At first glance, “literacy” would seem to be a term that everyone understands. But at the same time, literacy as a concept has proved to be both complex and dynamic, continuing to be interpreted and defined in a multiplicity of ways. And according to Merriam-Webster website, “Literacy” means to be able to read and write, and also the knowledge that relates to a specified subject.
Fifty years ago, UNESCO officially proclaimed 8 September as International Literacy Day to actively mobilize the international community and to promote literacy as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies.
Learning to read and write is a fundamental right, protected by international human rights law. Yet, 38% of African adults are illiterate – and two-thirds of these are women. Unequal access to education and low literacy means that women have trouble accessing careers and the public section, making them more likely to get married at an early age and have few avenues for future independence or personal growth. This, in turn, negatively impacts their children – Africa is the only continent where more than half of parents are not able to help their children with homework due to their own illiteracy.
There is a proverb that says “You educate a boy, you educate a man. You educate a girl, you educate a generation”. Dar Si Hmad, an active NGO in Southwest Morocco dedicated to sustainable livelihoods and the empowerment of rural communities, recognizes the importance of literacy. It thus developed programs like the Girls’E-Learning project to help girls from rural villages study and prepare their exams. The Girls’ E-Learning program uses technologies to help girls succeed, have access to a good education, and improve the region’s high school dropout rate. Participants have the chance to learn and receive lessons online, improving their literacy in the formal Arabic and French they will be tested on in exams.
Literacy for younger children is addressed through our “Water School”, targeted at primary schools. This program, full of lessons & workshops, makes students of the future understand their environment as a huge space of many objects. It modules include animal & plant biology, recycling, pollution, the water cycle, and sanitation. The program gives Dar Si Hmad the chance to discover and encourage talented kids who have skills like public speaking, theater, and painting. In a few months, the Water School Curriculum will be available for free online, part of the organization’s ongoing attempts to share resources and ideas.
Older adults in the bled (Moroccan countryside) are supported through trainings for women in Aït Baâmrane, Southwest Morocco. These literacy days help women with basic numeracy and literacy skills, enabling them to use their mobile phones to text – a much cheaper alternative to phone calls. The women are now exploring ways to use their enhanced skills for income-generating activities like an argan co-operative.
Bridging the urban center of Agadir where Dar Si Hmad’s main offices are and the bled where much of the programming take place is a new initiative I represent. In May 2016, Dar Si Hmad launched the Environmental Youth Ambassadors, an innovative program bringing 7 RISE program participants from different parts of Morocco to be involved in the NGO’s activities. Our work has focused on media and environmental literacy, using visual content & online campaigns as a way to communicate based on events and sensitization.
For all those who can read this – Happy International Literacy Day! Today, I encourage you to take the time to improve your own literacy. Those of us who have the tools to read and write can improve our subject-area literacy about environmental issues. Take a minute to learn about COP22, the international climate change negotiations happening in Morocco in November. Or explore and support our Water School and Women’s Empowerment programs.
And lastly, here’s to all of the projects around the world working to make sure a greater number of us can read, write, and enjoy the power of written communication by this time next year. I am excited by Dar Si Hmad’s work and I hope you’ll join us in working to improve the lives of our communities, in Morocco and around the world.