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FC Barcelona stars help to bring e-books to Africa

Worldreader, a nonprofit literacy organization, is using messages from Barcelona soccer stars to help distribute one million digital books to children living in sub-Saharan Africa.

By Husna Haq / May 25, 2012

Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona members including Seydou Keita (l.) and Lionel Messi (r.) are working with Worldreader to achieve the goal of sending one million e-books to students in Africa.

Juan Medina/Reuters

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It’s the recipe for a perfect literacy campaign: stars from one of the world’s great soccer teams putting one million e-books in the hands of African children.

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Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona teamed up Thursday with nonprofit literacy organization Worldreader in a literacy campaign that aims to distribute one million digital books to children in sub-Saharan Africa with limited access to literature.

“Worldreader is committed to putting a digital library in the hands of all children throughout the world's developing countries, and we're thrilled with the support of FC Barcelona to send one million e-books to students in Africa,” Worldreader CEO David Risher told CNN.

In order to achieve its goal of distributing one million e-books to 10,000 children in Africa, Worldreader is seeking $5 contributions from one million donors. Because e-readers are often shared among friends and family members, Worldreader expects the campaign to put e-books in the hands of 50,000 people. The nonprofit has already donated 100,000 books to 1,000 students in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda, and hopes to expand into Rwanda and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa soon.

The e-books will include local African textbooks, African and other fiction for children, world newspapers, and classic literature from around the world.

Thanks to Thursday’s partnership, literacy “backup” is arriving in the form of star players from FC Barcelona including idolized soccer stars Lionel Messi, Xavi, Eric Abidal, and Seydou Keita, who will send messages to the individual students via e-readers encouraging students to read and achieve their goals.

“We’re trying to get them to do something radically different,” Risher told social media news blog Mashable. “When a student sees the image of a player he idolizes, it brings a whole new culture and habit, associating reading with a hero. Using these tricks, we can get kids to read more, making it more fun and a bigger part of their lives.”

Technology – here in the form of Amazon Kindle e-readers (Risher is a former Amazon executive) – can be a surprisingly effective way to get books into the hands of the developing world.

“Unlike traditional books -- which had to be physically imported, one title at a time -- a single e-Reader could provide a child with a vast array of current, relevant titles at a low distribution cost,” reports CNN.

Another advantage, font sizes can easily be increased on e-readers, enabling students without proper eyeglasses to read more easily.

E-readers also give students access to a much greater variety of titles than traditional books would, according to a 12-month Worldreader pilot program: 107 books, on average, as opposed to the between 3 to 11 books the average student has access to at home without the devices. E-readers also “provided a pathway into the digital world” for some African students, about 43 percent of whom had never used a computer before, according to the Worldreader study.

“Worldreader has not only given us unparalleled access to books, the program has motivated my students and instilled a joy for reading that never existed before,” said Jacqueline Abiso Dzifa, a teacher at Presbyterian Primary in Kade, Ghana, whose students participated in the pilot.

Worldreader is appealing to bibliophiles around the globe to make $5 donations to support its campaign. We can’t think of a better way to spend a Lincoln.

Check out the video, or make a donation here.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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