Seena Jacob is on a mission.
Jacob, the founder of the nonprofit BookWallah, is working to help children heal from trauma using books. She founded the organization in 2009 when she says she began to question her life’s purpose and started to visit orphanages around the world.
“We traveled to Indonesia, India, Jamaica to pass out story books donated by kids here in the United States and the reaction that I saw on the ground in orphanages for children of trauma, the way they were looking at the pop-up books, I just knew that I couldn’t go back to the old ways of life, my corporate life,” Jacob said.
That’s when the Magic Crates program came to life and small pop-up libraries were placed in schools and orphanages.
“I found that these books and the messages in the stories, which all children need to hear, the hero’s journey, the hero’s struggle overcoming something,” Jacob said. “Coming out stronger, a happier world, is so very critical for children who have lived with your insecurities and trauma. Where they can relive that journey, overcome it, and realize that they could create a better world for themselves.”
What started globally has slowly grown locally. Magic Crate libraries can now be found in Chicago filled with a variety of books for kids to take.
One of those locations is at the Boys and Girls Club in North Center. Each child got to leave with a book during a recent storytelling session.
“I got this book ‘More than a Princess’ because she is more than a princess,” 8-year-old Abigail said. “She is pretty and a princess but more than that.”
Mother and teacher Nancy Unzueta says the Magic Crates encourage kids to explore different topics.
“I believe that these crates will open that question … children are going to go home and ask for more books and ask parents to come into the program and parents are going to be reminded to take a break and sit down with your child and read with them,” Unzueta said.
For Jacob, her mission is derived from the passion she has to empower kids and allow them to heal and dream.
“No child should cry at night,” Jacob said. “We want to see them smile and laugh, and if we can give a simple gift like this and have that much power and magic, why not do it?”
Thanks to volunteers and the Related Affordable Foundation, Jacob says her goal for BookWallah is to keep expanding in Chicago.
“I truly believe if these books weren’t here for me I would not be here today,” Jacob said. “I believe these stories saved my life and I know it has the power to save other children’s [lives].”