Books for Ukrainian children

Seated student holds science dictionary with other books in her lap
Sofiya Mulyk, a student at St. Nicholas Cathedral School, holds the book she received from the book fair donation.

By Laura Kann, governor of District 6420 (Illinois, USA)

Rotary’s response to the war in Ukraine has been simply incredible. Since the war began in February, Rotarians have opened their hearts to support those effected by the war in many different ways. Many members in my district have also been thinking, what can we do, right here, right now?

In August, I read a front-page article in the Chicago Tribune about Ukrainian refugee children in Chicago and the impact of the war on them and their families. It both broke my heart and spurred me to action, showing me how District 6420 could make a difference for at least some of these children.

With the start of the 2022-23 school year many of these children enrolled in a new school in a new city with new teachers and new classmates. They had been forced to leave their homes, their relatives, their friends, their schools, their toys – everything. They had traveled a very long distance to a very new country where everything was different. Not necessarily different in a bad way, but different nonetheless. They literally had started over.

Enrollment increase

This is occurring all over the United States, but also right here in the Ukrainian Village of Chicago. Two primary schools Columbus Elementary School and St. Nicholas Cathedral School – are just a few blocks a part. They both have experienced nearly a 40% increase in their enrollment since last school year due to children fleeing the war in Ukraine.  Consequently, they do not have all the resources they need to support their newly enrolled students and help them learn English as quickly as possible. One of their biggest needs is for new books. The new students need to learn English as quickly as possible and reading is obviously a great way to help them do that. 

I had several long conversations with the principals of both schools. Anna Cirilli and Wendy Oleksy both told me how desperately they need new books. I told them of our upcoming district conference and the generosity of our members, and a plan was formed.

  • Students fans out seven books in her hand.
  • Three tall stacks of multi-colored children's books.
  • Four books fanned out in a students hands.

At the district conference 5 November, we partnered with Usborne Books and More to set up a book fair, featuring books specifically selected by the teachers and librarians at the two schools. Attendees at the district conference had the opportunity to buy books that would then be delivered to the two schools. For every $2 of books purchased at the conference, Usborne Books and More donated an additional $1 in books.

Book fair results

I had promised and depended on the generosity of our members at the district conference, and I was not disappointed. When the book fair closed just six hours after it opened, attendees had purchased a total of $10,000 in books and Usborne Books and More added $5,000 more for a total of $15,000 worth of books. This resulted in the purchase of 2,000 books that were evenly distributed between the two schools. 

To say that the principals, teachers, and students were grateful is an understatement. My husband (Wick Warren) and I were joined by RI Director Pat Merryweather-Arges and Usborne Books and More consultant Erika Dahlgren in delivering the books. It was an amazing experience to see the smiles and happiness on the faces of the children. Collectively, District 6420 feels grateful for the opportunity to serve in this way. 

1 thought on “Books for Ukrainian children

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