It's important to remember, on UNESCO's World Book Day of all days, that we're the lucky ones. We have access to basically any book we can dream of, and access to it hard copy or on one of our many digital devices. And we were blessed with an education that allows us to read. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in the world.
Here's the stark reality: 781 million people worldwide today can't read or write. And two-thirds of that number are women, according to the International Federation of University Women. Catherine Bell, president of the IFUW speaks out about this alarming statistic:
There are 123 million 15-24 year old youths today — amongst them 76 million girls — who cannot pick up a book and comprehend the content and knowledge therein. They are deprived of the cardinal abilities of reading and writing, at their most basic interpretation. Books have the power to transform and enrich lives; to inspire, encourage and empower; to feed imagination, to ignite curiosity, to fuel ambition. Literacy is not just a gift or a privilege; it is fundamental life skill and an indispensable necessity that each citizen of the world should and must possess to truly be the masters of their own futures.
UNESCO, which sponsors World Book and Copyright Day, agrees, stating that books are a global symbol of social progress. The day is celebrated to recognize this fact and to support books and those who create them, whether they're authors, publishers, or the readers who are buying them and keeping the industry alive.
What better way to honor UNESCO's mission than to support global charities aimed at combating illiteracy and instilling a love of reading from a young age? And the best part is you don't need pockets full of money to help. These 6 organizations in particular are itching for your involvement, though it is by no means a comprehensive list.
Reach Out and Read
Reach Out and Read takes an unexpected approach to promoting literacy at an early age. The non-profit organization partners with pediatric medical doctors to integrate children's books into wellness exams and discuss with parents the importance of reading aloud to their children, even supplying advice on how to help children advance in reading and find a love of books. Coming from a doctor, this advice is invaluable to parents, especially within lower-income communities.
How to help: Reach Out and Read is looking donations of gently used children's books and items to make a lively reading room in the waiting room and exam rooms, such as story-time rugs, small bookshelves, and child-sized furniture. Also you can help with just a phone call to your representatives, advocating for a local Reach Out and Read program in your area.
Reading is Fundamental
Reading is Fundamental encourages early childhood literacy, particularly in marginalized and under-privileged areas, via three major programs. The first, Books for Ownership is like a travelling library — except the children can pick out whatever free book they want, and they don't have to return it. This encourages independence, allowing children to make their own choices and explore their own interests. Care to Read and Our Family of Readers programs focus on the parents and caregivers, sponsoring workshops that teach adults the skills to take a leadership role in their children's reading lives.
How to help: There are 17,000 Reading is Fundamental locations across the country. If there's one in your area, look in to volunteering at readings or book distributions. You can also send letters to Congress telling them to continue support for children's literacy. RIF also has a shop, where you can purchase t-shirts, mugs, and other items to promote childhood literacy.
Room to Read
Room to Read pairs literacy with gender equality in education to imagine a world where everyone has the opportunity to equally pursue an education. To pursue this mission, Room to Read builds local schools and libraries, where it trains teachers on how to support girls' literacy education. It also publishes children's books in the local languages of its locations. Though it began small in Nepal in 2000, donating books to rural communities, Room to Read is now a global organization with locations in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia.
How to help: There are loads of ways to get involved in Room to Read, ranging from visiting schools in one of its global locations to contacting your local chapter to donating good old fashioned money, which the organization will tie directly to the campaign you choose, so you can see your funds at work.
ProLiteracy believes that to combat some of our world's biggest problems — poverty, world health, gender inequality, and others — we have to start by building literacy among our adult population. According to its statistics, there are 36 million adults in the U.S. alone who have the reading level of a third grader. In South and West Asia, only one in two women can read or write, compared to seven out of 10 men. ProLiteracy works via a referral program, connecting these adults with volunteers and programs to help with basic reading skills. The organization also sponsors an adult literacy conference.
How to help: You can use your own writing skills to become an advocate for ProLiteracy and adult literacy worldwide and become a member of the ProLiteracy society to access adult education materials you can use to help volunteer your time.
Worldreader's mission is to bring digital books to children and their families to improve their lives. Because of the diminishing costs of digital technology, Worldreader donates e-books, though sales and sponsorships to schools in need. The non-profit has also developed a mobile app with book titles, after finding that cell phones were on the rise in developing countries. But they don't just ship off e-books and wipe their hands clean; Worldreader participates in field research, measuring the effect their efforts have and looking for further opportunities to help. The organization is currently operating in 54 countries, including Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, and others.
How to help: If you're a published author (first of all, congratulations) you can donate copies of your books to the program. Individuals can sponsor one of the global schools, push their own companies to collaborate with Worldreader, or donate their time in the volunteer program.
LitWorld is built on partnerships. By joining forces with local, grassroots movements in countries across the globe, the nonprofit comes up with innovative solutions to fight illiteracy. LitWorld takes a three-pronged approach: increasing access to diverse reading materials, building mentor relationships, and encouraging children to tell their own powerful stories. It was formed after its founder, a literacy educator, visited an extremely impoverished area in Nairobi, Kenya and saw first-hand the desire children had to both read and write, but the obstacles set up between them and that desire. The organization works on sponsoring LitClubs and LitCamps, lending libraries, and technology hubs, with a particular investment in young women's literacy.
How to help: If you're in your 20s or 30s, stay up to date on LitWorld events by signing up for the newsletter, so you can find specific ways to help. And donate, donate, donate to Litworld! Making a small donation can make a big difference, especially if you can get your company on board to match any donations or launch a campaign to crowdsource help.
Images: LitWorld,Reading is Fundamental (RIF), ProLiteracy/Facebook