August 09, 2006

Ojibwa kids love learning

Indian kids yearn to learn

Books open up a world of imagination for children on reserves and can lift them from a life of poverty and despair Even the death of a young woman couldn't keep youngsters from their summer literacy program, writes Louise BrownIn isolated northern reserves, where many families struggle with poverty and unemployment, children speak the Oji-Cree dialect at home and often pick up English from satellite TV until they begin learning their ABCs in Grade 1.

So weaving literacy into summer fun can give an academic boost, says Bartleman, who has raised more than $4 million from both government and private donors to run 35 literacy camps as well as a free book club for students across northern reserves that will continue after his term ends next spring.

"It's not the panacea, but we're doing something, with resources from the communities themselves," Bartleman says during a visit to camps in Wunnumin Lake and nearby Summer Beaver. "If you give kids hands-on attention and introduce them to the world of imagination through books, you give them something that can overcome poverty and despair," says Bartleman, whose mother is Ojibwa.

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