Hilton Head Island residents develop health-related speaking books to help Third World communities

abredeson@islandpacket.comSeptember 2, 2013 

Brian Julius and his wife, Zane Wilson, are photographed with some of their speaking books.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

  • SPEAKING BOOKS

    Hilton Head Island resident Brian Julius started a company called Speaking Books, which produces books on a variety of health topics.

    Details: www.speakingbook.com

A health care worker meets with a group of women in Pakistan to talk to them about the importance of vaccinations. She gives them pamphlets of information, but it does no good because the women can't read. Students in South Africa are given brochures about suicide and how to get help for mental illness. The brochures are left behind on the playground.

Hilton Head Island Rotary Club member Brian Julius and his wife, Zane Wilson, have come up with an alternative to those educational materials.

As the chairman and founder of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, Wilson saw that the old method wasn't working in educating youngsters. The children had no interest in reading pamphlets on suicide prevention. But suicide is a huge problem in South Africa. Julius said it is the third biggest killer, after murder and car accidents.

"My wife was in Johannesburg," Julius said. "I was over here. She phoned me and said, 'We've got to do something to get their interest, keep their interest and get these messages across. What about those Disney books that Disney used for ... teaching kids a dog barks, a cow meows?'"

After that conversation, Julius launched Speaking Books, a company that produces just that -- speaking books that can be read or heard. Simply push a button, and you can listen to the first page, second page and so on. Flip a switch, and you can hear the book in English, and flip it the other way to hear it in Swahili.

It might be a step back in time technologically speaking, but people in third-world countries don't usually have Kindles or iPads.

Julius' first book was "Suicide Shouldn't Be a Secret." Lillian Dube, a well-known TV and stage personality in South Africa, agreed to do the reading for the book.

"If we could get each book to reach five people, we thought we had done well," Julius said.

What they found was amazing -- none of the children threw away the books. They loved them.

Julius said a major research study showed there was an average of 27 users per book. It also found that every single person understood the book, remembered the messages, and knew what to do and how to recognize symptoms of mental illness.

He said his local Rotary club teamed up with his former club in Pretoria, South Africa, to help fund suicide prevention programs using the suicide book in schools in South Africa. The program is now offered in about 450 schools and reaches about 650,000 kids.

Since that was such a success, Julius decided to do another book, this time about HIV and AIDS. He said the South African government got involved, as did Pfizer, Merck, Eli Lilly and Company and others.

And now there are 51 different speaking books on a wide variety of health topics, done in 26 different languages. Books have gone to India, China, Haiti and South America.

As a member of Rotary, which works to eradicate polio through its End Polio Now initiative, Julius thought his books could help that cause as well. He contacted Rotary Club of Columbia East vice president Anne Matthews, who loved the idea. Within a week, things started happening.

Hilton Head Island Rotary Club past president Mary Noonan said because the polio eradication program and the vaccine distribution have been going on so long, there are only a few countries in the world where the disease still exists, one of which is Pakistan. Because of that, Julius wanted to get books to the people of Pakistan.

Rotary International got in touch with the Pakistan government and asked what they thought of the idea. Pakistan was in.

"A Story of Health" is the most recent speaking book and tackles the subject of polio and the importance of vaccinations. It can be heard in Urdu and Pashto. It is printed in English as well as Urdu-Pashto.

Julius said 5,000 books were scheduled to arrive last week in Pakistan. Based on the results from other books, they should reach between 20 and 40 people per book. Noonan said Rotary International and UNICEF covered the cost of distributing the polio book.

"We really do believe they're making a difference," Julius said. "That's the most encouraging thing -- when you see them getting out to the community and you realize people are taking note of what they're being told. They're changing their behavior. And that's what we're really trying to do. I think it's grossly unfair that the most disadvantaged are further disadvantaged because they cannot read."

Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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