Wally De Doncker on how to battle illiteracy

Wally De Doncker. Photo: IBBY

Wally De Doncker. Photo: IBBY

Guest blogger this month is IBBY president Wally De Doncker:

I joined IBBY the moment I began my career as an author. IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) has taught me that the horizon lies beyond the borders of my own country. As the newly‐elected president of IBBY International, it is a privilege for me to work with people worldwide to realize the mission of IBBY.

This mission is to promote a reading culture and give every child the opportunity to become a life‐long reader and this is only possible if the child enjoys reading. One of our objectives is battling illiteracy. A recent UN‐report states that globally, there are still 781 million adults who lack basic literacy skills, and that 58 million children are out‐of-school at primary level and a staggering 63 million children do not attend at secondary level education. Furthermore, an estimated 250 million children of primary‐school age are reported to be failing to acquire basic literacy skills. Added to that, half a billion women today are still completely illiterate. These figures really are cause for concern. The closing of libraries in Europe, often because of financial cutbacks, is also a cause of deep worry.

Children have the right to be able to read and IBBY supports this basic right by initiating and backing many wonderful projects around the World:

Bolivia
In many parts of Bolivia, families have no books and there is no culture of reading. IBBY Bolivia, together with Taller De Experiencias Pedagogicas and the Thuruchapitas Library, began a project in the San Miguel neighbourhood of Cochabamba to encourage reading and storytelling within families.

Afghanistan
IBBY Afghanistan set up a library project to give young children a chance to read and increase their interest in reading books. The project is currently running in different provinces of Afghanistan with the support of Aschiana. The children living in refugee camps, orphanages, juvenile rehabilitation centres and different disability centres will benefit from this far‐reaching Project.

Italy
In response to the waves of refugees from Africa and the Middle East arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa, IBBY and IBBY Italy launched the project “Silent Books, from the world to Lampedusa and back”. The project involved creating the first library on Lampedusa to be used by local and immigrant children.

Belgium ‐ O MUNDO
The aim of this Flemish IBBY project is to select excellent books from all over the world that allows migrant children to share something about themselves, their culture and their background with their school colleagues. Thus opening the eyes of all the children in the school class to the value of a multicultural society.

As a world organization, we have to keep arguing that reading is a basic right for everyone. Recently, a librarian told me that we are creating a new elite, by which he meant that children who enjoy reading and devouring books could only do so because their parents have the means to buy books. IBBY must continue to advocate for all children to have access to great literature; this includes children from underprivileged families, immigrant children, refugees, children with disabilities and sick children. Those who cannot (or may not) read are excluded. This is something that IBBY cannot accept.

At the 2012 Membership Assembly, IBBY members approved of a formal commitment to the principles of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child as ratified by the United Nations in 1990, to be included in the current IBBY Statutes. Because of that action it is our responsibility uphold these rights. It is unacceptable that there are countries in this day and age where girls are banned from reading or even learning to read. It is also inacceptable that many children are unable to read at an adequate level after finishing primary school.

I would like to forge new ties with institutions and other international organizations such as the ALMA. After all, Astrid Lindgren was one of the founding members of IBBY and supported IBBY’s mission always. On a personal level, I learned to love Sweden and the Swedish language because of her books and the television series based on her stories.

ALMA and IBBY are fighting for the same values and we are exploring ways in which we can collaborate to bring children and books together.

Wally De Doncker, IBBY President

 More about Wally De Doncker’s vision on IBBY here

 

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