Updated: Jun 4, 2021
Katie loved to read. She knew how to savour a good plate of sushi, and she consciously recycled anything recyclable!
She was an avid climber, fearless and confident, supported by ultimate trust in her Daddy's guidance. She and her brother Jake had a blast pretending to be news anchors for "NPR news", giving the news and weather reports and just hanging out, arms draped around each other at every photo op. And with her Mummy, as well as all the awesome girly stuff and giggle time that only mums and daughters share, deep and heartfelt conversations and connections at every turn.
In 2008 Katie was rushed to hospital in the middle of a typical school day, and in just a few painfully short days, a brain tumour took her sweet life.
The people who knew and loved Katie in her life will never be the same again. Beautiful memories are unable to fill the gaping hole in their hearts. Even those touched only by a passing breeze of Katie's spirit experienced something so heartfelt that this little girl can only be described as an Angel on a mission.
Angela had been an expatriate for almost 30 years, living in 11 countries, when she found herself, for the third time, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She had spent her entire expatriate life working with children, volunteering, studying, anything that would help her learn and grow and find her soul's calling in the materially luxurious expat world.
Nothing prepared her for the profound impact that Katie Jonis and her family would have on her life's path.
Angela met Katie for the first time at the side of her hospital bed. Stroking her perfectly manicured hands, singing and reading to her whenever Jodi and Jon (Katie's Mum and Dad) had to leave the room. She never heard the sound of her laugh or the tone of her voice, just the beeping of machines that were attached to her motionless body. But she felt her spirit deeply.
With the blessing of Katie's family, Angela ran a book drive, collecting gently used books from the expat community and passing them on to local schools that had limited resources.
She designed a sticker to place on each book, and Jodi chose the name 'Katie's Readers' for the project.
The idea was to inspire and encourage others to have a book drive in their community, place a sticker on each book and give the books away to schools and organisations that didn't have the funds to purchase their own, a simple way to honour Katie's memory.
Then Angela moved to Amman, Jordan and another, a much bigger plan unfolded.
While unpacking her family's household items in Jordan, Angela came across an abundance of books and educational materials from her own children's homeschooling days. She talked to her boys, and they agreed to donate all the items to a children's educational organisation in Amman.
Angela came across Madrasati, Her Majesty Queen Rania's initiative to 'provide the most neglected public schools in Jordan with support for improving the physical and educational learning environments.' Perfect! Time to draft an email.
Rawan, a Madrasati representative, came to talk to Angela about the donation. They talked for hours and hours and decided that rather than drop the books off at schools, they would gather volunteers to visit the schools regularly and read stories to the children, introducing them to fluent English speakers and inspiring them to read through fun and dynamic activities.
From there, with a dedicated and passionate team of volunteers, we created a programme that included; stories, movement activities, games, crafts, songs, and lots of opportunities to connect and communicate with these beautiful children.
Some of our volunteers, who we affectionately called 'The Crafty Ladies', spent their time preparing crafts and activities for the children to enjoy. We had a book drive in Amman and collected hundreds of books to give to schools under the Madrasati umbrella.
As time went on, more and more teachers asked us to visit their classrooms, and more and more volunteers were willing to do so. So much so, our project grew beyond our wildest dreams and evolved even further.
Being somewhat overwhelmed (in a good way) with the response to our project, Angela & Julie, a dedicated member of our 'Crafty Ladies' team, came up with a cunning plan to invite youth volunteers from local and international high schools to implement a Katie's Readers programme in their local community as part of their school's outreach project.
Our team trained a group of students from the International Community School (ICS) in the Katie's Readers approach. We also showed them how to gather and manage their team of volunteers, raise funds for materials and design relevant and fun activities for their little students who they would visit once a week, under the supervision of their teachers.
The result of this trial was overwhelmingly positive. The motivation and commitment from the youth volunteers were incredible, the response from the primary school students and teachers was inspiring, and the connections and relationships that all of the students were making were so beautifully moving.
We knew we were on to something. From that moment on, Julie and Angela focused on developing this project, which we named the Katie's Readers PASS IT ON Programme, and is now a free online training accessible to youth volunteers worldwide.
If you would like to know more about Katie's Readers, please do reach out using the contact form here. Or sign up to our newsletter to get regular updates and information.