LitWorld Stands UP for Girls
by Pam Allyn
Around the world, the number of people who cannot read or write hovers just under 800 million. Two thirds of this population are women and girls. In preparation for the UN International Day of the Girl on October 11th, LitWorld's Stand Up for Girls campaign is in full swing. Our mission is to mobilize girls and boys, men and women to advocate for every girl's right to tell her story to change the world.
It is truly a matter of life and death when girls are denied the right to read and write and to learn all that they need and want to know. In developing countries, 1 in 7 girls marries before the age of 15, and pregnancy and childbirth are the number one killer of 15-19-year-old girls. The right to literacy is a form of protection. People who can read to understand their choices, and write to define them and to share them are powerful in a civil society.
Education, and literacy especially, is a goal of goals. It paves the way to personal fulfillment, and better health and livelihood outcomes for girls and their families. Girls, like boys, must be able to do all of the following and more: vote with their names and not a thumbprint, read their medicine bottles, farm their land, read to their children, go to college, or follow whatever path will further their dreams, and lead economic independence. Right now the world is at a grave crossroad of inequity for girls in all of these ways.
Here is where LitWorld comes in.
LitWorld was launched in 2007 to empower the most isolated, at-risk and impoverished communities with a new vision of what literacy could mean to each and every person. Our LitClubs are safe sanctuaries for girls to learn and to read and write, and to share their stories as a tool for becoming literate while building resilience. They are based on this idea: that you can use what you have to become fully empowered. And that what we all have is stories of our own.
So we must make sure that girls understand that their own stories matter, to them and to
others. Personal narrative is a vital part of seeding literacy. Learning to shape their
narrative means that girls do not have to be defined by their complicated and challenging environments, but instead to be newly defined by the stories they choose to tell and the narratives that can help them shape their lives.
Currently, LitClubs serve thousands of girls around the world who live in the most difficult and dangerous places to be a girl, including Haiti, the Philippines, Nepal, Kenya, Ghana, Liberia, Peru, Rwanda, and the United States, where our work is centered in Harlem, New York and Detroit, Michigan. The two most powerful impacts the program has on their lives are being in a safe community to learn to read and write, and having a mentor who cares about them, listens to them, and accompanies them on their journey toward adulthood.
The act of reading is not just decoding words on the page, it is a way into new worlds and it's a way to self-empower by seeing new versions of oneself and one's possibilities in the world. The act of writing stories, of telling one's own stories, is not just about expression, it is about transformation. It is about being understood and creating change and it's about understanding the world. Limit a girl from all that, and half the world is silent.
LitWorld is a 501(c)3 non-profit literacy organization fostering resilience, hope, and joy through the power of story. Learn more at litworld.org.
Pam Allyn is the Executive Director of LitWorld.