You Say You Want a Revolution? You Say You Want a Revolution?
Issue 014

You Say You Want a Revolution?

by John Wood

January 28, 2009
"We are too poor to afford education. But until we have education, how will we ever not be poor?"- Headmaster in rural NepalIt is such a simple solution to the issue of global poverty: Teach a child to read and you could vastly improve not only his or her life, but also the life of the family and the wider community. Perhaps the simplicity in the solution is the reason it hasn't been seriously considered-such a complex problem as global poverty must call for a complex and expensive solution, right?This morning, more than 100 million children across the developing world woke up and did not put on a school uniform, did not walk to school, and did not sit at a desk and learn. An even bigger issue is that nearly 800 million people in the developing world are illiterate. That is one out of every eight human beings.Two-thirds of those who are illiterate are girls and women, which is a problem that pays itself forward in perpetuity. If you do the math, the risks here are staggering-if every one of those 500 million women has four children, then the world will have an additional 2 billion children growing up with an uneducated and illiterate mother. If we don't educate the girls and women, we won't educate the next generation. That will be the reality of the future, unless we take action now and turn global education into a mass movement.Why, when we have the means and the ability to lift a generation out of poverty through the lifelonggift of education, is so little being done? The United Nations sees educating girls as an extremely powerful tool in addressing global poverty, more powerful and effective than any other initiative implemented in the developing world. When a woman is educated, there's a spillover effect to the next generation and all subsequent generations. Better nutrition and overall health, lower infant mortality rates, higher income levels-all key metrics that determine the fate of a community-are dramatically improved. And even more marked is that this improvement is not simply a Band-Aid-it becomes a permanent repair of the deep wounds of generations who have lived in poverty.
Nearly 800 million people in the developing world are illiterate.
In just eight years, Room to Read, an NGO I helped found, has already had a positive effect on the livesof almost 2 million children in eight countries across Asia and Africa. We started with a donkey load of donated books and have since developed a widespread web of programs giving children opportunities to learn and read and finally have the awareness that they have choices-choices about how they want to live, what they want to do with their lives, and how they want to better their community. We view education as a hand up, not a handout, and we require active participation in building and running the schools and libraries funded by our organization. Our programs are extremely affordable-$250 will allow a girl to attend school for a year, and $25,000 will pay for construction of an entire school. I am not trying to give Room to Read a pat on the back, but attempting to illustrate how capable we are, in this generation of wealth creation, to attack global poverty directly, effectively, and cost-effectively.For millions of children in the poorest parts of the world, there are no schools, no libraries, no books, and no teachers. Every day we don't help is a day we don't get back. The clock is ticking. I believe, and I hope, that we can do better. If so, we will pick a generation up out of poverty. If not, our ancestors will look back and wonder whether we lacked foresight, or courage, or both.
NOW WHAT Get involved with bringing libraries to the developing world at
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You Say You Want a Revolution?