According to the International Reading Association, who is a sponsor of this day, International Literacy Day draws attention to worldwide literacy needs. The website for the event lists this amazing statistic – more than 780 million of the world’s adults (nearly two-thirds of whom are women) do not know how to read or write, and between 94 and 115 million children lack access to education. ProLiteracy.org states that 18 million adults in the U.S. don’t read well enough to earn a living wage.
This year’s celebration theme is “Literacy and Peace”, recognizing the important role that literacy plays in conflict resolution and human rights. A number of community organizations, teachers, and libraries join with UNESCO and USAID in supporting activities for this day.
I first had the opportunity to work with adult literacy programs as a prison ministry volunteer when I lived in Virginia. I was astonished to discover how many of the young men I worked with were unable to read – or read very poorly (nationally, the literacy rate of prison inmates is significantly lower than the average population. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics that looks closely at this can be found here). I was part of a group that held weekly literacy classes through a special adult-learner Bible reading program. Most weeks about half of the prison turned out for class and reading practice…and we often had dramatic presentations of the evening’s text performed by the inmates as well! There are still some Bible stories that I will likely always remember through the lens of this experience and I probably learned as much (or more) from the experience as anyone.
If you are interested in learning more or even volunteering, the following public libraries near APU host literacy programs for the community: Azusa, Glendora, Monrovia, and Pomona; the Southern California Library Literacy Network has a website that includes links to the many libraries that have literacy programs in the region. For readers who live in other parts of the country, check with your local public library to see what services they provide and how you might get involved.