September 8 is International Literacy Day.
And you and I can do what 800 million others can’t.
To make sense of the written word – to be able to read, comprehend and write – may not seem like a big deal to most of us for whom like breathing and speech, it seems almost natural. As if we were born with the ability to combine letters and words together into language. For us, a world without written words may be almost impossible to imagine. But, there’s nothing impossible about it. It’s the world that millions of our brothers and sisters know and the same world we share with them. The same world we would know had we not had the opportunities we did. We read today because we were read to and taught how to. We write because someone showed us how to hold a pencil and moved our fingers over a page…teaching us, helping us make shapes, lines, curves, alphabets.
Literacy. It’s a word that’s all over the place all the time. It appears to wield so much power and seems loaded with potential. “Literacy”, you hear experts, analysts, politicians and just about everyone say, ” is the key to a better world. Literacy is the answer.” Literacy - the all-powerful solution to every problem facing human kind. Or so they say.
I admit I have my own doubts about the definition, purpose and meaning of literacy or even, education, for that matter and, whether either really makes a difference in the grand scheme of things – when it comes to say, preserving nature or realizing one’s self. For it seems to me, the more we ‘learn’ – at least in the modern sense, the more we destroy, the farther we move from our ‘centers’. Anyway, that’s an argument for another day and certainly not appropriate for International Literacy Day.
Today, we’re talking about literacy and how it can drastically transform our lives. And transform it has without a doubt. There’s almost nothing we can do in our modern lives that doesn’t require us to read or write.
So, on one hand we have a world where you need to be literate to do anything from getting from one place to another to making a living. On the other hand, there are millions of others whom we have conveniently left out of our world – the world that is as much theirs as ours – simply because they didn’t have the resources, the family background or the kind of education we did.
And today, it’s us, the literates of the world celebrating(or are supposed to be, anyway) this day in honor of ’empowerment through literacy’.
As special occasions and international ‘days’ go, Literacy Day is not very popular from what I’ve seen. Not among us regular folk anyway. I didn’t really know much about it and still have only a vague idea. I don’t know too many people who can wax eloquently on the topic either. But, if there’s to be any impact of allocating such a day in honor of world literacy, there’s got to be more involvement and education about the day itself. There has to be more one can do to participate and spread the word. And we’ve got to take some marketing lessons from these guys who package Mother’s and Father’s day and all those other ‘Days’ that make our pocket books lighter.
Since this is not an A-list holiday or occasion, I’m not really sure if there’s a right and proper way to go about celebrating or honoring it. But, it’s literacy we’re talking about and I’m guessing there are some things we could all do that are sure to count and won’t hurt. These are little things we could do on a regular basis, or bigger commitments (financial or physical) we could take up during certain times of the year.
This Literacy Day, we could:
* Give Time – Pledge to Read to a Child/Adult every day. (or once a week) Many organizations offer volunteering programs for reading mentors – such as Communities in Schools, Everybody Wins! and Reach out and Read. It’s amazing how much difference the simple act of reading to a child for a few minutes can make. Get involved with an adult literacy program in your neighborhood or city or take a more informal approach by offering to tutor an adult who needs it.
* Give Books – Pledge to donate books. Donating gently used books or new books or choosing to contribute financially to an organization that donates books to children and adults in need is another way to help the cause of literacy.
Or if you prefer something more light-hearted but far-reaching at the same time, you could just tweet a ‘nonsensical’ message. That’s right! Sep 8 will be the day that Room to Read, a global non-profit committed to empowering the world through education will partner with Twitter and send out an ‘illegible tweet – symbolizing how every sentence looks to the more than 776 million people worldwide who cannot read or write. Users will be able to decode or “read” the indecipherable tweet and send the coded message through Twitter’s hope140.org (http://www.hope140.org/) site to spread the word about the importance of reading and literacy’.
That should keep some of us busy!
So much to do. And only a lifetime to do it. We had better get started, don’t you agree?
Go ahead and share your pledge. There are 776 million illiterate people in the world. What will you do to change the numbers?