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Ellenore's Note: All Is Possible with Friendship, Faith and Funds

As we prepare to celebrate a huge milestone in the coming months - creating and publishing 100+ books in less than three years, I reflect back on what made it all possible. Looking back, I think that these three simple words that capture a lot of what it took: friendship, faith, and funds.

My friendship with Jane Kurtz began in 2010. I was looking for concrete ways to connect my daughter to her birth country and her culture. We had both read and enjoyed Jane's books, and when we learned of the opportunity to plant a library (supply it with books and furniture) in Leyla’s birth town of Bahir Dar, we reached out to her. I had never considered furnishing a library or raising funds. Jane encouraged me to try and gave me the confidence that I could figure it out. And with the help of so many in our generous global community, who responded when I reached out for assistance, we did. In 2011, we were able to visit the library site with the whole family. In 2014 the family returned to visit a fully functioning library and in 2019, Leyla and I visited an expanded library which included building a brand new structure that had evolved into a community resource. Along the way, we made many more friends who continue to support these efforts.

The book project had a similar trajectory. Jane and I were both in Denver to promote Ethiopian artists and their contributions to literacy by raising funds. We had a great meal with Stephanie Schlatter, another dear friend, and discussed our newest projects. I was working on starting Open Hearts Big Dreams and Jane had copies of her first prototypes of #ReadySetGo books from her trip with Stephanie and other artists. We talked about how much fun we had collaborating on behalf of kids and literacy in the preceding years. Then we began brainstorming about how #ReadySetGo books could scale large enough to have a major impact as part of my new organization. I was working at Kindle Direct Publishing which gave me a new base of knowledge to inform us. Jane and I decided on a starting goal of 200 books, the size of small library.

But this is where the behind-the-scenes pieces came in, the nitty-gritty hard work few talk a lot about because it’s not so glamorous (or, if we are honest, not always fun). Throughout 2017, we redesigned and experimented to get #ReadySetGo books into a self-publishing format and create a pipeline of content, all with the help of many, many volunteers who connected with our work. Many were friends or became friends through the process. Our first three books were published in print-on-demand form in November 2017.  

We had our very first fundraising event that same month, which we needed to help grow our publishing capacity with contract staff, design and storage software, and sample books to provide to those who could promote and expand our work. As in past years, our amazing village showed up and entrusted us with their faith and funds to achieve our goals. In 2018, we started our production team, led by Steffani Stephens, who brought on Kate Bare and others who joined the team in the following years. We published almost 40 books in print and Kindle formats. That year we began adding new languages like Tigrinya and Afaan Oromo. We were picked up by the Seattle Public library (and more libraries since) which maintains a full collection of our books.

Each year we try new experiments - like bigger books and books about other African countries. We engage increasing numbers of volunteers and supporters from kids to art students to amateur and professional artists and writers. And we are both proud and amazed that we will hit our 100th title relatively early in our existence and will close out 2020 with quite a few more. Our goal of 200 unique, culturally-appropriate titles for early readers in Ethiopia and around the globe no longer looks crazy. Now it's fully achievable.

With friendship, faith and funds (plus liberal dashes of resilience, experimenting and learning), truly the sky is the limit as to what is possible to accomplish. Thank you all for contributing to this amazing upcoming milestone, which is worthy of a celebration. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Gonder Library Project

In Ethiopia, many schools and towns cannot afford to maintain libraries full of books, including in Gonder, where longtime OHBD supporter Mekonnen Kassa went to school. His memories of the small, dark room with a handful of books inspired him to help us expand our mission to increase literacy by building a library at his childhood school.

Construction on the library building wrapped up this month, thanks to generous support from our building partners in Gonder and donors from Microsoft. Our next goal, to furnish the bare building with shelves and furniture, was reached through a hugely successful Facebook fundraiser that brought in over $7300! These funds will provide not only tables, chairs and shelves, but some of the books to fill them. Our deepest thanks to everyone who contributed to helping us create this oasis of learning at the Hibret School in Gonder. Generations of children, and their community, will benefit from this wonderful new educational resource.

Read more about Mekonnen's journey on the OHBD blog!

13 Months of Sunshine - A New #ReadySetGo Book: Why I Wrote It

By Dr. Worku Mulat

Ethiopia is a land of amazing diversity in its culture as well as biophysical and biological resources. I believe it is this diversity that has ensured its survival as a nation.

The people of Ethiopia have faced many existential threats from both inside and outside and yet they never failed to work to build a better Ethiopia today than it was yesterday. They maintain equanimity, even under challenging circumstances, leaning on local knowledge that stands the test of time.

Like their ancestors in the past, our parents were proud people in East Africa. They lived in harmony with nature, loved the landscape, the weather and the seasons. A tourist promotional slogan, “13 Months of Sunshine,” captures these collective memories of past inhabitants. The deep-seated love to this great nation must be nurtured in the minds of the new generation. It is with this motive in mind, I set out to write this book targeting kids living inside and outside Ethiopia.

I am nostalgic for the seasonal changes in Ethiopia and always perplexed by the unique calendar invented by our ancestors. Ethiopia is a land of contrast in both biophysical and cultural context. Thus, 13 Months of Sunshine is written to promote these national and international treasures among new generations of Ethiopians and kids everywhere.

Read more about how education inspired Dr Mulat to engineer his own future on our blog!

Artist Spotlight: Monarch Academy Student Artists

As a not-for-profit organization, we operate on a very thin budget. We rely on volunteers for much of the artwork and writing of our dual-language early readers, including from amateur and professional artists in Ethiopia and around the world who support our work. Some of our favorite artwork is created by student artists within elementary schools and colleges around the country, inspired by the animals, people and culture of Ethiopia and the desire to help inspire a love of reading in other kids.

One of these schools, Monarch Academy Public Charter School in Glen Burnie, MD, used colorful paper collages to illustrate The Busy Little Bee and one of our newest titles, Thank You Bees. In their classrooms, students learned about the life cycle of plants, the importance of pollinators and threats to their survival, and how to become activists for pollinators, upon which our food supply depends. Later, in art class, students looked closely at photos of bees, coffee plants, and Ethiopian landscapes to create their collage illustrations.

The project was inspired by a meeting between author Jane Kurtz and Monarch Principal Kim Jakovics in 2018 at a presentation about Ready, Set, Go! books.
“I shared with her about Monarch and our belief in connecting learning with purpose and asked her to consider partnering with Monarch on a book project,” Jakovics said. “To us, an EL Education partner school, this was a perfect fit as we believe in demonstrating our learning through the creation of a needed product for an authentic audience.”

She added that the kids were excited about being able to see their artwork published online. "They're pretty excited their book can be bought on Amazon. So, like, the place where they get all of their gifts and the things that they want to order, (the fact) that (the) book can also be bought there is pretty exciting, and that soon kids in Ethiopia will have it in their hands is really important to them."

If you know of a school that might be interested in illustrating one of our dual-language books, contact us! We're always looking to expand our pool of talented volunteer artists!
Volunteer Spotlight: Tigist Geberehiwot

Tigist connected with our founder Ellenore through a shared interest in giving back and empowering the next generation. Tigist is a chemist by training and immediately jumped in to help us on our pilot #READYSETGO STEM books, including one on chemistry. She highlighted that these will be great resources for new immigrants to the US as well as teachers in Ethiopia. She also volunteered to teach STEM classes when they start up again and is helping us catalog our photos for our volunteer artists to use as inspiration. Finally, she is involving her community through introductions and sharing our efforts through social media, which recently helped us meet (and exceed!) our Gonder library fundraising goal!  We are so thrilled and grateful to have her talented and generous support. We asked her to write about what inspired her to volunteer with OHBD.

"Growing up in Ethiopia where there is no strong education system always upsets me. I always want to do something about it but I didn’t know what to do. However, when I found you [Ellenore] on LinkedIn, that was a lottery for me to join in as a volunteer. 


I also joined in as OHBD volunteer because of you. Your kindness and mission in this organization inspired me to joined in and work hard to help you achieve your dreams. And, with God’s help, we will achieve it. You are a strong mom who wants to inspire her daughter. I want to be like you for my future kids."

Thank you, Tigist, for your generous contributions with your time and focus. We are grateful for your skills and knowledge.

You Can Help Us Increase Literacy!
  • Our books make great gifts for kids stuck at home! Each book purchased helps fund the creation, publication and distribution of more #ReadySetGo books. You can find them on Amazon,, AbeBooks, Barnes & Noble and now, Book Wagon. If you know of a great local book store or website that should carry our books, feel free to reach out!
  • We love videos from our readers! If you're interested in creating a video of yourself reading one for our YouTube channel, drop us a message, we are happy to send you a free book!
  • Funds make our work possible. Donations through our Facebook fundraisers or through our site help continue our work, one dollar at a time. If you use Amazon Smile when you shop online, you can select Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund as your preferred charity, and a percentage of your purchases will go to help us publish more dual-language books! Amazon Smile helps continue our work one dollar at a time. 
  • Subscribe to the OHBD YouTube Channel and share our videos with your friends! Help us reach Ethiopian communities around the world, and listen to stories read in English and Ethiopian languages like Amharic!
Copyright © 2020 Open Hearts Big Dreams, All rights reserved.

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Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund · Editor - Anna Graham · 3518 241st Ave SE · Issaquah, WA 98029 · USA

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