Global Literacy Programs — Can One Person Really Make a Difference?

By Arjun ap.

A majority of the global initiatives that combat child poverty all focus at one point or another on education and literacy. Many started with just one person’s vision.

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) there are 774 million adults who are illiterate, of which two-thirds are female. The best statistics available state that 77 million children do not attend primary school and over 200 million more are not enrolled in secondary school (the majority of which are in Africa and Asia).

It’s easy to ignore these horrifying statistics on illiteracy rates when those affected are a world away, but there are many who have seen it first hand and couldn’t walk away (and not all are celebrities with unlimited resources). Many individuals have found themselves staring into the face of poverty and made a commitment to make a difference. Often, one single project winds up gaining so much momentum that it leads to the creation of a non-profit organization that, on a daily basis, changes children’s lives. Every initiative, great or small, can leave a legacy and is one more step toward eradicating poverty.

One Person, One Project

It starts with one person, one idea and a lot of passion and determination. Organizations like, Room to Read, Free the Children, Into the Wild, Schools Tools and The Central Asia Institute all began with the vision of one individual. Each organization shares a common mission – to improve the lives of children in the developing world through education.

The Law of Multiplication

Room to Read was started in 2000 by John Wood (an ex Microsoft executive) who happened upon a school in the mountains of Nepal during a trek. The school library only had a handful of books and they were locked in a cupboard for safe keeping. John promised to return a year later with books…and did.

Since then, more than four million children in nine developing countries have benefited from Room to Read programs. The mission is to partner with local communities throughout the developing world to provide quality educational opportunities. The belief is that the cycle of poverty can be broken through the opportunities that only education can provide. The mantra is that “world change starts with educated children.” Wood’s journey is chronicled in his book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World.

Free the Childrenwas established in 1995 by Canadian, Craig Kielburger when he was no more than a child himself. At the tender age of 12, he read about child labour in South Asia and it rocked him to the core. He convinced his parents to let him go to Asia (with a chaperone) to see for himself what was happening. He formed a bond with the children he met that was so strong that his life’s mission became…to free the children. His organization recruits youth throughout North American to help with the cause. The philosophy is “children helping children through education.”

Another youth-driven organization is Into the Wild, established by retired science teacher, Kim White, which takes young people on environmental and cultural volunteer/adventure treks to communities in need. The organization develops cooperative projects (focused on literacy and building libraries) that bring Western youth together with children from other countries in a collaborative effort to promote mutual understanding and at the same time, bring much needed resources to the developing world.

Schools Tools is a program within the structure of eRanger, which was started by Robert Deacon Elliott. UK based eRanger manufactures rugged motorcycles with side cars for cargo and distributes them to hard-to-reach communities in five developing countries (South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Sudan).

There are several different models of e-Ranger motorcycles each with its own unique design which are used as ambulances, emergency transport vehicles, (bringing medical professionals in or patients out), water purification units and mobile libraries for example. Elliott’s wife Pauline, an artist and author, established the Schools Tools program which began in South Africa in 2003. Her mission is to bring the joy of literacy to the children in the townships by using art and drawing as a catalyst. eRanger is an international collaboration between Great Britain, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

The Central Asia Institute was started by Three Cups of Tea author, Greg Mortenson, to “promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.” He had been climbing Pakistan’s K2 in 1993 when he was separated from his party, became disoriented and almost died. He was rescued by the people in a remote village in the Karakoram Mountains and swore to come back and build them the school they so desperately needed.

Over the ensuing 10 years, he overcame political upheaval, impassable roads (or no roads at all) and tribal conflicts to successfully build 55 schools. His second book, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, tells of his continuing commitment to promote peace one school at a time.

There are endless examples of people making a difference not only globally but also in their own back yard. In the introduction to his book Me to We, Kielburger says, “Amid the extremes of humanity’s wealth and poverty, power and exploitation, happiness is attainable for all. And, the most crucial piece of the puzzle is this: true fulfillment starts with finding the courage to reach out.”

Arjun is an independent researcher, writer, speaker and a consciousness activist. He writes for Activist Post and Natural Blaze.

Image Source/Shutterstock

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