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Education Worldwide

Warrior For Books in Homes

In an epiphany, Once Were Warriors main character Beth Heke realizes: "Bookless. Bookless. We're a bookless society. And I live in it, don't I? And my kids."

However, a bookless family does not stand a chance in a world that, according to Alan Duff, the author and creator of Once Were Warrior's Beth Heke, operates on the written word. Alan Duff, whose father was white and his mother Maori, knew from his own childhood that hardly any Maori homes nor the homes of low-income white people had books.

Visiting Camberley School in Hastings in New Zealand in 1992, Alan Duff realized that things had not changed very much from his childhood experience: The majority of children from low-income homes came essentially from bookless homes and showed little interest in reading.

In order to inspire a love of books and reading and to break the "cycle of booklessness", Alan Duff started to donating books to children from low-income homes, starting with Camberley School in 1992, the very same year of his visit. In 1995, the Alan Duff Charitable Foundation officially started the Duffy Books In Homes programme. This programme targets schools with a high proportion of students coming from low socio-economic communities in New Zealand.

The programme encourages children to pick new books to take home each of the three school terms. Students can choose from a range of titles written in English or Maori. Each child receives five books a year. Each book comes with a sticky label which has the child's name as well as the school's sponsor who gave the book. All participating schools join in a financial partnership with their sponsors to fund the books.

Dedicated Role Model Assemblies are held at every school. Role models are prominent figures coming from areas such as sports or TV and communicate the message "It's cool to read and cool to achieve."

There are some complementary initiatives such as awards for students and parents, special Christmas offers or the Duffy Theatre. The Duffy Theatre involves two groups of travelling actors presenting a show related to the topic of reading at 500 schools each year.

Since its inception, there are roughly 550 schools with over 100,000 students participating. More than 8 million books have been distributed so far. A research undertaken in 1996 and 1997 by Dr Warwick Elley reports that the Duffy programme improved the reading ability of children in year 5 and 6 by 35 percent.

Funding comes from the schools themselves, the New Zealand Government and private sponsorship.

The foundation has started a programme for pre-school children, too. The aim of Duffy Ready for Reading is to have five-year-old new entrants who are starting school familiar with books and ready to read.