By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
In parts of India, literacy rates are very low for a variety of reasons. One problem is a lack of electricity. When you are in the dark at home, it’s not easy to read.
In June, ChildFund India distributed nearly 40,000 solar-powered lamps to children in homes without electricity, as phase two of a national literacy campaign called Books, My Friends. In December 2014, our India staff members, with the help of local partner organizations and others, distributed 40,000 tote bags full of age-appropriate books in several languages. About 115,000 children have benefited from the program, which aims to make reading fun and also help them improve their literacy skills.
According to India’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for 2014, many children are behind grade level in their reading skills. Among eighth-graders, about 75 percent can read at second-grade level, and 32.5 percent of second-graders can’t even recognize letters.
We used to use wax or kerosene candles. With the slightest blow of wind, the candles would go out.
In this campaign phase, called Toward a Brighter Future, children have received solar-powered lamps that allow them to read, do homework or other activities after the sun goes down.
“For me, my education is very important,” says Aarathi, who got a lamp. “I don’t like missing school even for a single day. Now that I have my own solar lamp, I can study anytime and anywhere. It’s so convenient and easy to use these solar lamps. We also use these lamps for doing group studies outside our houses.”
Although the lamps’ primary purpose is to help children study after dark, they also make it easier for family members to do household chores. “Earlier we used to use wax or kerosene candles,” recalls Jayamma. “With the slightest blow of wind, the candles would go out. We also used to feel hot while using them. Having a solar lamp is great. We don’t face any of those problems with this. My mother finds it very convenient to cook using this lamp.”
And for some, the solar lamp has a totally different benefit. “Now we can also play after dark outside our houses using these lamps,” say Prathibha and Swathi.
After the successful implementation of this second phase, ChildFund India plans to open two solar-powered model schools, more than 100 libraries in rural schools in 14 states and introduce mobile libraries, which will provide access to high-quality reading material and dedicated reading space for children and other community members.
During our month-long focus on literacy, ChildFund staff members asked children in Asia, Africa and the Americas to tell them about their favorite books and why they love them. You can support children’s reading habits in a couple of ways: ChildFund’s Just Read! program in the United States, or helping ship textbooks to schools overseas. Enjoy the pictures, too!
Brazil: Agatha is 6 years old, and she loves to read and dance ballet. At the local partner organization where she spends time, Sorriso da Criança (Smile of the Child), she often goes to the library.
“My favorite story is The Princess and the Frog,” Agatha says. “Because there’s a princess, and to me she is the best character. The frog falls in love with a princess, and after all, she discovers that he is a prince. In the end, they live together forever.”
“Before I could read, I used to ask my father to read stories for me. Now I can read by myself and I love it. I would say to all the children in the world: If you can, go to a library, it’s so cool!”
Philippines: “I always go to the library during my free time,” says Jamil. “I love looking through books about animals, like the hippopotamus. I wish to become a wildlife photographer someday.”
Bolivia: Reyna is 11 years old. She loves short stories like Aesop’s fables.
United States: Anastasia, 8, of Cheyenne River, South Dakota, received a princess book and a “pillow pet” from her sponsor, so she read the book to her new pet.
Brazil: Jéssica, 10, is a shy girl who loves to read. Her favorite book is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “I really love to read, especially in my home. But the library is also very important in my life.”
Sierra Leone: Saio, 11, lives in Koinadugu District. “I am in class five. My favorite story book is The African Tea Pot.”
Sri Lanka: Sarujan, 10, loves to read under the shade of the mango tree in his garden. He likes comic books the best because they have lots of pictures.
“My favorite story is about animals living together in peace, in the jungle,” he says, explaining that he likes it because the animals live in harmony in their jungle home without conflicts or disturbances. “My grandmother tells the best stories,” he adds.
By Janella Nelson, ChildFund Education Technical Advisor
Imagine not being able to sign your own name or your child’s name. What if you couldn’t read a doctor’s instructions on your child’s medicine? This is the situation for millions of youth and adults around the world. According to the United Nations, approximately 757 million youth and adults are illiterate, with women and teenage girls making up two-thirds of this number. In the United States, 32 million adults can’t read, states a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy.
Illiteracy is linked to poor outcomes in education, health, nutrition, sanitation, economics and even peace; areas with higher rates of illiteracy have higher rates of crime and conflict. Reading is a skill that carries you throughout life. In their early years, children learn to read, but quickly there is a transition, and then they must read to learn.
In their early years, children learn to read, but quickly there is a transition, and then they must read to learn.
Children growing up in poverty face several factors that prevent them from learning to read. Parental illiteracy, of course, is a major factor because they can’t teach their children a skill they don’t have, and illiterate adults often have a smaller vocabulary than their more educated counterparts do. In some countries, schools teach reading in a language foreign to the children, who may speak a local dialect or indigenous language at home. This, too, places children at a serious disadvantage.
ChildFund’s education programs put a special emphasis on learning to read in the grades one through three, because we recognize that learning to read early is essential to get children on the right track to continue their education. In several countries in Latin America, ChildFund has established “reading corners,” giving children dedicated time and books to read. In the Philippines, ChildFund has produced local storybooks, trained teachers in reading instruction, and hosted an eight-week summer camp for children who were struggling readers at school. In Afghanistan, ChildFund is developing radio stories to encourage parents to support their children’s reading habits at home, and also providing community reading clubs.
In September, we are celebrating literacy. This month, celebrate your ability to read this article while remembering the 757 million people who still need our support. Increasing literacy for children, youth and adults around the world benefits everyone.
Tomorrow, we’ll feature children who told us about their favorite books and stories, as well as how you can help encourage literacy worldwide.
Reading habits usually develop within families. Mom and Dad read to a child at bedtime, or an older sibling shows a younger one how to sound out words, or Grandma pulls a book of fairy tales off the shelf. In some homes, though, there are no books. Even in the United States.
That’s why ChildFund started the Just Read! program in some of the most marginalized areas in the country: Native American reservations in Oklahoma and South Dakota, African American communities in Mississippi and Hispanic communities in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. You can learn more about the project and also donate age-appropriate books on our Amazon wish list. For Father’s Day, please consider helping a family develop the reading habit.
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Five months after the launch of ChildFund India’s Books, My Friends campaign, we’re learning more about the children who are getting their first chance to own books and read for pleasure.
This spring, ChildFund India and its campaign partner, Macmillan Education, conducted a baseline assessment of 1,200 children across 15 Indian states, to understand their reading abilities. About 40,000 children have received books and bags since December through the Books, My Friends program.
The analysis showed that reading ability improved with age, although far too many children still can’t read. In the group of 6- to 8-year-olds tested, 66.2 percent were not able to read at all, while 44.8 percent of 11- and 12-year-olds and 29 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds were illiterate. Geography mattered as well, with higher literacy rates in the states of Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while Rajasthan, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh had lower rates.
Pooja, 14, who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh, was able to read at the level of an 8- or 9-year-old when she received her books in December.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to read these books,” she says. Also, most of her time was spent in studying her textbooks or attending classes, so Pooja preferred to get away from books during her leisure time.
But because some of the books she received were in her local language, Telugu, they piqued her interest. Soon, she was enjoying them, and she moved on to the other books in her bag, which were in English. That presented an obstacle, since English is harder for Pooja to read.
With a smile on her face, Pooja says, “My school coordinator has helped me a lot in improving my English reading ability. She would patiently sit with me, make me read these story books and correct me whenever I went wrong. And as soon as I started understanding the stories, I started enjoying them and wanted to read more.”
As a result, Pooja has joined a group of other students who discuss their books.
“This campaign has really helped me make new friends,” she says. “All the students who have received these books have formed a group, and during weekends, all of us sit together to read these books and enjoy chatting with each other. The illustrations in these books make the reading all more interesting. I’m really grateful to ChildFund for giving me these books. Because of this campaign, I’ve made this extra effort to read, and today I can read an entire sentence in English without faltering.”
Reading is an important source of knowledge, happiness, pleasure and even courage. It opens your mind and transports you virtually into newer worlds. It develops your brain and helps in communicating and sharing ideas, and therefore is essential for advancement and development of any society.
Read Rashmi Kulkarni’s first story about Books, My Friends.
By Janat Totakhail, ChildFund Afghanistan
Janana is 15 and the oldest of four sisters. They live in a village in northern Afghanistan near the border of Tajikistan, where few children — especially girls — have the opportunity to get an education. Janana, too, had never been allowed by her mother and father to attend school.
Her father works as a shopkeeper and sometimes as a hired farmer, while her mother takes care of the household. As the oldest sister, Janana also has many responsibilities at home. But she always hoped to go to school. Today, that goal has become a strong possibility.
In Afghanistan, ChildFund supports Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) where children and teens can study and play. In Janana’s village and four more, we started 10 CFSs in 2013: one for boys and one for girls in each community, and 1,001 children have taken part in the program. Many have experienced war-related trauma and are still at risk of violence, abuse and neglect, so the spaces don’t just serve educational needs. They help keep children safe and also let community members plan for emergencies, particularly how to protect their children. Once ChildFund’s direct supervision ended in January, community members have stepped in to run the programs.
The CFSs for girls have eased some of the stigma attached to education for young women. Janana persuaded her parents to let her attend.
Now, it is her second home, giving her a place to learn and spend time with girls from her neighborhood. Janana is able to read and write names and short sentences, and she’s about a year away from mastering primary school-level literacy and numeracy. One of her sisters has joined her at the CFS.
“I like learning the Pashto language,” Janana says, “and I feel proud and empowered while reading a letter for my parents and helping my little sister to read and write.”
If she had not attended the CFS, she adds, “my life would be different. I would be busy all day with housework, with no opportunity to interact with peers, make friends, play, and learn to read and write.”
Janana’s parents also are happy to see their daughter progressing in her studies.
“An illiterate person is like a blind person,” her father says. “My daughter helps me to learn Islamic principles; she reads for me the letters, invitations and wedding cards; takes note of money that I lend to people, and she helps me understand the details of the electricity bill. She helps her mother and sisters in understanding personal hygiene and health issues. I am proud having Janana as a helping hand.”
Kochai, who facilitates the CFS, also has noticed her progress: “Janana has been very active participating in learning activities. She learned to respect parents and elders, gained awareness in health and hygiene, and, more importantly, is progressing well in literacy and numeracy. I am hopeful that one day she will join school with children of her age.”
Her family, too, is encouraging Janana to continue her education at a school close to her village. She has a big dream for the future: “I want to be a teacher, to help all school-age girls in my village to go to school and learn to make their future and help others.”
Saturday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, which has been observed for more than 100 years. Equal rights, education, empowerment and independence for women and girls — all over the world — are the cornerstone of the day, tenets that ChildFund supports. Mahdia, the Afghani woman interviewed here, declined to have her photo published because she was worried about her husband and male relatives’ reaction to her likeness being seen by people outside the ChildFund Afghanistan office, particularly men.
A huge smile lights up Mahdia’s face as she reads a sentence from her Dari book, which teaches phrases in the language used in Mahdia’s community.
Mahdia is one of ChildFund Afghanistan’s cleaners and, like the majority of Afghani women, she is illiterate. Two times a week, she and I sit together, as we are taken through the intricacies of the Dari language in our quest to read and write it. She has an advantage over me in that she can speak the language, but as for the rest of the tasks, we both struggle.
For the rest of the day and ensuing days, the ever-present smile gets bigger and bigger, and there is a sense of something different about her — a confidence that is slowly uncoiling and emerging like the blooming of a flower.
Like Mahdia, I come from a poor background, but the difference between our somewhat parallel lives is that I was able to receive an education. Also, I was born in the country that, in 1893, became the first in the world to give women the right to vote. Today’s New Zealand women benefit from the struggle in which our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers succeeded in ensuring equal opportunities for women. In fact, if you were to ask New Zealand men how they perceive the rights and opportunities for New Zealand females, they would more than likely tell you it is 60 percent/40 percent in favor of women.
Afghanistan’s women were awarded the right to vote in 1964. The new constitution established in 2004 states, “Any kind of discrimination and privilege between the citizens of Afghanistan is prohibited. The citizens of Afghanistan — whether man or woman — have equal rights and duties before the law.” But despite having the ability to vote and having a constitution that notes gender equality, the majority of Afghani women have not seen many significant improvements in their lives. Indeed, Afghanistan is recognized as being one of the most dangerous countries to be a female.
It is estimated that 75 percent of Afghani women have no education. The average lifespan of women is 49 years; 85 percent of women face, or have faced, abuse or physical violence. And Afghanistan still has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Early marriage is extremely common as well.
Most women and girls face precarious prospects in a highly fragile environment buffeted by low economic performance and high poverty, food insecurity, as well as high levels of insecurity and exclusion on account of gender.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day and reflect on the progress made so far in the quest to achieve equality for women and girls worldwide, we also recognize what still needs to happen.
A month after International Women’s Day, with its theme of Inspiring Change, the people of Afghanistan will head to the polls to elect a new president. As many of the presidential candidates campaign on the need to recognize the rights of women and make promises of bringing improvement to women’s lives, many Afghani women are hopeful that 2014 will be a year of positive change for both them and their country. They are calling for changes in attitudes and positive action for women’s equality; if Afghanistan is to make progress, the status quo cannot continue.
Mahdia tells me that she is doing all she can to encourage her daughters to get good educations so they can have opportunities that she has been denied. She also tells me — with that big smile lighting up her face — that they are so proud of her learning to read and write.
As I sit here in Afghanistan, I can’t help but wonder how my life may have turned out had it not been for the opportunities I have had, because I was born a female in New Zealand.
ChildFund and Nokero International, Ltd. have partnered to expand educational opportunity to 1,200 girls and 800 boys from a nomadic tribe in northern Afghanistan.
Our first effort with Nokero, in 2012, was to provide safe, inexpensive solar-powered lights to schoolchildren in Liberia. This time, we’re taking advantage of another quality of Nokero’s lights: their portability.
In northern Afghanistan, the nomadic Kuchi people move with the seasons, herding animals and bartering along the way. As one of Afghanistan’s most marginalized ethnic groups, they face extreme poverty and instability.
Since they settle only temporarily in rural, isolated regions, the Kuchis go months at a time without basic services like electricity and education. The literacy rate among the Kuchi men is less than 7 percent, and among women, it’s less than 2. Less than 2 percent of Kuchi girls are able to enroll in school.
This project supports a larger grant initiative to expand educational opportunities for 2,000 Kuchi children. It has two components:
625 Nokero solar-powered lamps and chargers that students can use to study, even when they’re in remote locations without electricity
peer-led study clubs that will be monitored by trained mentors and teachers so that students can continue their studies while on the move
Lights and study groups will empower children — especially girls — to sustain their learning without abandoning their nomadic way of life.
But to make this happen, we need your help to raise $8,864 by March 1 for our Fund a Project, Solar Lights and Study Clubs for Kuchi Children.
Join hands with other like-minded people and bring this project to life. And don’t forget to share the link with your family and friends.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When you were young, did your parents read you bedtime stories?
One summer my youngest sister lived with me. She was 18, between high school and college. My daughter was 6. Every night, I read the two of them bedtime stories. Together, we finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit and the entire Chronicles of Narnia.
Sept. 8 is International Literacy Day, a time to recognize how crucial literacy is to social development, along with the intrinsic benefits of reading and writing.
Children in developing countries often don’t share the experience of bedtime reading. At night, when families sit together in the darkness, parents sometimes tell stories — folk tales or oral history about ancient gods and kings, proud empires and illustrious ancestors. But many of these adults are illiterate, and books are scarce in their countries. Electricity, if it exists at all, is unreliable. On the equator, days are short. The sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. every day, regardless of the season.
In some countries where ChildFund works, there are no bookstores or public libraries; lack of demand results in no supply. Whatever reading material is available is far too expensive for all except the very wealthy. In the end, there is no culture of reading.
Even school classrooms often lack textbooks. Teachers lecture from hand-written notebooks — signed and stamped by the government ministry. They write on the chalkboard, and children copy into their own notebooks. Transcription errors handed down over the years create some misconceptions.
Research shows that, during story time, children bond with their parents, learning to read by matching the colorful pictures in their books to the storyline. Children also learn to think critically by observing the characters’ behavior. Bedtime stories begin a lifetime of reading.
Literacy is a fundamental human right. According to UNESCO, it’s the foundation for lifelong learning. It transforms lives, empowering people to improve their health, education and income. Without literacy, social and human development stalls.
UNESCO’s theme for International Literacy Day 2013 is Literacies for the 21st Century. In the United States, elementary school children learn computer-literacy skills, which are considered critical to success in modern society. Yet most of my 19-year-old information technology students in Guinea had never seen a computer.
Our measures for literacy in developing countries are limited to basic book-literacy. In Afghanistan, only 12 percent of youth attend secondary school. Of all of the countries we serve, Ethiopia has the lowest youth literacy rate — 63 percent for males and 47 percent for females. Only 16 percent of Ethiopian youths attend secondary school.
In many African countries, achieving literacy in their country’s official language (English, French, Spanish, Arabic or Portuguese) doesn’t occur until secondary school. Elementary school children are mostly taught in their local languages. They may not be able to write letters to their sponsors without assistance.