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Safae El-Ouahabi is a volunteer for Bookmark Reading, a charity helping children develop the literacy skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. They create flexible volunteering at the heart of our communities. Volunteers work one-to-one with a child at a local school during 30-minute sessions, helping them to improve their reading skills, expand their vocabulary and find enjoyment in reading.

Why did you want to become a reading volunteer?

Literacy is the gateway to success. I know this because that’s exactly what happened to me. In fact, I used to hate reading as a kid and I didn’t get into it until after I’d started secondary school. That’s when I began to notice an improvement in my own educational performance: I went from achieving average grades at GSCE to straight A’s at A-Level. Thus, I wanted to volunteer with Bookmark because I knew that it was possible for a reluctant reader to love books despite how much they thought that they hated them. In turn, this would help them to excel in all areas of their life as it did for me. 

How did you approach the sessions, was there anything that stands out?

I relied a lot on creativity to help engage reluctant readers, which ended up being really fun for everyone involved. For example, when I first started at Bookmark, one of the primary pupils I was reading with had a problem with maintaining focus. However, when I told her that she could make empathy glasses for Empathy Day she became really eager to read Sometimes… by Emma Dodd. She would sound out the words and then use colours to reflect the different emotions depicted in the book. The reaction was so positive that I decided to bring creativity back each session. Notably, I would encourage the pupils to first read the book and then to create a storyboard showing what they thought happened to the characters after that book had ended. It was really interesting seeing what direction each child decided to take with the book and allowing them express their creativity. This was also really useful because those who struggle with reading tend not to engage with the story itself, but this creative task got them to ask questions about what was happening, allowing them to connect with the characters.

Do you have any tips, or a message, for other people interested in helping children learn to read?

This isn’t only for the people who are looking to become teachers. Of course, this is great experience if that is what you eventually you want to do, but don’t let that put you off if it isn’t. When I first joined Bookmark, I knew that I wanted to work in publishing—not teaching—but I also found it hard to find something to do that allowed me to be around books while I was searching for a job. Bookmark was a great opportunity for me because it provided me with a key insight into children’s publishing and it allowed me to unpick the different reasons why children will choose certain books over others. It also reminded me of how much I loved to read, which really motivated me to keep applying for a job in publishing (where I am now working). Whatever it is you want to do after university, then, volunteering at Bookmark will allow you to do something both fun and useful with your time as you work hard to achieve what you want.

Interview by Bookmark Reading


Volunteer with Bookmark Reading

Come to our Tutoring and Mentoring Volunteering Fair on 10 October