Non-profit opens libraries and minds

Try to imagine a world without books. A world without Cat in the Hat, Harry Potter or Clifford the Big Red Dog. It becomes a world without bedtime stories.

Emily Moberly entered such a world after graduating from John Brown University in May 2008. She took a teaching position in Honduras, educating high school juniors and seniors in the English language.

One day, Moberly asked her class about their favorite books. No one answered. No one read for fun. After looking into things, she found no library, no bookstore and no books.

When the San Diego native returned to Honduras after Christmas break, she brought back a box full of books.

“Spring semester I made them read,” she said. “It was incredible to see these 16- to 18-year-olds fall in love with reading for the very first time.”

Thus began the idea for Traveling Stories, a nonprofit organization working to “outsmart poverty one book at a time,” according to the website.

After leaving Honduras in May 2009, Moberly received emails and Facebook messages from her students asking for more to read.
She started wondering if she could provide books for more children.

The alumna first thought she would just take a trip every year, bringing books to children all over the world. But the more she talked to people, the more people said they wanted to help.

In 2010, Moberly decided to make her idea real and filed paperwork for 501(c) (3) nonprofit status. By the end of the year, Moberly and her team gained approval from the IRS and planted their first library in what is now South Sudan.

The following March, Traveling Stories took a team of eight to El Salvador to set up the first stage of a library there. That summer, the team started a third library in Nicaragua.

In less than two years, Traveling Stories established three international libraries. At least 3,000 books passed through the organization’s hands, and 2,000 more wait to be sent out.

But with all the work overseas, Moberly and her team felt disconnected with the people of San Diego.

“In the summer of 2011, we started Story Tent,” she said. “We were interacting with all these people and we were becoming more aware of the needs in our community.”

Though most students in California can pick up a book at will, many grow up in families that do not speak English fluently. With large classrooms, children are not able to get the one-on-one attention they need.

“It’s common to see eight, nine or even 10-year-olds who do not read well and are ashamed of it,” she said. “We work with kids one-on-one to make reading fun and not foolish.”

The libraries and Story Tent impact children in real ways.

Moberly told the story of the 15-year-old boy she met in El Salvador. After speaking with him, she learned of his interactions with gangs, time in jail and three-year-old child. One day she saw him taking handfuls of young children’s books back to his room. She asked if they were for him.

“No, no, no, these are for my son,” he replied. “I want to read for him every night so he will grow up and have a better life… I want him to dream and imagine.”

Another young girl, Malikah, comes to Story Tent every Saturday. Moberly said Malikah hated reading at first. She would rather explore her surroundings than read a whole book. But now, she reads aloud and even recommends books for new children.

Moberly credits the University for giving her the connections and confidence to start this new adventure. If not told by a fellow student about the teaching opportunity in Honduras, she never would have thought of the idea.

Don Balla, professor of business, also helped Moberly with the forms she needed to apply for nonprofit status.

“I’m not surprised she has done this,” Balla said. “The thing that communicates the most and why I think her organization has done well is her kindness. She is gracious in her communication, and what she has done in Traveling Stories is a gracious story.”

Moberly said the contacts she made here provided help and made up for her weaknesses.

“While I was at JBU, I started to develop a mission for my life to never make a decision out of fear,” she said. “JBU helped make me the person I am and gave me really good connections all over the world.”

Moberly’s younger sister, freshman Bethany Moberly, serves as a Traveling Stories ambassador on campus. Bethany can connect students with the organization and opportunities to volunteer, donate books and invest in the ministry.

“[Students] should get involved because it brings kids so much happiness just to read a book, and it’s so simple,” Bethany said.

Moberly believes that with a simple book, a person can accomplish anything.