Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan’s innovative reading program for children in hospitals and clinics, "Wanna Read?", has been launched at Healthpoint, the super-specialty hospital in Abu Dhabi. The initiative provides Healthpoint’s young patients with a pleasurable and fun learning environment and access to a variety of books during their hospital visits with the aim of encouraging healing through reading.
Healthpoint has dedicated a reading corner in its Family Medicine clinic for Sheikha Shamma’s program, with plans to expand to a dedicated room soon. Children’s literature, in Arabic and English, is freely available for all pediatric patients and their parents during their hospital visits, with Healthpoint staff and volunteers taking turns to read to the children. Children are also encouraged to choose books to read by themselves or with their parents.
Sheikha Shamma said, “During my first book reading in a hospital, I was able to witness for myself the happiness that literature can bring to children. Having seen the effects of reading to young patients I was inspired to create “Wanna Read?”, a non-profit organization that provides the children of the UAE with an environment conducive to ‘healing through reading’ in hospitals. We have created accessible libraries with a myriad of books to fire their imagination and transport the children out of the hospital environment. I firmly believe in the healing power of books and that one of the most important things you can do for a child is to encourage a lifelong love of reading”.
“She realised that children who were unwell and in hospitals were vulnerable and needed support, sometimes through the eyes of their favourite fictional characters.“I realised children were very excited to be at the book reading session, even if some of them were not feeling well," said Sheikha Shamma.“This experience inspired me to create Wanna Read? and to provide the children of the UAE with an environment conducive to healing through reading.“
There are well-documented benefits of reading to and with children – for example, very young children who are read to frequently are more likely to be able to write their name or count to 20 than their peers who are not read to . Sick children are able to let their imaginations fly and escape for a while, and reading has been shown to lower stress levels in young patients, which in turn helps with the healing process. As for the older children it keeps their minds active, ready for when they return to school.” Sheikha Shamma continued. “
Healthpoint also announced its commitment to create a whole “Wanna Read” entertainment room in its new pediatric wing, due to open early 2017, as part of its expansion plan to better serve the needs of the community.
“Wanna Read?” was established in 2013 by Sheikha Shamma, the great-granddaughter of the nation’s founder, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan. The “Wanna Read?” organization has three main goals: promoting literacy amongst young patients, encouraging parental engagement and inspiring greater community service. The non-profit organization creates warm, friendly and stimulating areas for children, filled with an abundance of books. The program has gained in momentum during 2016, the UAE’s Year of Reading, in which the UAE government is formalizing an integrated national literacy strategy and framework to produce a reading generation and establish the UAE as a capital of culture and knowledge.
Dr. Mai Al Jaber, General Practitioner, Deputy Medical Director and Head of Public Health Initiatives at Healthpoint, said, “Healthpoint prides itself on providing a full cycle of care that addresses the individual needs of every patient, and this includes our young patients. As a child, I loved reading and as a physician, I’ve seen the benefits of reading with sick and frightened children. Children with recurring or chronic illnesses can miss considerable amounts of school, and having access to textbooks allows them to keep up with their studies and with their peers, as well as maintaining a sense of normalcy. There are so many benefits for children if they read and I am proud that we are helping to foster a reading culture within the families of our Healthpoint community in the UAE’s Year of Reading.”
 According to the US National Center for Education Statistics http://www.nea.org/grants/facts-about-childrens-literacy.html