Literature for Life, a non-profit organization in Toronto that was founded in 2000, is committed to helping marginalized young mothers develop their reading practice to successfully access opportunities.
A representative from the non-profit reached out to me and asked me to share a very inspiring story about Huda Eldardiry, a young mother who has learned to love herself and aspire for greatness. Huda is also a member of Literature for Life’s reading circles. Along with 1,000 others, Huda will attend Literature for Life’s Read & Believe fundraiser on May 15, 2014. The event will raise critical dollars to support the non-profit organization.
Who is Huda?
When Huda Eldardiry turned 19, she found out she was two months pregnant with her son Amiel, who is now six.
When the news came, Huda, who was interning at a beauty clinic in Toronto, says she was struggling with the idea of growing up, adding that her rough and traumatic childhood made her fear taking responsibility for her life in all aspects – emotionally, mentally and financially.
“I wasn’t excited [about the baby], at least not at first,” Huda says. “I wasn’t going to have the baby. When I decided to have sex, I was very careful about planning my sexual health. I was at the doctor’s regularly, on birth control and using condoms.” Huda also says she had the contingency plan that if despite everything, she found herself pregnant, abortion would be her only answer.
“I never took into consideration that I would fall in love with the baby,” she adds. “But, everyday that I waited to get the blood results to confirm my pregnancy was another day I connected to my growing peanut.”
Huda no longer began to fear pregnancy and losing her Muslim community and family. At this point, her biggest fear was life without her baby.
“I [worried I wouldn’t be] able to take care of Amiel, [because] at the time, I could barely take care of myself,” the now 27-year-old says. “I worried about losing everyone I loved and cared for because I went against everything I was taught to believe. I worried about not being able to shower my child with care and affection because I didn’t have those experiences as a child. I asked myself, ‘Would I be able to learn how to love him when I barely had experience being loved?’”
Where is Huda now?
When Amiel was four-months-old, Huda started an upgrading program at Alexandra Park Neighbourhood Learning Centre where she focused on strengthening her reading and writing skills. She has also been a part of PACT Fashion, an urban peace program, for three years. Here, she learned how to sew and pattern draft.
She is now a full time Designer and Community Artist at Sketch, an organization that provides creative training initiatives for street-involved, homeless and at-risk youth, and one of 2,200 young moms who are experiencing Literature’s for Life reading circles and improving their lives through the power of reading for social change.
Literature for Life has taught Huda about becoming confident and learning to love herself. Having a home now full of books and art has shown Amiel, her son, that if Huda can be successful, than so can he. She says, “Amiel is learning key life skills and becoming confident that asking for help is okay, that falling down is good, that finding someone to trust is both beautiful and possible. And he’s doing all this while being re-affirmed that he’s loved and not alone. Literature for Life does for me what I do for my son in many ways. The organization has become one of my chosen families.”
Lydia Parent, Manager of Communications and Operations at Literature for Life, says participating in Literature for Life’s programming allows moms to engage with books and ensure their children are also reading. “One of the interesting impacts of the programs is on budgeting: Some young moms realize that a book costs the same as a new shirt they don’t need or eating out. So, they prioritize buying the book because they see the impact on themselves and their children.”
Amiel watches his mother read everything, from newspapers, to books, to blogs. Reading has become a way for the mother and son duo to bond. “I often find him picking up his own books and making up his own stories for hours,” Huda says, adding that their conversations are often based on Amiel’s creativity, imagination, curiosity and problem solving.
Reading circles at Literature for Life:
One of the programs in which Huda participates is Literature for Life’s Women With Words (WWW) reading circle. It is designed to suit the needs for a different approach to learning for marginalized young moms.
The reading circles are built on five pillars: The right to voice, the right to think, the right to speak, the right to be heard and the right to power in your world. They consist of groups of 10 to 12 young moms and are based on nine-month programs, where participants read one book per month.
Participants are given one copy of the chosen book to keep. “For many, this is the first book they have owned and becomes a valuable possession that they are willing to share with other women and friends,” Lydia says.
Many clients who participate in the WWW circles have been victims of abuse, violence or neglect. The reading circle program offers participants a safe, non-judgmental environment, where they can overcome any feelings of isolation.
Lydia says the first challenge young moms may experience when starting at Literature for Life is a fear of words and books. “We often ignore the harsh realities of language privilege. In school, we don’t realize how damaging English can be for the student that hasn’t maintained or developed reading motivation.”
When moms first enter the groups, Lydia says they have a wall up that often prevents the facilitator and the young mothers from connecting. The Literature for Life representative also says that the programs encourage members to read out loud, which can be a great challenge but an even greater confidence builder, especially as it requires trusting the group of people in the room and the facilitator.
“It must be understood that these women have been victims of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, homelessness, discrimination and are economically disadvantaged,” Lydia says. “Honestly, reading isn’t on their minds nor is it a priority. So, trusting each other, trusting the books and having confidence that this will help them put food on the table, be better parents or improve their chances of employment is a common goal for mothers when they first join a circle.”
The WWW reading circles, which take place on a weekly basis, are held at various partner shelters and youth centres across the GTA. Trained facilitators lead the sessions, where young mothers read books relevant to their lives, which allows them to reflect on any issues and problems they may feel they cannot control.
Mothers who participate in Literature for Life’s unique programming develop skills in literacy, empathy and decision-making through highly interactive discussions and writing tasks. As a result, members also learn that their voices have value, which leads to increased self-confidence and a renewed interest in learning. These lessons are then passed on to their children.
In addition to the reading circles for young moms, Literature for Life has also developed programming for the children of the economically disadvantaged population.
Super Readers is a reading circle program for marginalized youth between eight and 12-years-old that uses graphic novels, and a “be your own superhero” curriculum to develop good reading habits, encourage academic achievement, build social skills and foster community engagement. With the support of a trained facilitator, children will read graphic novels that resonate with their lives. These stories will explore topics like bullying, peer pressure, growing up and making friends.
Lydia says the Super Readers discusses these issues, often out of the children’s control, safely through the characters in various stories. By reading relatable novels, participating in discussions and completing writing exercises, these children begin to appreciate language as a tool of expression and advocacy; developing the skills they need for success.
Huda before Literature for Life:
Growing up with books everywhere, Huda says she was always thirsty to unlock hidden mysteries. However, because of her low self-esteem and difficulty learning in English, math and science courses, Huda didn’t pick up her first book to read until she was in grade seven. “I got tired of being different and not having an outlet that gave me space to feel safe.” For her, reading became a means of survival in a world crumbling everywhere she turned.
The Toronto artist also says, “Without the ability to read and write, we become subjects of someone else’s beliefs and practices. We become programmed robots versus thinking, problem solving, self-advocating human beings. And that makes for a very sad and mad world. By reading, we are not only learning about everything around us and how it works, but we are able to learn about ourselves, too. This helps us to become more capable and involved members of our society.”
“Imagine for a moment if you couldn’t speak your story, or state your case, or help your child with homework, not because you aren’t smart enough, but because you are scared,” Lydia says, adding that many young mothers who first enroll in Literature for Life’s programming fear authority figures, like principals and landlords, because of their experiences in abusive relationships. Young moms learn to walk away from abusive relationships, once investing in a story about the impact abuse can have on a character.
Literature for Life uses reading to leverage this chain reaction: Reading books leads to significantly improved literacy, leading to better mental health outcomes, which leads to awareness of the importance of education, which leads to confidence and leadership, which leads to passing all of these integral lessons down to their children, Lydia says.
The 2nd annual Read & Believe fundraiser:
Literature for Life is hosting their 2nd annual Read & Believe fundraising event on Thursday, May 15th and expects about 1,000 people to attend.
The Read & Believe fundraiser will raise important dollars to benefit Literature for Life’s WWW reading circles program. It will take place at Product Nightclub in Toronto’s Entertainment District and will feature performances by Montreal’s internationally acclaimed DJ Jojoflores and Vancouver born 2013 Juno and 2014 Radio Music Awards nominee, Vita Chambers.
Read & Believe is taking what one might consider a typical night out at a club and turning it into a signature event that will share the messaging that is: Reading improves lives and happy people read books.
The event will also feature a silent auction, which includes items like Toronto Blue Jays tickets, Toronto FC tickets, tickets to the sold out Drake OVO Festival in August, a five-class pass to dance lessons at the Toronto School of Burlesque as well as signed items from the acclaimed performers. Guests can even win VIP passes to Vita Chambers’ next live performance!
Lydia says Literature for Life, which is a registered charity, is still accepting silent auction donations. All donations will receive a charitable tax receipt upon request.
Tickets for the Read & Believe fundraiser are starting at $20 for students and increase to $30 for others. To get your ticket, click here.
Huda says this event is important to her because it will support Literature for Life, an organization that supports women like her to learn about self-advocacy and self-love. “Together, we are supporting and raising the next generation on a healthy and positive platform for life success.”