Heifer Marks International Literacy Day

Heifer highlights importance of literacy in combating poverty

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Sept. 8, 2011) – Around the world, about 776 million adults are functionally illiterate and almost two-thirds of them are women. This hardship can mire entire families in poverty and hunger; it deprives individuals of the ability to achieve the lives they desire.

For that reason, Heifer International joins with organizations around the world in marking today as International Literacy Day, seizing an opportunity to emphasize the importance of literacy in empowering individuals.

In many of Heifer International's project countries, less than half the adult population can read and write. That includes Senegal, with a 42% literacy rate according to UNESCO, as well as Sierra Leone at 40% and Ethiopia at just 36%.  Illiteracy contributes to a cycle of poverty, in which parents are unable to provide the resources for their children to succeed in school or in the larger community.  About 100 million children worldwide don't have access to education.

Nguyen Thi Thuy is just one of the people that Heifer has been able to help in their struggle for self-improvement. Thi Thuy wanted desperately to help her children with their homework. But she couldn't read.

Thi Thuy grew up as one of 14 children whose parents couldn't afford decent schooling for her or her siblings. She and her husband didn't want to repeat that pattern, but as seasonal laborers they earned only about $2 a day working in nearby rice fields. Thi Thuy feared her daughter and son would be trapped by the same lack of education and that left her feeling paralyzed.

"We worked as hard as we could for our children, but we often had to borrow money from neighbors to pay for their school fees," Thi Thuy said.

In 2008, the couple learned about Heifer. Thi Thuy joined a self-help group and began attending trainings. But since she couldn't read or write, Thi Thuy sat in the back of the room, away from her other group members. Memorization didn't suffice, and she quickly decided that it was time for her to learn to read and write.

Thi Thuy learned the alphabet from her sister-in-law, then asked her children to write words for her to copy. Thi Thuy says Heifer gave her the determination to study every night for five months until she could both read and write. The self-help group even elected her cashier.

Now Thi Thuy can assist her children in their education, instead of struggling just to feed her family. Her daughter, Thuy Dung, 13, has a dream to become a doctor, she said. Her little brother, Huu Nghia, wants to be a professor of Vietnamese literature. Heifer didn't just improve living conditions for Thi Thuy; it helped her open up greater opportunities for her children to achieve their dreams.

Heifer continues to recognize education as being central to our goal of eradicating poverty and hunger in the world.  Education and Training are one of Heifer's Cornerstones, our guiding principles, giving Heifer's projects far-reaching impact. Heifer's model provides knowledge and empowerment as well as the resources to succeed.

For more information, visit www.heifer.org or call 1 (800) 696-1918.