Growing up in a house filled with books, Emily Moberly has always loved to read. But it wasn’t until she taught English in Honduras that she realized many people didn’t have the same access to books – and that she could make a difference. Many of her students had never read for fun, or been to a book store or library, so she brought them a suitcase stuffed with books, started a small library and encouraged them to read.
“I got to watch these teenagers fall in love with reading in my class, and that was amazing and inspiring,” says Moberly. Long after, her students were still thanking her for her encouragement. She thought: Why not start a nonprofit to give people greater access to books around the world?
After a quick fundraising effort on Facebook, Traveling Stories was born. With the motto, “Outsmarting poverty one book at a time,” the group has established seven libraries in four years in South Sudan, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Philippines. It also does pop-up literacy events called StoryTents in Southern California.
Moberly’s mission: Give kids greater access to books, encourage a love of reading, help literacy skills, boost job skills and increase confidence.
“The main thing is to empower young people with strong communication skills so they can become problem solvers in their own community and become whatever they dream of,” says Moberly, who is based in San Diego.
In some ways, she’s recreating the nurturing, transformative environment she grew up with. Her parents and grandparents had read to her as a kid, and the books she read herself offered a peek into other worlds.
“Books were a way for me to have adventures and a wide variety of friends and influencers, without necessarily needing to be an outgoing person,” says Moberly, who considers herself a shy “nerd.” “Through books, I traveled to Africa. I had friends that were doctors in World War II. I did all these exciting things.”
Four of her libraries are in the Philippines, where Traveling Stories partnered with advocates who work with girls escaping the sex trade. Moberly stocked the libraries with books about strong female characters and stories of hope; she’s heard from many girls who found the books a source of comfort.
In El Salvador, the group opened a library in a rural orphanage and school. In South Sudan, it opened the first library in the town of Nimule after shipping 1,000 pounds of books. Moberly is now working on starting libraries in Cambodia, South Africa and Manila with a new social franchise model, in which local community groups do the fundraising with support from Traveling Stories. Helping Moberly are Microsoft technologies, including Windows, Office and Skype, which she uses to keep in touch with her library teams around the world.
Closer to home, Moberly draws inspiration from kids who come to her StoryTent. Based at farmers markets and rec centers, the often weekly events provide a safe, comfortable place for kids to read and earn “book bucks,” or points for prizes. And not just standard prizes like pencils, but cool things like skateboards and an Easy Bake Oven.
One 9-year-old girl in particular inspired Moberly. She used to hate reading, but after three years of coming to StoryTent, had become a fan of books. She told Moberly with pride that she was no longer considered a “below-average” reader at school. For a recent read-a-thon, the girl read for 3,000 minutes, far more than the event’s ambitious goal of 2,000 minutes.
She had become a true book nerd, making Moberly feel proud.
To learn more about Moberly and Traveling Stories, go to Microsoft’s Instagram page, a celebration of people who break boundaries, achieve goals and #DoMore every day.
Microsoft News Center Staff