One of my favourite books, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, muses on the creation of the universe and how a tiny speck of it we call Earth went from being a fiery ball with seas of molten rock to the lush green-and-blue home we know today. Bryson’s argument is that it is a miracle that we — our planet and our species — have survived. “We enjoy not only the privilege of existence,” Bryson writes, “but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better.”
We are fortunate to be able to read his words or any others. And we are fortunate to be part of an organisation that is making our world a better place by helping those who can’t read them. There are an estimated 773 million illiterate adults — most of them women — who can’t read these words or write their own name. They are at a clear disadvantage in life, with limited opportunities to work. And this situation isn’t their fault.
Rotary has not forgotten them. In September, let’s celebrate Basic Education and Literacy month by looking at the long-term impact Rotary and The Rotary Foundation are making and how we are finding ways to lend a hand in the effort.
Last year alone, TRF approved 104 global grants totaling $6.3 million for basic education and literacy projects, according to preliminary figures. This is on top of decades of work in our clubs and districts. As an Australian, I’m especially proud of the work of Dick Walker, a past district governor from Queensland, who used a Foundation matching grant to develop the concentrated language encounter method that has been adopted by educational leaders around the world.
At the community level, our clubs are well-known for book drives that have changed the lives of so many children. But when we gather many clubs and districts together and work on large-scale Rotary Foundation projects, we have the potential to impact entire communities for generations.
The opportunities for Rotary to make a difference in literacy are boundless. Once basic reading and writing is achieved, it opens a path to other types of literacy, such as numerical literacy, digital literacy and financial literacy.
Let’s not squander our opportunity to improve our corner of the universe. I encourage you to think big about literacy and education and change the world — this month and beyond.
Dr Bharat Pandya
TRF Trustee, 2022–26