As little kids many of us remember imagining ourselves as the princes or princesses in the storybooks our parents or teachers would read to us. I personally imagined I was one of the students travelling to the depths of space or down someone’s esophagus on Ms. Frizzle’s “Magic School Bus.” A student organization on campus, Harvard College Stories for Orphans, was created in 2008 to write and illustrate personalized stories for orphans so they too can have their own ‘happy endings.’
Since its founding nearly four years ago, HCSO has published around 130 books, unique to each child that receives one. Each semester the organization works with a different orphanage, and so far members of HCSO have made books for children in Peru, Poland, the Dominican Republic, South Africa, and most recently, South Korea. The group usually writes books for children ages 5-8, but this past semester, the books have been targeted to 14-17 year olds. In an average semester, around 15-20 members will write and illustrate 15-20 books, depending on the number of children in the orphanage.
HCSO works closely with the different orphanages to make sure that each story is built around a particular child’s name, age, and favorite storybook characters, animals, and toys. A child who wrote that his favorite animal was a lion got a story about a boy who lived with a circus and freed two lions being treated unfairly by the evil lion tamer. Another story HCSO has done is about a boy who was sucked into the world of his own written story and saved a planet of banished children from an evil emperor about to destroy them with the power his pencil gave him. Some of the completed books have even been hand-delivered by HCSO members who volunteer in the orphanages that they have written for. Two current members will be travelling to South Korea this J-term to volunteer and deliver books to the orphanage HCSO has been writing for this past semester.
Harvard College Stories for Orphans has attracted a wide range of students looking to find a ‘philanthropic’ outlet to their creative abilities - whether it be in the form of writing, drawing, painting, photography, or research for the books. A new member to HCSO, Margot Leger ’13, decided to lend her artistic skills to Stories for Orphans because she wanted a way to share the love she felt when her parents would read to her at bedtime when she was little. “Even though children in orphanages don't have parents to read to them, I still believe that books can create this sense of warmth and care,” Leger says. “I love drawing for HCSO as I feel that the individual stories that we create make children feel special and important.”
Current Co-President of HCSO Annie Li ’13, recalls “at the first introduction meeting I went to, we went around the room and named our favorite children's book. It reminded me how much reading meant to me as a child and how great it would be to provide that to a child in need. HCSO's mission of using these storybooks to foster an early love for reading and to remind each child that they are special is also something that I truly believe we do. A lot of the times, these books are one of the only personal items that these children get to call their own.”
At the beginning of each semester, the group sends out applications for writing and illustrating spots. HCSO also organizes readings to kids at the COOP, so even if creativity isn’t your strong point, there is still a need for good storytellers. The group is planning on working with a larger orphanage of around 60 kids in Ethiopia in the spring, and so will need more students to contribute. While we may sometimes find ourselves caught up in our own “storylines” of papers, internship applications and social events. HCSO offers a way to help out while allowing us to tap into our ‘childish’ sides.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in joining the organization.
Meredith C. Baker ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House. Her column usually appears on alternate Thursdays.