September 8th we celebrate International Literacy Day. It is a day to remember the giftedness of all those who give their time and talents in order to teach others. It is also a day to honor the courage and dedication of those men and women who step out of their own comfort zone to learn a new language and way of communication in a new and foreign country.
Literacy by definition is:” the capacity to read and write in a language that can be understood”. This is an educational definition.
This past year the Springs Learning Center celebrated 15 years of Literacy training for men and women in the New Haven area. During this end of the year celebration, many of the students got up to speak and voiced what their new learning meant to them.
“I am now not afraid to go shopping”. “People listen to me know and I can voice my needs.” “I am learning English and it is hard, but I am doing it!” “I can now get a better job because I speak English better. “ “This program is changing my life.”
I am sure that these quotes are voiced by many students in other Learning Centers we sponsor across the country. Reflecting on the comments, my definition of Literacy has changed. The capacity to read, write, and speak seem to be only the basics of teaching literacy. It is more than an educational gift. It is a life giving gift of empowering others to communicate and become the new voices in our changing world.
Yes, our world IS changing. It is growing larger and all men and women are called to embrace these changes and welcome others into full participation for a better world. As St. Catherine is quoted, “Preach the Truth as if you had a thousand voices. It is silence that kills the world.” We are called to enable the truth to be heard in those thousand voices of the students that we meet weekly.
As Peacemakers, we are also justice seekers and Justice can only be achieved when all voices and ideas are heard. Illiteracy breads powerlessness. When people are unable to communicate they become victims of the society they are trying to join I have heard people who are immigrants tell me that “people think I am stupid, ignorant because they do not understand me, but I am not.” How sad to hear this statement from those whose only goal in life is to provide a better life for their families and themselves. When we teach even one person, we are adding to the thousand voices that need to be heard in order to break down the walls of fear and division.
As Americans, sadly, many have not felt the need to learn to become fluent in another language. I admire anyone who is bilingual and most of all I am in awe of my 5 ESL students who have learned so much English this year and are eager to continue. I must confess that I never did learn another language fluently, and the older one gets it IS harder! BUT one of my “fun” practices throughout the years has been to learn to say: “Hello and Thank you” in as many foreign languages as possible. After all these are the best words to know!! So far I am up to 7 and counting. This month and during International Literacy Day, this might be a good practice, and it’s fun!
To all of you tutors – know you are amazing!! To all learners – keep it up! You are also amazing. Together, we can change the world one word at a time!! PEACE.