March is National Literacy Month!

Written by Devin Vanderpool, Director of Communications

It was 2015 -we were reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in my English as a Second Language class in Thomazeau, Haiti. I was working with a group of about 8 adults, and I couldn’t believe how excited they were getting as we moved further and further in the story. “Aslan did WHAT?” “Why did Edmund do that?” “When can we read more, Teacher?”

 My ESL class in 2014.

My ESL class in 2014.

They weren’t just excited to be reading in English. They were excited to be reading a book, a chapter book for that matter. Haitian Creole is a beautiful language; it’s a simple, easy-to-use language. But most of the traditions are passed on orally so there aren’t many resources written down to pass from one generation to the next. Compare that to the 300,000+ books published in the US market each year. Literacy, literacy in English more specifically, can open a world of doors for people in developing countries around the world, simply because of the size of the English book market.

I don’t even remember learning how to read. My parents spent so much time reading to me as a child that I memorized entire books, even flipping the pages in the right spots by memory. When you asked me my favorite book, I could never pick just one (I still can’t). How many doors have been opened to me, simply because I am literate?

According to CIA World Factbook, approximately 40% of Haitians are illiterate. This compounds the problem of illiteracy through generations as more and more children grow up without parents to read to them. What does that do to foster imagination and creativity within a culture? How can we put a stop to this cyclical problem?

This March during National Reading Month, I’d like to pass some of my love for reading to my friends in Haiti. We at LiveBeyond are putting the finishing touches on a school building that will offer curriculum in Haitian Creole and English. In my mind’s eye, I’m already envisioning the library filled with rows of bookshelves, children sprawled across floor or sitting at tables as they dive into the world of The Lorax or Narnia or ancient Egypt. I like to picture children devouring books in Creole, English, French, and Spanish, their minds bursting with new ideas with each turn of a page.

I don’t think I can sum it up any better than Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan: “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” 

If you are interested in contributing to our literacy efforts, we have an Amazon Wishlist of children’s books for our school. By spending a few dollars on a book, you can help foster creativity and imagination in the minds of children in Haiti. What a great way to celebrate Reading Month!