United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 17: PARTNERSHIPS FOR THE GOALS

Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

[Katie Day, Tanglin Trust School, Singapore]

Last but not least is the goal of encouraging strong effective partnerships, global and local, in support of the other 16 goals, with the overall goal of achieving sustainable development by 2030.  

The official SDG 17 targets are partnerships to enhance the means of implementation of the goals, e.g., via finance, technology, capacity building, export trade, data monitoring and accountability, and systemic issues like policy and institutional coherence.  Have a read here (yes, the link is to Wikipedia, because that entry is easier to browse and absorb than the UN page).

Now it’s hard for me to think of books for young people that address those very adult concerns.  (Prove me wrong in the comments, readers!)

So on this Sunday, we’ll have a day of rest from the usual kind of book recommendations.

Instead I’m going to highlight some “multi-stakeholder partnerships and voluntary commitments” that involve children’s books, reading, and literacy and address (to steal a list from the Asia Foundation’s amazing Let’s Read campaign) the goals of:

  • CONNECT: Building sustainable book ecosystems
  • CREATE: Overcoming book scarcity
  • READ: Cultivating meaningful reading opportunities
  • THRIVE: The Book Effect, i.e., the power of books to build thriving societies in a divided world

All the examples I’m going to offer are partnerships focused on countries in Asia — and are innovative in relation to the local production and distribution of children’s books, involving multiple languages, both in print and via free digital platforms.

They are the perfect answer to the perennial problem of “book drives” aiming to send Anglo-empire cast-offs to “less developed” countries.  Shipping out our worn-out English-language children’s books is not what those countries need.  (The Monty Python sketch “Bring out your dead!” is my mental image of such well-meaning but misguided initiatives.)  Having sorted through too much second-hand Western book debris on service trips to schools in Cambodia and Myanmar in the past, and having lived in Thailand and Vietnam, I know that what is more important are local books, in local languages (including English).  Books written and designed with local children in mind. Think #ownvoices, #ownplaces, #ownissues.

The Asia Foundation, founded in 1954, is a non-profit international development organization that does work in 22 countries (see this PDF summary about them) and their Let’s Read program is founded on the belief that “to develop a love of reading, children need books in their own language with characters, themes, and settings that reflect their lives.”

They claim to run the largest free digital book platform for children in Asia with books in multiple languages, available to read online or to download in ePub or PDF format. Go have a look.

Let’s Read Asia – http://letsreadasia.org – the free digital library from the Asia Foundation

Languages available: Malay, Batak Toba, लिम्बु, Hiri Motu, Enga, Tok Pisin, तामाङ (Eastern Variation, )बारा जिल्ला, थारुराना थारु, پښتو, Southern Sorsoganon, Magindanawn, Akeanon, தமிழ், සිංහල, Capampangan, Ilocano, Cebuano, ދިވެހި, Tagalog, तामाङ (Western Variation), Central Bikol, Hiligaynon, दङ्‍गौरा थारू한, 국어, Kachin, Chin, ရခိုင်ဘာသာ, Balinese, Filipino, Sundanese, မြန်မာ, Javanese, Tiếng Việt, دریاردو, नेपालभाषा, Minangkabau, বাংলা, ລາວ, ភាសាខ្មែរ, Tetum, กะเหรี่ยงโปว์, Bisu (บีซู), เก่อะญอ (จฆอ), K’nyau (Cgau), ကညီၤ (စှီၤ), ไทย, Bahasa Indonesia, नेपाली, and English.

Reading Levels available: My First Book, Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.

Tags to filter on: Superhero, Critical Thinking, Science, and Adventure

“Let’s Read” Books are created in three different ways:

  • via BookLabs
  • Local translators
  • Partnerships: sharing stories other organizations have created. For example, on the Let’s Read platform, you can find Storyweaver books, a similar free digital reading platform for children produced by the non-profit Pratham Books in India (previously highlighted in our blog posts for both SDG 8 and SDG 13).

Here is an example of a book produced by a partner organization, HerStory Foundation in Bangladesh.

Let’s Read: The Photojournalist: Sayeda Khanam / Level 2 / Tags: Non-fiction, Mighty Girls / Bengali and English / Produced by HerStory Foundation / Read online or download as epub or pdf

Browse the list of collaborators for Let’s Read Asia— authors, illustrators, editors, designers, publishers, partners, and ambassadors, not to mention translators.

The BookLab is a fascinating initiative, where the Asia Foundation brings together people in a workshop mode to produce books for the Let’s Read platform. It seems to have started in 2017 in Cambodia, where they held what they then called an e-book hackathon, and created books for a “Girls Can Do Anything” campaign.

There have been several BookLabs since then, including one in Jakarta in 2018, where 25 women, over two days, created inspiring stories for children as part of a girls and women empowerment campaign – read the article here.

Last year, during COVID, they had their first virtual BookLab, where 30 people in the Philippines collaborated online to create a collection of ten new children’s books reflecting local people, places, and traditions in a Bikol language, one of the 19+ spoken languages in the country of 7,107 islands — read the article here.

A year ago they did a project in the Maldives where they translated 60+ titles into Dhivehi – see article here. Last year also saw them starting a project in Timor-Leste – see article here — as well as producing books for children in Nepal’s mother tongues — see article here.

Room to Read is another partner working with the Asia Foundation and Pratham Books — and their books can be found on both digital platforms, e.g., see the Room to Read books on the Let’s Read site here and see the Room to Read books on Storyweaver here. (It’s all about open sharing — and the relationship between these three NGOs is multi-faceted.)

Who Threw the Shoe? by Hoàng Ngọc Đoan Trang and Phùng
Nguyên Quang, illustrated by Phùng Nguyên Quang / Published by
Room to Read (2019) / Translated by The Asia Foundation

Started 20 years ago when an American named John Wood took a life-changing trip to Nepal, Room to Read is a now global NGO dedicated to literacy, as well as education for girls. They actively support schools, libraries, access to books, training of teachers, and educational programs.

Their impact and reach is impressive — 20 million children affected so far, with a goal of reaching 40 million children by 2025, in 16 countries and 36 languages. Like Pratham Books, Room to Read produces both print and digital editions of their stories. The ebooks are free — and the print books are of decent quality and inexpensively priced.

Covers of some “Room to Read” print titles in Khmer
There are many chapters of Room to Read, e.g., this is the Facebook Group for the Vietnam one – https://www.facebook.com/roomtoreadvn

There are smaller NGOs out there working to produce books locally, such as Big Brother Mouse in Laos.

I visited them in Luang Prabang a few years ago and loved seeing their bookshop, which doubles as an English practice centre, where tourists are encouraged to come in every day to make conversation with young Lao students. They also make it easy to buy bundles of their books as donations to go to local schools.

Growing Up on the Mountain: a Hmong boyhood by James Xiong, illustrated by Gikong, photographs by James Xiong (2013) / 64 pages / Available as a free PDF download in English from this page

Here is a Big Brother Mouse book to share with your students. (Downloads are for personal use, or educational use within one school.)

Note: In 2016 Big Brother Mouse won the IBBY Asahi Reading Promotion Award.

IBBY, of course, is the International Board on Books for Young People, the premier organization promoting international children’s literature, which was founded in 1953 by Jella Lepman, a German woman, as she was convinced after World War II that books could build bridges between peoples such that another war would never have to be fought — and that children were the place to start.

A new picture book biography of Jella Lepman was published in October 2020 — to introduce children to this most admirable advocate of the power of books.

The Lady with the Books: A story inspired by the remarkable work of Jella Lepman by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Marie Lafrance (2020) / Canada / Picture book biography

Another small NGO is Open Book or Au Livre Ouvert — which has created community libraries in Cambodia to get books into the hands of children, as well as running a small publishing house. Started in Phnom Penh in 2002, it now operates in five locations around the country and totals over 9,000 books in its libraries.

Sky, One Girl in a Million by Frederick Lipp, illustrated by Kristine Hakim (2012)

Based on a true story from 2010, this Graphic Novel invites us to travel around the beautiful city of Phnom Penh. SKY, a young Cambodian girl, wants to be Tuk-Tuk driver. As she attempts to fulfill her dream, will she be able to overcome the challenges? [Book blurb]

Note: One of Open Book‘s titles — Running Shoes, also by Frederick Lipp — was featured in the blog post on SDG 4.

Catherine Cousins, the French woman who started Open Book, runs the small publishing arm, which has an international range of authors and illustrators. She’s now started producing multi-lingual kamibishai stories — in English/French/Khmer/Vietnamese and English/Malay/Tamil/Chinese.

In Myanmar the NGO I want to highlight is Third Story Project.

For the Love of Trees by Soe Moe Myint, illustrated by Kargyi / Read online as a PDF

I was introduced to Third Story Project when helping to set up a library for a new primary school in Myanmar in 2017 — read blog post here. The same group of dedicated volunteers from UWCSEA in Singapore and the 100 Schools NGO did it again two years later, for a high school — read article here.

Now that the 17 goals have been examined individually, the rest of the posts for this month of March will be stories from different teacher-librarians offering interesting angles on and various projects related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Tomorrow’s post, by Linda Hoiseth in Delhi, is going to describe a particular partnership in India that exemplifies Goal 17. And you’ll be pleased to know, she has a book list to go with it — guaranteed to enhance your collections.

Katie Day is an international school teacher-librarian. An American with a masters in children’s literature from the UK and a masters in library science from Australia, she has lived in Asia since 1997, including 12 years in Singapore, first at United World College of Southeast Asia and now at Tanglin Trust School.  She has also lived and worked in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the UK. Online​ ​she​ ​uses​ ​“The​ ​Librarian​ ​Edge”​ ​as​ ​her​ ​blog​ ​and​ ​Twitter​ ​handle (@librarianedge).

Note: all the books highlighted during this month of SDGs can be found on this GLLI Goodreads shelf.

What are your favorite books for SDG Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals? Please share them in the comments. Let’s make this a conversation and work on the goal together.

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