The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out. Proverbs 18:15
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LITERACY: More Than Book Smart
Here’s an eye-catching reality: No country has reached sustained economic growth without achieving near universal primary education.
Supporting international basic education is more than book smart; it’s a critical investment in U.S. and global security. It decreases extremism, strengthens democratic institutions, reduces global poverty and increases sustained economic growth. And it demonstrates American values. When Congress passed the READ Act with strong bipartisan support one year ago, they accelerated basic education programs around the world with greater transparency, to break through key barriers that keep millions of children from basic education.
UNESCO says “Literacy is the best remedy” and back in 1966 established International Literacy Day each September 8.
Literacy is the 3Rs and much more. Let make sure to not limit our definition of literacy and limit the impact we can make.
LITERACY: Thinking beyond the 3 Rs
Poverty keeps 130 million girls between ages 6 to 17 out of the classroom. Education is especially important for women and girls because for every year a girl stays in school, her future income increases between 15 to 25 percent. That benefits families and whole communities. But the primary driver for determining whether girls get an education, according to the World Bank, is poverty itself. It’s a Catch 22. We’ve got to break the family poverty cycle to get and keep girls in school. That means thinking beyond the 3Rs.
Families need reading, writing, ‘rithmatic and more: Financial literacy, business literacy, digital literacy, media literacy to name a handful. These poverty-busters must to not be entrusted to the Fortune 500 only. Consider business literacy, in particular. A project of Lutheran World Relief and Catholic Relief Services, funded by USAID, illustrates how important business literacy is to effective foreign assistance.
Building Business Literacy
El Salvador has some of the highest rates of violence in the world. Coupled with 50% unemployment among youth and unlivable wages, young people and families are feeling pressure to head to the U.S. Williams Saravia had been one of them.
Once a promising architecture student, he couldn’t afford to complete his degree. He was fully literate by all traditional definitions, but unable to support his young family and it wasn’t for lack of hard work. He worked as a farm laborer from sunup until sundown on someone else’s farm for $6 a day, then on his own small plot of land. He started thinking about seeking better prospects north.
Instead, he learned of a new diploma program to train young people in cocoa cultivation, a project of Lutheran World Relief. Cocoa had once been an important crop in pre-colonial El Salvador but was nearly extinct. This diploma provides intensive training in specialty cocoa cultivation and production, and includes business practices and life skills curriculum. In other words, business literacy and life literacy were the agenda. Today Williams is now part of reviving El Salvador’s once vibrant cocoa industry alongside the USAID-funded and Catholic Relief Services-led Cocoa Alliance. Students are putting business literacy into practice. Williams decided to try a family business making cocoa tablets for hot chocolate, with his own distinctive recipe, and sold out the first day.
Beatriz Villatoro started Le Chocolat, handmade specialty chocolates made from Salvadoran cocoa. She’d been trained in the hospitality industry, which left her looking for full-time employment for nine years in violence-plagued El Salvador. Like Williams, she started thinking about heading north, but her new cocoa education is a new life.
Similarly, Cesar Gaitan had been contemplating the U.S. because selling vegetables door-to-door was an impoverished life he did not want. Now he’s got an organic fertilizer business, created with a formula he learned in class, and is studying as an agronomist. “The cocoa diploma changed my life. Even the way I think,” Cesar says. “Before, I didn’t have goals. But now I know what I want.”