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World Literacy Foundation

Dedicated to transforming the lives of the world's most disadvantaged by focusing on literacy and education
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The World Health Assembly is taking place this week. Time to highlight the importance of education in reducing health risks and helping save lives. #WHA67 #Socialgood (Full-size image here:


Pregnancy, early marriage, school fees, risk of sexual violence? What are the barriers for girls and boys going to school? As the education community envisions post-2015 Millennium Development Goals, IREX surveyed its pool of teacher-leaders alumni around the world to get a better picture of the ways gender impacts education. What impacts girls’ participation in school the most? What particular factors affect boys? Over 200 secondary school teachers from 45 countries responded to our questions. Here are some of the findings from our snapshot survey. (via What Do Teachers Think? Global Gender & Education Survey Results | IREX - Civil Society, Education and Media Development)

The World Literacy Foundation (WLF) is harnessing the power of new digital technologies to support new and innovative ways of delivering vital literacy resources to benefit those in developing countries who are struggling with their literacy progress.

Watch our short animated video to find out what we are up to and show  your support today!

Last Friday saw the celebration of International Women’s Day, a day to reflect on the achievements of women around the world as well as the difficulties and gender-based discrimination still faced by many women.

The theme chosen by the UN this year was “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. Millions of girls and young women in the developing world face violence or the threat of violence on a daily basis. In many cases, young girls face repression or violence merely for trying to pursue an education. It is estimated that between 500 million and 1.5 billion children experience violence every year, many within school walls[1]. Girls more so than boys, can experience violence travelling to and from school, within school walls as well as in the form of corporal punishment by a teacher. As well as this, the education of girls is often undervalued due to existing gender norms and patterns of discrimination. Despite increases in primary school enrolment, girl’s primary school completion rates often lag behind that of boys, as does their transition to secondary school.[2] One of the major barriers threatening girl’s education worldwide is gender-based violence.

The case of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan grabbed the world’s attention and highlighted the continued violence perpetuated against young women as well as the barriers that many young girls face in trying to pursue their fundamental human right to schooling. Malala began campaigning for girls’ rights to education at the age of 12, protesting against the closure of schools in Swat Valley by the Taliban. On October 12 last year, on her way home from school Malala was shot in her head and neck by a Taliban gunman, wounding two other girls in the process. This attack shocked the world and initiated a renewed campaign for girl’s rights to education around the world. This culminated in the U.N Special Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown presenting a petition to the Pakistani government calling for a plan to deliver education to all children. Malala has been slowly recovering and recently became the youngest person ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Unfortunately school related violence against girls is by no means exclusive to Pakistan and the Taliban. Gender discrimination and social norms often prevent girls from attending school. Girls may be forced to leave school because they become pregnant, because they are married, or because attending school is unsafe.

Investing in girls’ education gives a myriad of benefits and helps to break the cycle of abuse and violence as women gain awareness and exercise of their rights. A concerted effort needs to be made to ensure that young women can attend school in a safe environment to help ensure future generations can escape the patterns of gender-based violence.

The benefit of education of young women is evident in that adolescent girls who complete both primary and secondary education are: more likely to marry later and have fewer children; are more free to make decisions relating to marriage and family planning; and are less likely to be abused as adults[3].

Similarly, men who complete secondary education are far less likely than non-educated or primary-educated men to commit acts of violence.

Increasing women’s literacy gives similar benefits to women and the community. A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live past the age of 5[4]. Education and literacy are key tools in the process of empowering women and help them break the cycle of gender-based violence.

As former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan stressed, the benefits of investing in girl’s education are universal:

“No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition, promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and increase the chances of education for the next generation. Let us invest in women and girls.”


This months Grass-root program features our project partners at A Little Gesture (ALG) and their literacy report on ‘Life Beyond the Floods’ in Banhine, Mozambique. To view this blog entry and other entries by the team at ALG, visit their blog at

Life beyond the floods- ALG literacy Report

In 2012 we launched the ALG literacy courses with 49 women and 2 men in Banhine. In Conjoene, a total of 70 people joined with just 7 men in the group. A fantastic initiative for local women emancipation! Out of this total, only 6 gave up, 5 of them in Banhine.

We can therefore conclude that the course was a success last year as assiduity was very high and only 14 people did not pass the final exam (8 Banhine and 6 Conjoene).


The teachers have reported an immense pleasure in teaching this group. They have shown good aptitude for numbers, with the basic maths classes very well received and the students showing good progress in addition, multiplication, division and problem solving. In Portuguese classes, the official language, they have evidenced high interest in writing and reading, with slower progress in interpretation of text.


Both the teachers and us monitors evaluate this initiative in a very positive way, as it is very difficult to transform people who did not know a thing of how to read and write to become literate. It is very satisfactory as we did not expect the programme to be such a success and it went well beyond our initial expectations. By the end of the year, the students, who having grown up uneducated normally only speak the local dialect Changana, were already discussing in Portuguese in the middle of the classroom.

One issue to report was the balance between their studies and their home chores - during crop season there was a noticeable increase in the number of students skipping classes.


The district educational authorities, who partnered with ALG on this project, have reported to be very encouraged by the results so far. Putting an adult in literacy course and giving them an opportunity to change his life for the better.

In accordance with the local school calendar, the literacy course started on the 11th February and finished on the 16th November, with exams running on the 20 to 26th of February. There were some delays in the process such as the procurement of books and exam sheets. Otherwise the ALG investment was very positive and encouraging.”

By Issufo, ALG monitor to the literacy courses in Conjoene and Banhine area

To make a contribution to the Emergency appeal and read more about ALG and their fantastic projects, visit their website at


 To make a contribution to an ALG Literacy project in Mozambique go to 

This month we review the state of Illiteracy in Pakistan and their action plan toward improving their overall literacy rate by 2015.

Pakistan is the 6th most populated country in the world.  Divided into four provinces, The Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balo Chistan, the country lies in the crossroads between South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Pakistan is made up of a number of ethnic groups where the religion is predominantly Muslim.  

Population: 164,639,000

Current Literacy status                                                          

Pakistan has seen a continuous rise in the number of illiterates over the past 10 years.  The rise is a result of a significant growth in population and poor education being provided at a primary school level which has contributed to an extreme drop-out rate of young children.

The education system in Pakistan comprises a mix of public and private schools where the quality of education differentiates between areas. Schools in poorer regions do not provide education of a reasonable standard, and the majority of schools are over capacity.  Due to low literacy rates and poor economic conditions many parents opt to send their children to work as opposed to school.

Gender disparities: Malala Yousufzai                                             

The alarming disparities in gender are clearly illustrated in statistics taken in 2008 where  29% males and 54% females aged 10 years and above are not in school. Many socio-economic issues are a result of this poor statistic. Taliban extremists have inflicted terror upon the northern areas of Pakistan, namely Swat Valley, by destroying numerous schools and recently shooting young school girl Malala Yousufzai in the head and neck in an assassination attempt.  Malala Yousufzai had been fighting for all girls right to an education in Pakistan and survived where she is now the face of hope for millions of girls and women fighting for equality in education.

Malala Yousufzai Photo by Ameena Salaam

Goals for 2015: Ensure all children, with emphasis on girls and those in marginalised areas, have access to free and compulsory quality primary education. Reduce overall dropout rate at primary education level.

Pakistan hopes to reduce the number of illiterate youth by half from 10,819,590 to 5,963,422 by 2015.

Primary Target groups:

  • The poor and disadvantaged
  • Ethnic and linguistic minorities
  • People with special needs
  • Girls and women
  • Slum children, child labourers

Country Objectives for 2012-2015

  • Promote and uplift the literacy rate in each of the four provinces. Enhance the number of literacy centres and launch an awareness campaign to target children out of school.
  •  Integrate the adult literacy program with vocational and life skills to attract all adult illiterates
  • Minimise the existing gender and rural vs. urban disparity literacy rate
  • Institutionalise the post literacy and continuing education efforts
  • Make optimum use of education facilities and improve rate of admission and retention  of children in schools
  • Improvement in the literacy rate and quality of education through better teachers, reformed curriculum and the universalisation of Primary Education



This month we take a look into grass-root programs in rural communities. Lily Nyariki shares with us an insightful piece into literacy, the importance of her community library and its quest for literacy development in Kenya.

The fight against illiteracy in Kenya with the Safaricom Foundation: the case of the Denise C. Hogan Library in Kenya

By Lily Nyariki

Did you know that a recent report by the World Literacy Foundation (April 2012) says that illiteracy costs the global economy more than USD $1 trillion each year?  And that shockingly, more than 796 million people in the world cannot read and write? In addition, about 67 million children do not have access to primary school education and another 72 million miss out on secondary school education? Did you also know that at least one in five people worldwide struggle with illiteracy? Nearer home, did you know that the economic cost of illiteracy in Kenya with a GDP of $71.5 is $357.50?

 At best this can be described as a global tragedy because there are millions of people around the world who live in poverty due to the simple fact that they are illiterate. This is the reason why the Safaricom Foundation has chosen to support the Denise C. Hogan Library in Kenya based in Zimmerman Nairobi, in its quest for literacy development in Kenya. Late last year, The Safaricom Foundation announced the 3rd Round of its World of Difference Program and Kenyans were encouraged to apply and compete for a Volunteer opportunity in the various community projects they regularly support. To this end, five volunteers were seconded to The Denise Hogan Library in Kenya to provide back up and synergy to the Library managers by using their skills, knowledge and networks in order to make a difference for the library community. The Denise C. Hogan Library in Kenya is the only community library in Nairobi County serving the residents of Kasarani Constituency.

By all means this is a bold initiative that supports young people studying in the many educational establishments in Zimmerman and those studying to improve their various vocations. However, all is not easy and the Managers say they need various resources in order to better serve their patrons. Among the items in their wish list include a new home for the library as the current premise is rather congested. They also need ICT, and accessories and networking, Library Furniture, Subscription to E-books, Purchase of locally available books, especially those that complement the school syllabus, and library staff training through scholarships.

The World Literacy report further states that illiteracy costs human lives. Apparently many young babies, children and even adults have their lives endangered due to the inability to read, write and use literacy skills to access information that could save their lives. For those who read the Bible you may recall what God says in the book of Hosea, declaring that His people are perishing for lack of knowledge.

 It is for this reason that the efforts being made by the Denise C. Hogan Library in Kenya, a local NGO incorporated in 1999, deserves commendation at a time such as this, because they are joining hands with like minded people by acting to stop this human tragedy once and for all. Mr. Harrison Kilonzo, the Director of the NGO simply says: “As we move towards the next century, we require more educated Kenyans, and this is why we are trying to work with our government in eradicating illiteracy in the country”


Chairman of the Library: Mandela Gachugu

 The Denise C. Hogan Library in Kenya situated in Zimmerman Nairobi amidst a densely populated area, is a commendable effort at reaching Kenyans with a much needed service right at their door step. This indeed is a good example of what is professionally advocated worldwide. In some developed countries, community libraries are to be found in each County, often, in addition to a public library fully funded by the Government.

 According to their constitution, “the library came into being out of social necessity, to provide the much needed knowledge for cultural growth”.  It goes on to state that “this necessity is all the greater today, in a world giving birth to a host of new nations, amid a scientific and technical revolution it became necessary to start a local NGO, with the purpose of getting reading materials to students as well as adults to allow them to nurture their literacy skills while acquiring knowledge and skills.”

While visiting the library recently we meet Betty Kathure, a local musician and a member of a Youth Group in Zimmerman which has 15 members forming ‘Friends of the Library Support Group’. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the Library and has this to say: “the library is an amazing venture and it has helped us in improving our music skills and general knowledge.” She further reveals that they patronize the library regularly and borrow books. Apparently as a Youth Group they talk to young children about books and reading and they help create awareness on the library. Asked about whether she knows about the Safaricoms’ World of Difference Program she quips: “This is exciting news for us because it has given us confidence about the library’s programs and we really appreciate the gesture. She then quickly adds: “The library is the best thing that has happened to us here in Zimmerman!”  Incidentally, there is no other constituency in Nairobi that has a Community Library!


Friends of the Library Support Group

No wonder then, the founders have managed to network with the Safaricon Foundation and convinced them of the importance of running and managing Community Libraries and why they are important in every Community and Constituency in Kenya. With more support from other development agencies the 5 skilled individuals will be able to offer their services to the Denise C. Hogan Library in Kenya working with the managers to spur creativity and ensure that the library grows and becomes more responsive to the needs of their readers. One of the critical things the team will be do is formulating a Five Year Strategic Plan (2013-2018), in addition to resource mobilization, Marketing and integrating ICT in the operations of the Library.

At a time such as this, when our Country Kenya is experiencing phenomenal political and administrative changes, time has come to bring fresh thinking into how the illiteracy menace and the way it is to be managed into public agenda. In some developed countries, it is a statutory requirement that the Central and Local Governments provide funding for both Public and Community Libraries.

We now advocate for this in the case of Kenya, so that as we move towards County Governments, it be made a mandatory requirement that each County should have both a public Library and Community Libraries serving information needs of the people. If this is done it will be in tandem with the need to have a hospital, a school, a bank or any such service that is prerequisite for socio economic development for the people of Kenya.

 In this respect, the Denise C. Hogan Library in Kenya Founders have already set the pace and we call upon all Leaders and Politicians to support this noble project and for the Government, the Private Sector and all Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), particularly the United Nations (UN) to come and support the development of Community Libraries in Kenya. For the past decade or so, huge amount of resources have been utilized in the fight against poverty and we are not saying this should not be so, we are saying however that the effort could be directed in the first place, to fight illiteracy which is the root cause of poverty. Instead of concentrating on the results of poverty, the International Donor Community should instead deal with the cause, which is illiteracy!

 It has been argued by the National Literacy Trust of the United Kingdom (UK) 2011 that, “Socio-economic background and many other factors may be outside the control of individuals and what matters is that addressing literacy skills is a key first step in beginning to address and overcome other related factors that lock individuals into a cycle of disadvantage.” The World Literacy Foundation 2012 further states: “illiteracy is ruining lives and is linked with an array of poor life outcomes, such as poverty, unemployment, social exclusion, crime and long term illness. For this reason, the World Literacy Foundation is “challenging the mindset amongst world leaders to treat illiteracy as a type of disease of which we all are aiming to eradicate.”

 The Safaricom Foundation deserves special commendation and deserves support by other institutions in the Private Sector and the NGO world that need to come out and support Community Library Development in Kenya. We are aware there are many other like minded individual Kenyans who think like we do, regarding the need to develop literacy through Community Libraries and we call upon all such people to come out and work with us so we provide synergy for each other and in the spirit of pulling together we bring this quest for a Literate Kenya under control.

As has indeed been said severally, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance!

Lily Nyariki is a an ambassador for the Denise Hogan Library in Kenya. For more information on the library go to

Imagine a world where everyone can read…

March 6, 2013, is World Read Aloud Day, an awareness day advocating for literacy as a human right. Celebrate by reading aloud, giving away a book, or taking action in any way you can to “read it forward” on behalf of the 793 million people who cannot yet read or write.

The World Literacy Foundation is proud to be partnering with LitWorld for Read Aloud Day 2013. By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their future: that they have the right to read and share their words to change the world.

World Read Aloud Day creates a community of people who are advocating for every child’s right to learn to read and to have access to books and technology that will make them lifelong readers.

Visit to join the Read It Forward movement! Register your participation, and spread the word to friends, family and members of your network and rally more supporters around this movement! LitWorld, the organization that founded World Read Aloud Day, offers free downloadable activity kits full of ideas for children, teens, families, educators, and professionals at

Learn to Read, Colombia
As part of our working with local communities program, The WLF conducts a Learn to Read workshop in Colombia. Dedicated WLF volunteers such as Paula Correa come together to read to and teach some of Colombia’s most underprivileged children in the slums on the outskirts of Manizales, Colombia. Due to poverty and isolation, many children in the area do not regularly attend school. Here are a couple of images of the fantastic work Paula is doing!