Literacy Has Amazing Power
Literacy is all about stories – the ones we share, the ones we live and the ones that shape us. Last year I met Dr. Worku Mulat. He has a powerful story. His mother never got the chance to learn to read. She wanted better for her kids; Dr. Mulat is her eldest. She insisted they all learn to read. And in his words, “I couldn’t stop there” and he went on to receive his PhD in Ecology. He is also the author of one of our most popular books, The Boy Who Did Not Give Up, about the legend of St. Yared. This was a story his mother told him as a child, and he dedicated this book back to her. Now her story and her hopes for her kids are inspiring many others in Ethiopia and around the globe.
OHBD story started with a photo of a wide eye child who would put our whole family and community on a different path. She discovered the inequity in opportunity around the world early and wasn’t having it. OHBD focuses on Literacy, Art, Technology and Leadership in effort to close that gap.
Literacy has amazing power. Literacy is a gate that unlocks education. Without it, so many doors are closed. But what is needed to make that possible. We believe it requires four things:
- Books. Stories with pictures are the most powerful for kids. Engaging, culturally appropriate stories captured and colorfully brought to life with talented writers and illustrators. This is the story of Jane Kurtz who wanted to use her writing talents to give back to the country she grew up in during her early years. Her vision led to our main literacy project, Ready Set Go books.
- Innovation. We need to experiment with new approaches when nothing else has been successful. This led to us start Ready Set Go books since previous efforts weren’t increasing literacy overall. And led us to experiment with new Innovation Center efforts throughout the course of 2019. Dr. Worku and his brothers, Yirga and Lakw both Microsoft engineers, have led this effort.
- Collaboration. There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We want BOTH. I learned at Amazon the power of adding AND where you see an OR. To accomplish AND here, we needed the fourth element below.
- Bold Goals. These need to take a long view and be supported by a global community. Our goals are 1) to increase the literacy rate of a country through creating the missing early reader books and getting them to kids all over the country and 2) to increase innovation by trying new approaches, running experiments and showing what is possible.
We made good progress in 2019. We funded two New Model Programs – Read to Mom with MDC in Maji and Innovative Teaching Methods with Project Ethiopia in Dangla. We created many more RSG books and are on track to reach 80 books by end of 2019; all titles are now in Amharic and Tigrinya; Afaan Oromo versions are coming on-line. We are in three public libraries in Washington, Colorado and Minneapolis. And most exciting, we are in late stage talks with a major literacy organization that would distribute more than a million of our books in 2020 in eight Ethiopian languages. We have to date distributed over 105K RSG books in Ethiopia in five Ethiopian languages. We are gaining more local content creators and piloted both our first art day in Adama and writer’s workshops in Addis. Our first leg of the innovation center project, the Gondar community library, is about to break ground and we successfully tested STEM train the trainer and a peer to peer (US to Ethiopia) mentoring platform in Bahir Dar, Jimma and Wollo.
In 2020, we will continue to focus on literacy and innovation through Ready Set Go book creation and distribution, completing the Gondar library, supporting Girls Can Code efforts in at least two Ethiopian universities, and funding more Model Programs.
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life n modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development…For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” ~ Kofi Annan
Thank you for your generous support in bringing the power of reading and innovation to many more kids in Ethiopia; please consider a year end gift to power our 2020 efforts to continue to reach many more.