13-year-old Maria is helping to change the world with books
Maria Keller isn’t your average 13-year-old. She wants to help make the world a better place – by giving the gift of reading.
The American teenager has always loved books. But she turned that passion into a personal crusade at the age of eight, when she decided to help less fortunate children who didn’t have access to books.
Maria started with small book drives and founded a non-profit organisation called Read Indeed. But the donated children’s books and the offers of help began to flood in, so she set herself the daunting goal of collecting and distributing ONE MILLION free books by the time she was 18.
Incredibly, the eighth-grader from Minnesota reached that landmark five years early. Now she’s set herself a new target – to send books to children in every country around the world, as well as all 50 of the United States.
Maria explained: “I read that 225million children in the world are illiterate when they should be able to read. I’m going to try to distribute as many books as possible.”
In between her school work and her duties with Read Indeed, Maria took time out to chat to A World at School about the simple idea that became a global success story.
She told us reading is important to all children because “reading takes you places. It exposes you to so many different ideas, cultures and people.”
We asked Maria about her first memories of books and reading. She said: “I remember my parents reading Amelia Bedelia books to me and I remember reading the Junie B. Jone series. But I’m sure I started with much simpler books.”
Her website lists her favourite books. But top of her personal list is The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak.
Maria said the Read Indeed name was her own idea, adding: “I wanted to create a memorable name that also communicated what my mission was about.”
The teenager works hard on the project, organising book drives, sorting, counting and distributing books. Any monetary donations go towards buying new books, offsetting the cost of shipping them and paying for warehouse space.
Maria said: “In the summer, I spend up to 20 hours a week on Read Indeed. During the school year, I typically spend 10 hours a week but sometimes more if we are really busy.”
So far the non-profit has sent books to 13 countries including Ethiopia, Mexico, Costa Rica and the Philippines. The schoolgirl knows her dream of extending that across the globe is going to be difficult.
She said: “I’m hoping to partner with organisations that can help bring the books into other countries. Not only is shipping expensive but I recognise that making inroads in certain countries will require a lot of help and will be much easier with organisations already established in those countries.”
Is the answer for every country to have their own Maria Keller and Read Indeed?
“That would be awesome,” she said. “I have heard from so many people all around the world who need books and many who want to donate books and do book drives.
“I work with them to find places in their locations to donate the books in Read Indeed’s name. This saves on transportation costs and gets the books into kids’ hands much faster.”
When education campaigner Malala Yousafzai gave a speech to the United Nations in 2013, she said: “One child, one teacher and one book can change the world.”
Maria echoes that sentiment. She said: “Books can work wonders in people’s lives. They can enable someone to become educated and make a better life for themselves. They are empowering and powerful.”
Visit the Read Indeed website for more information and details of how to donate or volunteer.