Reading the Past, Writing the Future

A blog by Soroptimist member, Marlène van Benthem:

The world has changed since 1966 – but our determination to provide every woman and man with the skills, capacities and opportunities to become everything they wish, in dignity and respect, remains as firm as ever. Literacy is a foundation to build a more sustainable future for all.                                                                                                         Former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova

“More than 50 years after the United Nations (UN) informed us of the need to promote literacy, the question we must ask is:  Are we, as a global population, improving? This is what we learn from the UNESCO eAtlas of literacy:

“Young women continue to lag behind young men! Despite the progress, gender disparity in youth literacy remains persistent in almost one in five countries. In 43 countries, mainly located in Northern Africa and Western Asia, Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, young women aged 15 to 24 years are still less likely than young men to have basic reading and writing skill. This is a clear sign of the persistent challenges that continue to hold girls back.”

An innovative example of how Soroptimists promote literacy.

As our mission is to transform the lives and status of women and girls through education, empowerment and enabling opportunities, promoting literacy is really at the heart of our organisation. Many clubs are involved in promoting literacy. One of these projects is called My Book Buddy, which started as a Soroptimist International of Europe (SIE) federation project in 2015, in cooperation with the My Book Buddy (MBB) Foundation, the creators of the MBB library concept. In 2018 the Dutch Union decided to continue working on this project in cooperation with Soroptimists in several countries, mostly in Africa. What I love about this project is that Soroptimists in the West cooperate with Soroptimists in the South, in a very innovative way using the slogan: “Children read books for children who need books!”

The idea is that each school, together with the parents, and supported by the Soroptimist club, organise reading events: at school and at home- where older children read for younger ones – and in homes for the elderly homes and in public libraries. The children organise sponsorship for the reading and know that the donations go to a school where children have no books.

The success factor of the project is the coordination by Soroptimists in the target country. Together with the local schoolteachers, Soroptimists organise the whole process of choosing books and teaching the library system.  They invite local government and parents to be present at the launching day, signing contracts to take responsibility for the care of the books, the rucksacks and the bookcases. The children take the books home, and parents are empowered to read with their children.  As a spin-off, Soroptimists have now organised funding for teachers to teach parents to read, using the children books.

These days the reading skills of children are declining, and it is very important that we create awareness of the importance of this skill for their future lives. Imagine how the world would look without books or reading skills: fewer stories, fewer dreams and fewer chances to improve lives!

 We hope that with the help of Soroptimists wordwide UNESCO can report in 2030 that girls are no longer lagging behind, and that gender equity for literacy is a reality”.

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