“If you cannot read and write then you are always afraid,” my friend and award-winning Australian Indigenous author, Tara June Winch, once wrote to me over email. “To not be literate – not just practically, but socially, emotionally, economically, to not be able to engage or navigate your world – you are compacted. You are diminished. You are afraid. Literacy stays forever. People are stronger for it. It gives people life and hope to help themselves.”
Tara’s words have stayed with me since I first read them a year ago.
It’s the power of books. Of reading. Of being able to write your name, read a contract, a textbook, a manual, a medicine bottle, a street sign, a warning. We take it for granted. Well, I know I do.
At times I forget that despite the fact we are a developed nation, a number of our own communities are on fire. Particularly our Indigenous communities.
One in five Indigenous kids, living in a remote community, is illiterate. ILLITERATE. There are Indigenous children who have never seen or held a book. In some remote Indigenous communities, up to 70% of the children don’t regularly attend school.
I don’t blame them.
Imagine turning up to work today and having everyone around you speaking Greek. It’s not uncommon for Indigenous kids to speak four different dialects at home but when those kids get to school, everything – the books, the lessons, all the resources – are in English. Meanwhile there can be a high turnover of non-Indigenous teaching staff. Some stay for a term. Some last just two weeks.
This is where the Indigenous Literacy Project (ILP) comes in. For starters, it’s an initiative of the Australian Book Industry and has been operating for the past five years. ILP aims to tackle some of the disadvantage experienced by kids in remote Indigenous communities, whose standards of reading and writing are generally years behind compared to other Australian kids. The program provides books, access to literacy material and in some instances translations of books into local Indigenous languages, to more than 200 remote communities around Australia. It’s about practical ways to help close the literacy gap in Australia.
Back to Tara who happens to be one of the ILP Ambassdors. She tells anyone who will listen that teaching a child to read changes their future more than any other type of aid. Reading opens your life up to opportunity. Learning. Study. Employment. Better health. And beautiful, glorious, fabulous books.
So this month, if you can afford it, let’s all donate $10 to the Indigenous Literacy Project.
You can read more about the Indigenous Literacy Project here.
Get your facts straight about Indigenous Australians here.