It’s something I always heard about growing up,” Hiranandani continued, “My father went through that history—he was forced to flee his home with his family.”

 Veera Hiranandani's  The Night Diary  hits shelves on March 6, 2018.

Veera Hiranandani's The Night Diary hits shelves on March 6, 2018.

India’s independence brought about the formation of a new nation, Pakistan, carved out of northwestern India as a new homeland for Indian Muslims, leaving the rest of India to Hindus, Sikhs, and other non-Muslim Indians. Hindus and other non-Muslims living in Pakistan and Muslims living in India prior to independence were pushed to migrate to their new, respective homes as a sovereign India and a newborn Pakistan established themselves on the world stage. Violence, chaos, and tragedy plagued the countless travelers as their paths crisscrossed over a border which appeared overnight.

“When I was 11, I watched the movie Gandhi, which was pivotal for me. I always knew Partition was something that had happened to my family, but I hadn’t realized how huge the event was on a global scale, and I was shocked as I began to reflect on it,” said Hiranandani.

Hiranandani’s protagonist, Nisha, faces a unique challenge to her identity: her father is Hindu, but her late mother was Muslim. Throughout the novel, Nisha questions what this heritage makes her. Her grappling with identity and place of belonging in a rapidly changing world is one Hiranandani can relate to, herself the daughter of a Hindu father and Jewish-American mother.

  Source:  The Sun

Source: The Sun

“As I got older, I wanted to know more about the Indian side of my family,” said Hiranandani, “but it felt easier to focus on what we all had in common, which was being an American in Connecticut. A lot of my Indian cousins had two Indian parents and more solidly identified as Hindus. While spending time with them in their homes, I’d see and observe things specific to Indian culture, and I’d go to temple with them sometimes. I wondered why we weren’t doing those things in my family.”

Hiranandani conducted historical research as she prepared to write the novel, but she also drew inspiration from her father, now 80, and his personal memories of Partition from his early childhood. “As a writer, I wanted to figure out how to frame this story for younger readers, “ she said, “My father was 9 when he went through Partition, so the memories I heard from him were childlike.”

“The book came together through trial-and-error,” Hiranandani explained. “I didn't know if I could take it on; I’m not a historian, I didn't know if I could do it justice, I was intimidated and nervous, but the drive to write about it persisted. In the first drafts, the protagonist was a young male character, like my father as a child, but I felt like I wasn't able to access that character enough, he wasn't becoming real enough to me. Eventually, he sort of moved over and became the brother of a new protagonist: Nisha, who is closer to who I am, so I was able to access her in a more intimate way and that felt right.”

“The intimacy of a diary is something I wanted to experiment with, but I didn't know who Nisha was writing to. As her character developed, I realized she would be addressing her late mother, and from there everything clicked. The story really started coming.”

Partition isn’t just South Asian history, it’s world history, and Hiranandani feels the subject and story has a lot to offer readers of all ages, regardless of their heritage.

“A whole new generation of kids are losing out on the lessons they can learn from this history,” she said, “The generation that lived through Partition won’t be here much longer, and I want to make sure young people know about it, because there is so much we can take from it today. Partition can teach us how fragile everything is. Our sense of safety is a bit imagined, I think, and our society can change overnight both positively and negatively.”

“There’s no clear ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ in Partition,” she offered, “The lives that were lost are on everyone’s hands. It's a different kind of story in that way, it showcases the best and worst of humanity.”

 LitWorld's Executive Director Dorothy Lee (left) with Veera Hiranandani (center) and LitWorld's Founder, Pam Allyn (right).

LitWorld's Executive Director Dorothy Lee (left) with Veera Hiranandani (center) and LitWorld's Founder, Pam Allyn (right).

The scars Partition inflicted on South Asia are still sore and tender today, as the history is blanketed in stories of violence and cruelty inflicted by both Hindus and Muslims. Such themes are tricky to weave into a novel intended for a middle-grade audience, but Hiranandani feels striking a balance is as necessary as being forthright about true events with young readers, even if they can be difficult to understand and, in some cases, uncomfortable.

“The parent in me has a desire to protect kids from these themes, but I also feel I must be truthful about the extraordinary violence,” she explained, “I wanted to touch on some of these truths, but I also did not want to create something traumatizing for readers. It’s about balance: children can understand much more than many grown-ups think. Kids have a lot of questions about why these things happen, what happens to the people involved, and they want to talk about it. There are boundaries, certainly—some readers will feel the content is just right, some won’t, and some will even think I haven’t gone far enough, but I hit the note I wanted to hit in the book.”

Today’s children all over the world continue to face unique and ever-evolving challenges, and Hiranandani hopes Nisha’s journey and bravery can serve as an example and an inspiration for her audience.

“When I first read about LitWorld’s 7 Strengths, I was checking off all of these aspects in Nisha’s journey. Not just one—all struck a chord,” Hiranandani explained.

“For Belonging, Nisha is losing her home, and is wondering what her new home is going to be, where and how she fits in to this new country and how she can possibly reconcile and merge her multiple identities. And her Courage is obvious: she discovers how brave she is, walking through the desert and pushing forward despite intense hardship. She finds the Confidence to be herself, to use her voice out loud and in her diary. And there’s a lot of Hope. Partition can seem so sad and hopeless, but then there’s incredible stories of Kindness scattered throughout its history that are so important to highlight, because these are the stories that keep us going and help us connect to what is best about being human.”

 Author Veera Hiranandani (left) in conversation with her editor, Namrata Tripathi (right).  Source:  YouTube

Author Veera Hiranandani (left) in conversation with her editor, Namrata Tripathi (right). Source: YouTube

The history is rooted in the mid-20th century, but part of the urgency Hiranandani feels to deliver this story to modern audiences comes from how much the events of Partition resonate and ring true with today’s culture and society.

“I’m in awe of the strength of Emma González and the other young survivors of the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida,” she said, “When you go through something traumatic, you are forced to rely on yourself in a way you didn't know you could. Nisha always feels like she’s not brave enough, but at the end, she realizes that she’s much braver than she thought she was or could be. She finds a new space for courage because she’s forced to.”

“I wish all children and young girls could be shown how powerful they really are, and I wish they didn't have to discover it through trauma. I hope a young girl reading my book will understand that simply going through life, no matter the obstacles, and pushing through, is itself a courageous act.”

Hiranandani continued: “People are opening their eyes to a ‘diverse diversity’—a multitude of stories from all around the world. Partition is being taught now, from what I hear, more than ever before. People understand that it can be a useful piece of history to learn about.”

“[The Night Diary] can teach you about India and Partition, but also, the story is specific, and the more specific a story is, the more universal and relatable it is. Nisha has a doll, she argues with her brother, she has questions and feelings that any kid can relate to. When you hear about someone who is a refugee as a kid, or you learn about a war or a divisive moment in history, it’s always made up of these very specific people and homes and lives that are universal. I wanted to humanize the story as much as possible. In doing so, it makes the history and characters less ‘othered,’—readers without a South Asian heritage can still relate to Nisha; they can think, ‘I know what it’s like to wish I had more friends,’ or, ‘I know what it feels like to be shy in school,’ and ‘in a way, she’s just like me.’”

“Empowering children to tell their own stories is vital,” Hiranandani concluded, “Nisha is a child who never thought she could do it, but she is made forever stronger because she does.”


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Veera Hiranandani is the author of The Night Diary (Dial), The Whole Story of Half a Girl (Yearling), which was named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and a South Asian Book Award Finalist, and the chapter book series, Phoebe G. Green (Grosset & Dunlap). She earned her MFA in fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. A former book editor at Simon & Schuster, she now teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College's Writing Institute and is working on her next novel.


Finding Strength and Power in Our Own Stories

Our Program Coordinator, Marielle Ali, on the power of kids' own stories and the positive impact she has seen stories make on communities around the world through our work with international partner organizations.

  A LitKid at Center for Development in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, shares a story aloud   with her peers on World Read Aloud Day.

A LitKid at Center for Development in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, shares a story aloud with her peers on World Read Aloud Day.

LitWorld’s work allows each child we work with to “Be the Story.” Sharing stories, whether based on experiences or ideas and dreams, can not only empower us, but help us create change in ourselves, our communities, and ultimately our world.

As a new staff member of the programming team at LitWorld, I have been blown away by the power stories have in the lives of the children in our LitClubs. I often hear anecdotes of children who have surprised the adults they work with, expressing themselves and displaying courage and confidence through their writing and drawings. I would like to share two of many stories that were shared with me recently.

Un Mundo

 Ángel David, 10, published  Ramón Aprende Más Sobre El Perdón ( Ramon Learns about Forgiveness) in  Susurros del Cangrejal.  His story is about two friends who learn about forgiveness and unconditional friendship.

Ángel David, 10, published Ramón Aprende Más Sobre El Perdón (Ramon Learns about Forgiveness) in Susurros del Cangrejal. His story is about two friends who learn about forgiveness and unconditional friendship.

Un Mundo, a community-based organization in northern Honduras in the Cangrejal River Valley, has been a LitWorld partner since 2016. Like many of our partners, Un Mundo provides an array of programs. Some children participate in several. The LitClub members are also a part of Un Mundo’s Conexiones de Alfabetización (Literacy Connection Program). Earlier this year, they published a collection of 16 short stories, Susurros del Cangrejal. Un Mundo’s Executive Director, Denis, shared, (translated and edited from Spanish) “We are really surprised at the progress with [the children], when they [first started] they were afraid to take a pencil in their hand, and they are now able to express their thoughts and feelings.”

 Stories and artwork created by Un Mundo LitKids in Honduras.

Stories and artwork created by Un Mundo LitKids in Honduras.

Un Mundo is distributing the collection of stories in the communities they serve not only to share the children’s work but also inspire and awaken the 7 Strengths in everyone. They have plans to publish more short stories in the future.


Center for Development

Center for Development has been a LitWorld partner since 2013 and is based based in Gujarat, India. After participating in a story writing workshop last year, LitClub mentors published a collection of 400 short stories in Gujarati. These short stories are being used in the weekly LitClub sessions. Below is one of the 400 stories translated in English:


True Friendship Stands the Test of Time

Once upon a time, in a small village there were two close friends named Ram and Shyam. They were always seen together, playing, studying and exploring.

After few years, they grew up into young men; and Shyam had to move to a faraway city for work and Ram remained in the village helping his family in farming.
Many years later Shyam returned to his native village; the first thing he did was to pay a visit to his best friend Ram and then meet all his childhood friends. When Ram and Shyam met after such a long gap, their joy knew no bounds. They felt the warmth of true unbreakable friendship; and they felt a sense of belonging that stood the test of time.

Reflecting on the stories from Un Mundo and Center for Development, it amazes me how something as simple as writing our own story can be so freeing and empowering. As our partners all over the world find the power in their own story, it inspires me to do the same.


News-O-Matic's World Read Aloud Day

Reporters at the daily newspaper for kids read their articles for kids across America.

For the 2018 World Read Aloud Day (created by LitWorld), the reporters and writers of News-O-Matic read their daily news articles via Skype to classrooms across the country.

by Russell Kahn
News-O-Matic Editor in Chief

Reading aloud has always been part of the News-O-Matic DNA. Sure, there are multiple levels of text for each article in the daily editions. But it wasn’t enough to just provide the words to the stories. We built a sound studio in our midtown Manhattan newsroom, and we’ve recorded every story — at every level — ever since. We initially added this feature to support the ELL and special education students in schools across the country. But I don’t think I realized at the time how valuable it would be for all kids of all reading abilities and from all over the planet.

So when the opportunity came to promote World Read Aloud Day, we jumped in. It’s the job of any newspaper to promote the events and holidays that shape our world. That includes religious events like Christmas and Ramadan, as well as countrywide observances, such as Independence Day or Memorial Day. For us, that also includes World Read Aloud Day (WRAD).

By covering it like any other news story, it helped us promote the value of reading to our global readership of young students. As part of our coverage, I interviewed Pam Allyn, the founder of LitWorld. “I wish people would know how important reading aloud is,” she told us. The children’s book writer said that “kids feel joy” from the experience. But one critical theme to the story was to tell children that reading aloud does much more than that — that supports language development skills, listening skills, and even writing skills.


It would have been enough to report on the event of WRAD, including its origins and history. But this was too much in our wheelhouse for us not to get involved ourselves. Every reporter on the News-O-Matic team volunteered to read a couple of their stories out loud to a classroom. This ended up becoming a major thread of the article. How meta!

Writer Mathis Bauchner (a lifelong Patriots fan) read his Eagles Super Bowl preview to a class in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Author Ashley Morgan read her story about a red handfish from Tasmania (one of the rarest species on Earth) to students in Grand Forks, North Dakota. And Ryan Cramer connected with kids in Dallas, Texas, about the world’s longest underwater cave ever discovered in the warm waters of Mexico.

As the Editor-in-Chief, I decided to get a bit more personal with the story. Rather than using Skype to connect with students in another corner of America, I visited a classroom in person. I hopped on a CitiBike downtown to P.S. 19 (Asher Levy School) in New York City’s East Village. There I met with teacher Brenden Messer and his class of 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-grade students.


I read two very different articles out loud, each with a direct connection to New York City. First, I read our recently published article about the Women’s March on January 20. Though the event took place in hundreds of cities around the world, New York hosted one of the largest marches; it was impossible not to be aware of it if you were in the city that day.

We interviewed several girls for the story, and hearing their words out loud gave their message an even stronger weight.

Sarah, age 13, attended the protest in Buffalo, New York. “I marched to support every woman for our rights,” she said. “I marched to have a better future.”

“It was really inspiring,” said Parker, age 12. “All the signs showed what people felt they needed to say,” she added. “There were a ton of people, and everyone was chanting and singing,” Parker said. “It was a way to have our voices heard that we want to be treated equally.”

My second story was significant for a very different reason. As part of News-O-Matic’s ongoing series about 1968, I had been researching the life and legacy of Otis Redding. (He died in December 1967, but his song “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” would become the first posthumous #1 hit in 1968.) In fact, I had just attended a celebration of Otis Redding at the Apollo Theater. (Otis’s children performed at the concert with a collection of other incredible musicians.) My not-yet-published story was titled “Respect for Otis.”

Personally, I wanted to know if kids actually cared about the history of soul music. Of a song that was recorded more than 50 years ago. Of a voice none of them had ever even remembered hearing before. If I had ever doubted this decision, the kids reaffirmed it tenfold. And speaking to the kids in person, reading them that story, helped also to support why I do what I do, and why I work so hard.


The kids were captivated by the sound of Otis Redding. They understood his connection to New York City, as the Georgia singer had performed five times on the Apollo stage. And even if it didn’t matter, they actually enjoyed his song — though not so much my attempts to sing his opening verse out loud...

In the end, World Read Aloud Day was one of the greater experiences of our year. I hope we managed to extol the virtues of reading aloud to our growing network of educators, administrators, and students. I know it had an impact on our staff. And we’ve already got WRAD circled on our calendar for 2019.

Huge thanks to LitWorld for promoting this event. As we record 25 “Read-to-Me” files every day (including the levels of English and the translations of Spanish, and French), this is enormously important in our world as well. I’ll continue to do all I can do amplify the message of WRAD — in words and actions, and as loud as I can.

Partner Spotlight: World Vision for Education and Development (Cameroon)

 The LitClub members getting ready to create and then unravel their human knot.

The LitClub members getting ready to create and then unravel their human knot.

LitWorld's Director of Program Operations, Ana Stern, on our history with WVED and the outstanding work our partnership coordinator completed over the past year there. We are exceptionally proud of the positive impact the organization is making in Bamenda, Cameroon:

We started our partnership in Cameroon through the A World At School initiative with of TheirWorld in 2014. Fideline Mboringong started off as a LitClub mentor and quickly revealed her ability to mobilize, train, and inspire, and we sought to support her work. Fideline is a resourceful and resilient woman working with World Vision for Education and Development in Bamenda, Cameroon. Currently, we run 9 LitClubs for girls, 2 LitClubs for boys, and 1 co-ed LitClub there, serving over 200 children.

 The LitClub members mimicking an owl and having fun.

The LitClub members mimicking an owl and having fun.

 Daniel Presenting his fine art.

Daniel Presenting his fine art.

In 2017, schools in the English-speaking areas of Cameroon shut down due to political reasons and safety concerns. Our LitClubs were running in those very schools, but instead of shutting down, Fideline decided that her organization would run the LitClubs at the regularly scheduled times from the WVED offices. And just like that, the LitClubs continued: there was no stopping our story sharing! Because of Fideline’s strong organizational support from WVED, not to mention her leadership skills, commitment, and deep ties with the community, she was able to continue the LitClubs for the entire year last year.

Not only did we run LitClubs, but Fideline organized the first ever LitCamp in Cameroon. For three days, 70 LitCampers engaged around the core theme of Hope, one of LitWorld’s 7 Strengths—knowing their optimism and efforts would produce a positive outcome in the future. During LitCamp, children participated in activities like independent reading, group games, and composition of Hope poems. They even organized Hope-themed drama and theatre projects, and created their own Hope mural.

 Nixon catching fun on the guided tour of the  Savanna Botanic Gardens  during LitCamp.

Nixon catching fun on the guided tour of the Savanna Botanic Gardens during LitCamp.

 Fatimatou presenting her Four Square Memory.

Fatimatou presenting her Four Square Memory.

This year, schools are back in session, and the LitClub members are more ready than ever to jump back in. They launched the 2018 LitClubs anxious to fill their new notebooks with stories of their lives, document them in each LitClub session, share with their peers, and put out their work out into the world.

In doing so, they will build their confidence and ability to advocate for their hopes. By documenting their curiosities, they will create the worlds in which they want to belong.