Will You Join Me in Reading to Children?

A recent New York Times article revealed how nearly 300 million children around the world are missing class due to COVID-19. The Bush Institute's Senior Program Manager of the Human Freedom Initiative Jieun Pyun decided to take action.

One sunny morning in January, I ran across a fellow parent at my four-year-old daughter’s daycare. She is from China where COVID-19 has taken lives and affected thousands of people. I asked how she and her family were doing. Tears trickled down her face as she described the situation. “It breaks my heart to see pictures of empty streets in China,” she said. “I feel hopeless, Jieun.” I hugged her. Even then, I didn’t realize how much this disease was about to change my life.

A month later, COVID-19 was spreading across my home country of South Korea. Korean streets were deserted as people went into lockdown. Every day, I worried about my elderly parents’ safety, health, and financial stability. My concern extended to my hometown, Korean friends, their families, and all my country.

It pained me to be thousands of miles from my loved ones, not being able to do anything while they suffered through this crisis. I needed to take some action even if very small. But what?

A few weeks later in early March, I read a New York Times article titled, “When Can We Go to School?” The story revealed how nearly 300 million children around the world are missing class due to COVID-19. More than 22 countries on three continents including schools in South Korea, Italy, Iran, and the United States are closed temporarily or indefinitely. The United Nations warned that “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled.”

This article reflected the images from Korea that I had seen on social media—my friends’ little ones staying home alone bored. It sparked an idea. What if I asked my friends in America to read children’s books and share the video on social media, one video each day?

I printed the New York Times article, posted it on my cube at work, and included a note asking, “Will you join me in reading to children?” 

Three weeks into the project, many of my wonderful friends and colleagues have participated in making more than two dozen videos that have been viewed thousands of times. I have received messages from South Korea, China, Burma and elsewhere thanking the readers and sharing how much their kids are enjoying the videos. Many people have shared how the project is brightening their social media feeds and conveying a positive attitude during this difficult time. On a personal level, this small project is giving me joy, excitement, and gratitude.

Yes, there is plenty of online educational content. However, not many families around the world are equipped to use this content to continue their children’s education at home. With this project, I want families in South Korea, Burma, and elsewhere to have easily accessible educational content, and introduce their children to the happy faces of virtual neighbors around the world.

As an additional thank you to everyone who has participated, I plan to buy all the books read through this initiative and donate them to schools in Burma (where our Liberty and Leadership Program is active). Each book will be presented in the reader’s name.

Now COVID-19 is here in Dallas and my little one’s school is closed, so my family has benefited from this project as well. My daughter watches the book reading videos every day exclaiming with a big smile, “Mom, it’s Mr. Chris! Your friend at work!”  

It would surprise you how much joy a three minute video of someone reading a book brings to a child stuck at home. So, will you join me in reading to children?