If you asked West Virginia high schooler Rania Zuri what a book desert is, she would tell you it’s a region in the world where books are very hard to obtain.
She would also tell you that it’s a problem that she is trying to tackle one book at a time.
Zuri told Fox News that she had become familiar with the concept because her grandparents grew up in very small villages in India and Uganda where they had no access to books or libraries.
“Truly the epitome of a book desert,” the Morgantown High School junior said.
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However, after setting up a small library for migrant children in Palm Beach County, Florida, a few years ago, she realized it was a problem in the United States as well.
Zuri created a nonprofit, The LiTEArary Society, to make sure children in need have access to books.
“Studies have shown that just one book can make a huge impact on early literacy development,” Zuri said.
The organization’s mission is to promote the love of reading among children ages 3 to 5 that come from disadvantaged families who live at or below the poverty line.
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Children at this age are too young to check out a book at the library themselves and their families “don’t necessarily have the disposable income to go out and buy books,” according to Zuri.
During the holiday season, from November through December, the organization held a book drive with Barnes & Noble where it received nearly 1,200 new books for children in need. They took 800 of those books, which were for preschoolers, and handed them out to every child in Head Start programs in three counties. The rest were given out to their older siblings and parents.
Head Start is a federal program that serves preschool children that come from low-income families.
However, Zuri had no plans of stopping there. Her goal was to give out a new book to every child in Head Start programs throughout the entire state.
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In March, she launched the West Virginia Head Start road tour, traveling to 22 separate Head Start centers and classrooms throughout the state. By April 1, she reached her goal, passing out more than 6,770 books to every child and their teachers with the help of her team.
“It was unforgettable,” she said.”Most of the children, they didn’t have any books at home, so this was something that was desperately needed.”
To help fund it, Zuri used the entire allowance she collected since the second grade. She also received numerous donations.
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In June, Zuri and her organization plan to embark on a similar effort in New York, Virginia and California.
She also has plans for an even bigger Head Start road tour this summer. Zuri plans to donate books to every child in Head Start summer programs throughout Appalachia.
“We can make a difference in ending the book desert, especially in America, by just giving one high-quality book to a child in need,” Zuri said.
One day, she hopes her efforts become a national movement called “one book at a time.”