Changing the World One Library at a Time

By: Esther Rubio-Sheffrey | Photos by Emily of Traveling Stories

In the age of Kindles, most of us take libraries for granted. Some of us have not set foot in one since college, when research meant more than typing search words into Google. Libraries, however, are an integral part of a prosperous community because among other reasons, they have the power to enrich children’s lives and ignite their imaginations.

Families protested by the dozens when our city proposed cutting public libraries’ hours and community programs to balance the budget. Can you imagine if the city had simply threatened to shut down the libraries? Would you take action if children and communities did not have access to books?

Emily Moberly, founder of Traveling Stories, is taking action. She has embarked on a mission to set up libraries for communities abroad, where the absence of books is a stark reality and not a “what if” scenario.

The Road to Honduras and Beyond
Born and raised in San Diego, Moberly claims to have fallen in love with books before she fell in love with anything else. “When I was a kid, my granny signed me up for a book club where I got new books in the mail every month. I loved it,” Moberly recalled. One of her earliest book memories involves a big red, lovable dog. The Clifford book series stood out for Moberly because she and Clifford’s best friend, Emily Elizabeth, share the same first name.

Moberly still enjoys great adventures, travels the world, and solves mysteries all through the magic of the written word. Her greatest adventure, however, was her experience in Honduras; and although books did not take her there, it was in Honduras that she truly realized how much the world needs books.

In need of a change, Moberly left San Diego for the first time to attend John Brown University in Arkansas. Prior to graduating in May of 2008, she spent a semester abroad. “I studied in Uganda and it was an incredible experience,” Moberly said. “I knew right away that after graduation I wanted another adventure and not to jump straight into a career. I really wanted to travel, but I didn’t want to go into debt.” Within two months, she found herself on a plane to Honduras, where she was employed to teach high school English students in one of its largest cities, La Ceiba.

Although she took some Spanish in high school and college, it took Moberly about five months to communicate effectively in the market and adapt to her new life. “I was definitely treated different because I am a girl. Even though I never felt unsafe, I could not go out alone,” Moberly said. Despite La Ceiba’s reputation as the country’s “party city,” residents move at a slower pace, and Moberly was often encouraged to just sit and have a cup of coffee.

“I met a lot of great people and there was a rich culture, but there was a lot less to stimulate my mind. There are no art galleries, no libraries, and they have only one movie theater. I felt like my senses were deprived of that kind of culture,” she said. Even though it was her first time teaching, she quickly realized the negative impact that the lack of storybooks had on her students’ abilities to learn.

“As an English teacher, I felt it was my mission to do everything I could to make them fall in love with reading,” Moberly said. She came home for Christmas and then returned to the school with 40 books, which she introduced as Ms. Moberly’s Library. The students were not accustomed to sitting still and reading, so at first, they were not big fans of the library. However, it soon became a big hit, and even other teachers were borrowing the books.

Moberly used one of her students, Walter, as an example of the books’ positive impact. Walter was a bit of a troublemaker. He sat in the back of the class constantly drumming his hands on the table. Several times, Moberly had to have disciplinary conferences with his mom. “He had never read a book on his own for fun, but by the end of the semester, he had read 11,” Moberly said. At the end of the school year, he approached Moberly, thanked her for introducing him to reading and said, “I need to get more books. I love reading.”

“That was an incredible moment for me, it had a big impact on my life,” Moberly said. “It made it all worthwhile. To force a kid to do something they claim to hate, and then have them say thank you was inspiring. I felt like I really made a difference. That moment stays with me and continues to motivate me to not give up when things get difficult because you never know what kid will thank you in the future.”

When she returned home in July a year later, she missed her students, and it was clear they missed her. They sent her letters thanking her for teaching them the value of reading. Moberly realized that an investment in children’s imaginations was lacking in places like Honduras, and she established Traveling Stories to fill that void.

Reading is Sexy
Although her work in Honduras inspired the creation of Traveling Stories, the first Traveling Stories library opened in El Salvador in January of 2010. Moberly’s contacts from her vacations during the school holidays helped to connect her with the Remar School, which doubles as an orphanage and houses almost a third of its students.

Kamiah Thomas (an awesome Traveling Stories volunteer), Emily, and a girl from the orphanage working in the Traveling Stories Library at the orphanage in El Salvador

During this process, Moberly met someone setting up a children’s home in Sudan, and plans for the second library soon came into fruition. As a non-profit organization, Traveling Stories relies on fundraisers, donations, volunteers, and proceeds from the “Reading is Sexy” t-shirts. “So far we have generated about $3,000 from t-shirts alone, and funded a big part of the Sudan and El Salvador libraries with that money,” Moberly said. “We have a lot of long term goals, but we are fully committed to each library and do not want to short-change any of them. I want to make sure books are being used and we’re not just sending them to feel important.”

“I just turned 25,” Moberly added. “My personal goal for my 30th birthday is to take a trip around the world visiting every library we have opened.”

The third library was recently established in Nicaragua by two of Moberly’s college friends. To date, Traveling Stories has provided thousands of books for children who did not have any. For as little as $100 a month, they have also helped to staff part-time librarians.

Barely into its second year, Traveling Stories is not growing fast enough for Moberly. She is constantly collaborating with local businesses to generate funds through unique events, like the recent National Spelling Bee Finals Party that was held at True North Tavern on June 2nd, where adults played drinking games to raise funds. There is also the new storytelling tent that Traveling Stories set up at the City Heights Farmers Market, where volunteers read stories to kids and collect book donations. Also, future goals include a global book club that connects kids in different countries and allows them to share their favorite stories through internet video technologies.

“I think everyone should support Traveling Stories because books fuel our minds. The more readers we have in the world, the better the world will become, and we all want to live in a better world,” Moberly said. “By giving kids a love for reading, we’re fueling their potential, their imaginations, and giving them what they need to become the best version of themselves.”

There is the old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes only one book to spark a child’s imagination. If you support one organization this year, make it Traveling Stories. Visit their website to learn more about how you can help, or follow them on Twitter @TrvlingStories.

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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