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The Power of Literacy to Change the World

September 8, 2009 marks the 43rd annual International Literacy Day. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), more than 776 million adults lack minimum literacy skills, which means that one in five adults is still not literate; 75 million children are out  of school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. This year, International Literacy Day is focusing on the power of literacy to connect people to their communities and encourage social change. Without basic literacy skills, adults and children are often cut off from the fundamental necessities of life: education, health care and due process under the law. Adults who are able to read are more likely to raise healthier children who can learn to support themselves through work, be better citizens, and create a more fair and just society.

GFWC clubwomen have a long and distinguished history in the campaign for literacy dating back more than 100 years. By the 1930s, the American Library Association credited women's clubs with establishing 75 percent of American libraries. Supporting local libraries continues to be a Federation priority today: in this decade, GFWC raised and donated more than $13.5 million in books and materials to public libraries and public school libraries through America's Promise Libraries 2000 program.

Use International Literacy Day as a springboard into your volunteer year. Here are five ways to get started.:

Good foundation, great results. Start with a resource that's right under your nose. The 2008-2010 Club Manual: Education Dept, Focus on Literacy Program outline is available for download. GFWC members recruit tutors; work with schools, places of worship, and other volunteers; and discuss the low literacy rates in their communities. New to the literacy program is DEAR, or Drop Everything and Read Day, and working on The Dictionary Project.

Think globally, help locally. ProLiteracy Worldwide's website features an easy search engine to guide volunteers to local literacy programs that need their help.

Educate yourself, educate others. The National Institute for Literacy provides comprehensive resources detailing the different approaches necessary to help adults, adolescents, and children learn to read.

Tell a story, open a mind. Many libraries, schools and children's programs need volunteers for their children's story time hour. For an interest in reading to develop, it is imperative for children to be exposed to books that feature varied and rich vocabulary to encourage oral language development.

Advocate for change, change the world. Your government representatives are there to work for you. They need to hear how important it is to your community that children and adults be given every opportunity to become literate. Contact your local or state governments, as well as your U.S. Representatives or Senators

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