Recently I had one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences I've been afforded thus far as a professional illustrator. Last month a book I illustrated for Kids Can Press, School Days Around the World (written by Margriet Ruurs) was nominated for an award at the Rainforest of Reading Festival in St. Lucia. As a result I was invited by OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundation to travel to St. Lucia and participate in the festival.
The Rainforest of Reading Festival was started by OneWorld in an effort to 1) create libraries in schools where they are otherwise nonexistent and 2) to eradicate illiteracy in the Caribbean. Over the course of a week myself and the 4 other author/illustrators participated in 2 festivals (one in the north in the capital city of Castries and a second in the southern part of the island in Vieux Fort). At each festival we met and hosted a day long event for over 7,000 students in grades 3-5.
The experience was inspiring and overwhelming. The children were ecstatic to receive a book, or activity, or honestly anything they could take home (huge thanks to Nat Geo Kids Magazine who donated some copies of their February issue for the kids). For those kids, reading the books and the chance to participate in the festival was an experience they would otherwise never have.
We heard from a waitress at our hotel that her daughter's school could not afford to send all of their students so they randomly picked half who received the chance to go. There is little opportunity or motivation for these kids to go on to college, or to travel outside of island, or pursue careers. The fact the OneWorld Schoolhouse and it's founders Sonya White and Richard Clewes are creating an opportunity for these kids to imagine a life and a world beyond what they know is amazing. And it was amazing to be a very small part of it.