November 21, 2010

Improving Lives Through Literacy

I definitely take for granted the fact that I can read.  I take for granted every opportunity that literacy affords me and, by extension. my family and community.  In the past several years, I have engaged with women in various parts of my daily life who are working very hard to learn English as either a second or primary language.  Many of them immigrated to this country in search of a "better" life for themselves and their families back home.  Some women are victims of human sex trafficking, others are second, third, or fourth generation Americans who are still struggling to find their way through literacy.

Though I intellectually know that literacy is a critical issue among women in the United States and other developed and developing countries, it was a letter from Stella, the Services Coordinator of the Literacy Volunteers of Union County, Inc program, where my mother volunteered for a short time in 2008, that really brought this issue home for me.  My mother, who died this past August, served as a volunteer working passionately with her students to teach them English as a second language (ESL).  My mother was a very intelligent, smart, passionate, loving, and caring woman, and fully embraced her role as a literacy volunteer.  She never went to college, because that is not what women in her community and family did when she was growing up, and despite being very bright and well-read, she always felt inadequate and inferior to her peers because of this.  Working as a literacy volunteer was a tremendous accomplishment for her.  She spoke to me not only of her great pride in her efforts and accomplishments, but more often of her genuine interest and investment in the lives of the students with whom she worked.  She would bring to life the very personal journey that her students were taking through their reading and writing efforts and how this made a great difference in every aspect of their lives. 

In the letter that I received from Stella, she wrote:
Jane joined our program in March, 2008 when she became a tutor.  She was very interested in helping our students because she loved to read and wanted to share her knowledge with others.  She helped 14 students to learn the language and prepared some of them to become U.S. citizens.  She was very concerned about how difficult it was for a foreigner to survive in this country without English.  She always came prepared with her lessons and activities that her students needed.  Jane was amazing, in that she always agreed to have more students, she never said no to me.  I really appreciated her commitment to this cause.  She was a wonderful and dedicated tutor and will be missed. 

It is in this spirit that I offer the WCC community a look into the need for literacy among women in our greater Philadelphia community and abroad.  As it is well known, when you take action to improve a woman's life, you in turn improve the lives of an entire community.  Dominique Chlup writes for Ms. Blog an article called Gender Equity Begins with Literacy outlining the critical importance of literacy in the effort towards gender equality and, I would argue, for the prosperity of women.  In this article she also provides a great number of resources on the topic, such as WE LEARN (Women Expanding Literacy Education Action Resource Network), and opportunities for social action.  For more information about the topic of women's literacy, check out ProLiteracy.  Here in the Philadelphia area, the Center for Literacy provides community-based literacy services to youth, adults, and families, where you can find opportunities to receive or provide services.

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