International Literacy Day, 2010

That was a very special occasion indeed, in the early days of our community empowerment initiative in Howrah slums. We had been working on women’s literacy (in Urdu), and we had also just started Talimi Haq School (Right to Education School), a non-formal learning centre for poor and working children. Hence we thought it was appropriate to observe Literacy Day. ...Most of all, I remember singing out resonantly with the children, as our rally wound its way through the narrow slum lanes, the beautiful song that used to be broadcast over national television in the late-80s, under the National Literacy Mission:
Learn to read and write O toiling people
Learn to read and write O you who’re battling hunger
Learn to recognise Ah Aah Ih Eeh, learn to write Alif
Learn to make Kuh Kha Guh Ghah your weapons
Learn to extend your foot from darkness towards light
Learn to read and write O toiling people
Learn to read and write O you who’re battling hunger

We observed International Literacy Day for a couple of years after that, with other women’s programmes. Then I swallowed the fact of our failure and inability to do anything substantive in the face of the utter perverse apathy and unresponsiveness of the authorities and institutions, and let this day pass. But my colleagues in Howrah, and especially Amina and Binod, always remember this day and observe it in some fashion.

To people in India - Calcutta and Bengal used to be identified with learning, culture, the arts, political consciousness etc. Even today, educated people of the older generation in other parts of the country hold this city and state in high regard. But the reality today is somewhat different.

I know that in my lifetime I shall not see a literate Calcutta, or even a Calcutta where every child receives basic education. And nothing I might do personally will make a difference. I know that those who have the power and responsibility to address such matters – just don’t care. Nor do the systems exist to enable such goals. Yet, I go on, trying to do whatever little I can, to make a small difference, to a few children, in one place.

Happy International Literacy Day!

This year's global theme is a celebration of women’s empowerment through literacy, and a chance to pay tribute to the women and men who work behind the scenes who help others acquire literacy skills and enter a world of opportunities.

I hope you get the chance to do something fun and cool and human today - something more than that ridiculous list of "things to do at work."

Calgary's having some fun - and not just today. Under the banner "Planting Literacy in Our Lives" they've got a stories, rhymes, and songs thing going on at the library. There's also a cool workshop on democracy: "Learn how you can vote in the city elections, how to make an informed decision, and why your opinion counts." And, they're having authors Gail Anderson-Dargatz and Gail Bowen in, on separate days, to talk about writing lower-level high-interest fiction for adult learners. Yay, Calgary!

Me? No such luck. We just ordered two complete sets of the new Goodreads (a.k.a. Quickreads) from Grassroots Press, which is exciting. But mostly, I'm going over to the centre to sort books, take out the garbage, and then sweep & mop. Then, I guess I'm working on another Storytent report (we have two more to finish) and going to bed.


(Remember when we used to have cake and balloons and Canada Post awards and stuff? That was pre 9/11, of course, before the terrorists changed everything and we all had to stop reading novels and writing neverending stories and resign ourselves to the drudge of workplace essential skills.)

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