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Ellenore's Note
Since last month’s note, the world has been rocked with protests following the tragic and brutal deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many more that came before them. Some people’s eyes were opened in ways that they may not been in the past. Corporations offered up statements and acts of support for the first time and Juneteenth is becoming a holiday to reflect and learn for many. Something feels different this time. My impression from some Black community members I talked to was that this has both been heartbreaking (Why did it take so many deaths?) and hopeful (Maybe real change is coming this time.)

Meanwhile, I reflected on how Open Hearts Big Dreams can contribute to creating a more equitable world. As I explained to Leyla during one of our many difficult conversations in recent weeks, I founded this organization to try to equalize opportunities for kids in Ethiopia with kids growing up in the US. The world is horribly unfair and unjust in so many ways that the pandemic and these protests have laid bare. Who has access to information and education often determines unfairly who gets to DREAM BIG.

So what can we do? What should we do? I am a person of concrete action, thoughtful planning, and measurable results. I want to see agendas created, prioritized and then moved forward to completion quickly. I saw two hashtags that resonated with me and the work we are doing: #BlackStoriesMatter and #BlackLiteracyMatters. Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” These words give me hope and sharpen my focus on our purpose: to empower children through education. Empowered children can change the fate of a community. That is a purpose worth fighting for through a pandemic, civil unrest, and whatever else 2020 holds in store.

Kids don’t automatically hate those who are different; hate must be taught. They can also be taught to fight against injustice. Kids develop a deeper connection with books when they see themselves represented in what they read. Diverse characters help children build empathy and tolerance of natural differences. As we approach the amazing publishing milestone of 100 books (in three different Ethiopian languages + English), we are honored to contribute to creating more Black stories, improving Black literacy, and promoting Black history and culture. Leyla shares my desire to do something immediate and concrete to try to "fix things.” We both found it comforting to look at what we had done and what we have planned, for both literacy and innovation. These efforts, supported by hundreds of people with big hearts for kids, are contributing positively. 

We know there is so much more to do and really big changes need to happen now. We are committed to standing by those pushing for equity and to doing our part to create the world as it should be, one book and one kid at a time. Thank you for all your generous and steady encouragement through it all. We couldn’t do it without you.  #WeAreInThisAllTogether 

Top Row right to left: Mekonnen and Elizabeth Kassa, Mekonnen's mother and Mekonnen's father. Middle right: the Hibret School. Middle left: site of the new library. Bottom row: the new library building.
How A Father's Love Of Learning Built A Library

When Mekonnen Kassa, a long time supporter and recent addition to our advisory board, was a child in Ethiopia, books were so rare that the small, dark upstairs room of his elementary school offered the only access to a library he would know until he became a 19 year old refugee. Inspired by the lessons from his father (pictured above, next to his mother & sister) on the importance of education, Mekonnen reached out to OHBD and his friends at Microsoft to build a library in Gonder, where he spent his earliest years. Future generations of Hibret Elementary students will have access to the knowledge and resources that Mekonnen went to great lengths to attain. Read his moving account of this journey on our blog:

The library in Gonder is just about complete and will soon be home to many books and eager readers of all ages.
Seconde Nimenya
Video Readers Spotlight: Seconde Nimenya
We asked author and OHBD volunteer Seconde Nimenya why she made a video for our YouTube channel, which features volunteers reading our bilingual early readers. Seconde writes:

"It was a pleasure for me reading these Ready, Set, Go! books because I love what you are doing to increase kids' literacy in Ethiopia.

"And on a personal note, I love books myself. I love to write them and read insatiably. I grew up in a country where I didn't have access to books, but now because of the love of reading, I’m an author myself and have written five books. So, I wanted to support the kids in Ethiopia by reading to them and also letting them know how books changed my life. Books make you smarter─ they take you to new places you've never been, and you get to discover new people, ideas, and things you wouldn’t normally know about."

Thank you, Seconde, for your books, your lovely words, and your generous support!

Have you subscribed to the OHBD YouTube Channel?
We are looking for volunteers to read for us! We'll even send you a free book. Contact us for more details!

Seconde Nimenya reads So Many Ways to Be, Beautiful Hair and We are full of Life

Volunteer Spotlight: Lily Iyob
Ellenore writes about our dear friend and supporter Lily Iyob:

"I met Lily in 2012 when we were planning our second OHBD Gala. She jumped right in to help in anyway she could. Since then, we have become good friends and she has supported our efforts in so many wonderful ways, including finding catering and rentals for fundraising events. She has secured donations of tea, volunteers, and silent auction items as well as sponsors. Last year she also cooked an amazing Ethiopian spread for one of our community dinners. We so appreciate Lily’s continued support and friendship. It is always a special treat to catch up and share our newest ReadySetGo books with Lily."

Thank you for your tireless support!

Artist Spotlight: Judith Carey

Art for many of our Ready, Set, Go! books came into being as part of a group effort by the art instructors and students of Clark College ECD (Economic and Community Development). Katie Bradley and Lee Baughman introduced our books to several of Lee's classes, and as the excitement of creating art caught on, other instructors and their classes got involved to produce some of our most beautiful titles, like Mamas and Lalibela.

Students range from beginning painters to experienced artists trying a new medium or technique. Many of the men and women who participated have voiced their excitement over being involved in furthering literacy in Ethiopia and bringing joy through their art.

One of these students, Judith Carey, has created art for multiple Ready, Set, Go! books, including Together, Houses, Where Is My Pencil?, We Love Animals, and We Are Full Of Life. We asked Judith what motivated her to volunteer to create art for our books, which she describes as a "wonderful experience:"

"I first started painting after I retired from the computer industry. I signed up for Lee Baughman’s class thinking it might be an interesting thing to do (it was) and I continue to take his classes.

"I have learned about Ethiopia’s many customs and wonderful landscape. I was also fortunate to know people who visited Ethiopia, and I have painted some photos taken by Matt Ebiner from Covina, California and Mary Halligan from Torrence, California.

"To the children of Ethiopia, I say, “What a rich history you have and I thank you for letting me be part of this important project.”

Thank you for sharing your talents with us and with children around the world!

You Can Help Increase Literacy!
  1. Give our books as gifts to kids at home. Each book purchased helps fund the creation and distribution of more #ReadySetGo books. You can now also find them at Wal-Mart, Abe Books and Barnes & Noble! If you'd like to see our titles in your favorite bookstore or library, we always appreciate support in finding new homes for our books!
  2. Leave reviews of our books on Amazon and help others discover them.
  3. Donate on Facebook (no fees!) or on our website – each dollar helps continue our work.
  4. Set your Amazon smile account to benefit Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund, now available on the Amazon app in iOS and Android, and a portion of your Amazon purchases will come back to OHBD!
Copyright © 2020 Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund, All rights reserved.

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