Literacy: key to a better future
A few months ago, I read a story in this magazine (The Rotarian) about a man named Carl Sanders, a member of the Rotary Club of Kenosha, Wisconsin Sanders had developed a successful painting business despite the fact that he could not read — a shameful secret that he struggled to keep to himself.
This story surprised me a little. I tend to think of illiteracy as a problem that mainly afflicts people in poor countries, not U S Rotarians. But Sanders’ situation is not so uncommon. Even in a wealthy country like the United States, millions of people lack basic reading skills.
Sanders’ story had a happy ending. He shared his secret with a fellow Rotarian, who steered him to a local literacy programme and encouraged him as he tackled his reading lessons.
Our Rotary Foundation wants to create more such happy endings, and there is no shortage of people who need them. Today, more than 750 million adults are functionally illiterate globally.
In 2015-16, our Foundation awarded 146 global grants totaling $8.3 million to support basic education and literacy projects worldwide. These projects vary considerably — from providing computers and school supplies in Ghana to sponsoring an after-school homework programme in the U S to developing a literacy and mentoring programme for Roma girls in Bosnia, a project that addresses the gender imbalance that exists in many parts of the world.
In my country, Rotary has been on a literacy mission for the past few years. India has a population of 1.2 billion and is about 75 percent literate. Illiteracy occurs mainly in rural India, where most people live. So Rotary in India joined hands with the government to eliminate illiteracy, especially among women, because literate women raise literate families, ensuring a better future for all. Indeed, the numbers are staggering, and when it is done, the impact could be incredible.
As we observe Basic Education and Literacy Month in September, let’s think about the millions of people whose chances for success remain blocked by illiteracy. Our Foundation is helping many of them, but with Rotarian support and involvement, we can do so much more.
Foundation Trustee Chair