Children and curiosity go together. Children, no matter where they live in the world, are natural explorers. They grow to be empowered and educated citizens of the world if we give them the opportunity to have books and read.
I’ve worked at Children International for 10 years at its headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, and, during this time, I’ve visited many of the community centers we operate throughout the world. Our centers are great structures of hope in poor communities where sponsored children live and have access to a medical and dental clinic, a pharmacy and a library. Because public libraries are not prevalent in many of the countries where we work, our centers’ libraries are often a sponsored child’s first exposure to a place completely devoted to books and reading.
Whenever I visit our community centers, I pass the medical and dental clinics and go straight to the library. Those clinics are crucial — no doubt — but it’s just that I love knowing that in the same place where a child can see a doctor for a stomachache or a dentist for a toothache, a child also can find a book.
The author Neil Gaiman says libraries are the “frontline soldiers in the war against illiteracy and the lack of imagination.” I add that libraries are catapults for children’s curiosities and dreams. When a sponsored child steps inside the doors of one of our libraries and timidly grabs a book to open, he is accepting magic – a new possibility. He is touching a power that has transformed the lives of millions. And when he turns the pages of a story — as many have done since the days of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare — it’s his soul asking, “What happens next?”
Pure and beautiful curiosity. It’s the same question I ask myself when I receive a letter from my sponsored child. I wonder, “What will happen next? Will she be able to break free from poverty? Will her dad find work again? Will she graduate from school and go on to study to be a nurse as she expresses in her letters? Will she defy the odds? Will she chase her dream and never give up?”
What happens next? I believe that when a child dives into a book and wonders what happens next in the life of a character, it’s impossible for them not to ask the same questions of him- or herself. The exploration begins. What if I could break free from poverty? What if I could learn to write too? What if I could go to school? What if I could help my family?
Curiosity takes hold … and the story begins. A question that begins with a book in the hands of a child can end with the sponsored child creating his or her own story and asking, “What happens next?” The journey begins at our centers, but it takes flight in the child’s hands and imagination.