father and son readingAs a former kindergarten teacher with a passion for early literacy,  watching someone learn how to read is something I cherish. Seeing that light bulb go on in a child’s mind as they finally connect something, watching their eagerness to learn and watching them overcome their challenges are just a few reasons why I loved teaching kindergarten for 9 years. 

Unfortunately, that’s not a joy I’ll ever experience with my son, Charlie. 

Charlie died the year he was set to go into kindergarten. I was so close to being able to see his eyes light up as he found a whole new world of words and books at his disposal. It will always break my heart that I’ll never have that with my son. 

But the entire reason we created Charlie’s Heart Foundation was to help others in ways we know Charlie would have if he was still with us, so when we learned 30% of the mothers in Addis Jemari’s Family Empowerment Program were not able to read and write at all, and 10% could only write their name, we knew we had to act. 

Charlie’s Library and Tutoring Center is located in the worenda (Ethiopian neighborhood) of Addis Ababa Ethiopia, within walking distance of the 50 families enrolled in the program. The Library and Tutoring Center is housed in the FEP compound which is designed to provide financial literacy, job-skills and health, and hygiene training, among other support opportunities to improve their family and home life.

The FEP center, a building that was found and rented this summer, needs to be within walking distance of these families because many don’t have access to transportation to be able to travel. During the day while children are at school, heads of household are taught a basic understanding of reading and writing Amharic, the national language. This is important before they can start to take other programs in the FEP, like financial literacy so they can begin to save money or start their own businesses. 

Then, after school, the tutor is able to provide her knowledge to the 101 children enrolled in the program in any of the subjects they need additional help in. It’s a tangible and ongoing way to see kids grow and have opportunities to rise up above generational poverty.

Charlie’s Library and Tutoring Center will be able to hold 5,000 books, and in the future, we’ll be adding computers as well. Giving kids and adults access to these items which they’ve never been able to easily access before can become a game-changer for the entire community. It can and will lead to better lives for families and generations to come, and those are values we hold near to our hearts. To partner with Addis Jemari to help families stay together is such an honor. 

I will never get over the fact that I won’t have the delight of teaching Charlie to read, but there is a little piece of redemption in knowing that we are helping and loving children and families who might not otherwise get the support they need to grow in education. I wish I was able to give that to my son, but we are fortunate to be able to support an incredible program through an organization we love that helps other families achieve that dream. 

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