Every September the world comes together on International Literacy Day (September 8) to celebrate all that being literate makes possible. While much progress has been made in reducing illiteracy, globally at least 758 million children and adults still cannot read or write (source). Millions more are semi-literate, reading only a few words and unable to write anything but their names.
At Book Aid International our vision is a world where everyone has access to the books they need to enrich, improve and change their lives. Our charity supports literacy and promotes reading by working with the UK publishing industry to provide over a million brand new books every year to schools, colleges, libraries, prisons and refugee camps in Africa and beyond. We work in communities where people would otherwise have few opportunities to read.
Visiting one of our projects on a recent trip to Kenya we were impressed when we saw how one community has transformed a small school library into a resource for the whole community.
Inspiring Readers of all ages
Chesongoch is a tiny village in a Kenya's vast semi-arid northern Great Rift Valley, an area of rugged hills and unpaved roads and small, isolated pastoral communities. Most adults live on or below the poverty line and many have not completed school, so are illiterate or semi-literate.
In 2016 we included Chesongoch in our Inspiring Readers programme. Inspiring Readers creates school libraries full of brand new reading books in schools where children would otherwise have only a few often tattered textbooks to share. The programme is designed to support primary school children but in Chesengoch it has also had more unexpected results.
When the parents of children attending a local Inspiring Readers school saw their children reading books confidently, they grasped the opportunity to learn to read themselves. With the support of local teachers and librarians they came together to secure support from local government to fund an adult education teacher and began learning to read.
The impact of literacy
Learning to read has been transformative for the residents of Chesongoch. Florence, in her 60s, is reading for the first time in her life. She can now ensure she gets a fair price when shopping and can use a mobile phone for the first time.
44-year-old Joseph studies in class with his father, who is over 70. He explained how the books in the Inspiring Readers project are supporting his reading:
If the books were not here, we would not be learning. Our teacher has no other materials to teach us. I would like to complete a distance learning course through this adult education. Then I will be able to teach other people.
The participation of respected elders such as Joseph's father is also beginning to transform the community's views on reading. Where once the library was the only place where you would see people reading, now the adult learners also read at home with their children or outside the school after their evening classes.
Chesengoch is just one of many communities where the books we send are giving people the chance to learn and read, and we are very proud to have played a role in helping Joseph, Florence and others like them become literate.
Book Aid International is celebrating International Literacy Day by sharing photos and stories from all the places around the world where libraries, teachers and books come together to create places where literacy thrives. You can also share your own reading experiences on the hashtag #LiteracyThrives. Follow @book_aid or visit www.bookaid.org to find out more.