Helping our schools by increasing student literacy. – Part 3
One possibility for helping to change schools is to create a literacy epidemic of
the type reported in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Tipping Point” which was described in the
last blog (Blog #105). Gladwell points out that certain environmental circumstances
must prevail along with specific types of individuals for an epidemic to occur.
To launch such a project in one or more places, there are a number of
requirements, such as the necessary environmental conditions, one or more
connectors, a maven or two, some salespeople, a result is dramatic and that can be
repeated so that the effect lasts. The result is much public awareness of the program
that can be leveraged to attract attention, early adopters and to ignite pressure for
others to follow.
For any activity to be organized and launched that is out of the ordinary realm of
“business as usual”, there has to be a problem which is painful and is not being
Illiteracy is one such problem. It is universal, intractable, destructive at many
levels, expensive in several different ways, and not being dealt with effectively for
decades for a variety of reasons. There is a distinct lack of accountability by school
systems across the hemisphere and a strong tendency to blame the student, the
student’s family, or some condition presumed to be responsible, over which they have
no control and against which their best efforts have produced little in the way of
results..As a result of this ineptitude, there is frustration by parents, teachers, social
workers, employers and especially by the victims themselves. The table is set for
Enter the Connector
The connector, who loves people, has a huge number of friends and
acquaintances and is always collecting more, is introduced to the problem. Maybe it’s a
friend whose child has just been diagnosed with ADHD, or a colleague who is getting
nowhere with his school trying to get help for his fourth grade son. However it happens,
the connector has a huge network upon whose resources s/he can draw.
I consider myself to be a minor league connector. Here’s why;
- My librarian phoned me to tell me about a book signing I missed and about a
literacy project in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She knows that I am interested in all
things regarding literacy
- She was holding a copy of the book Adventures of the Asian Poor for me from
the Amarock Society, a small Canadian non-profit, non-government organization (NGO).
- I read it in one sitting and then saw the author, G.E.M. Munro’s Vancouver phone
number on the back cover.
- I called the number and reached the author’s wife, Dr. Tanyss Munro in Ottawa.
- They (the entire family of five) were on a self-sponsored, national book tour.
- As a co-author of 25 books, I had done the same thing, so I had a pretty good
idea of what they we up against.
- We agreed to meet for lunch at a small town (Madoc) on their way to their next
book signings in Peterborough, Ontario.
- They arrived in a rickety Suburu Outback stuffed to the gunnels with 5 people
and all of their worldly goods as well as their stock of books their books. They
were camping out as they journeyed across the country.
- Their book tour was to raise money to start schools to teach women in the
world’s poorest slums (Dhaka).
- These women were to learn to read and write Bangla, their mother tongue and
then English in order to get a better job.
- Each mother then taught everything she learned to a minimum of 5 children
using their squalid hovels as classrooms. No bricks and mortar.
- I suggested that they needed help from an organized group such as my Rotary
club. They welcomed it.
- Two weeks later I took Dr. Munro to the International Rotary Conference that just
happened to be in Canada for the first time in decades and was being held in Montreal.
- I introduced her to the chain of command of Rotary literacy leaders from me ( a
lowly club literacy committee chair on the lowest rung, to the top dog, the Rotary International Chair of Literacy.
- With the help of these Rotarians, we pulled together an impromptu meeting of
Rotarians from Bangladesh in the cafeteria of the conference centre.
- There are 34,000 Rotary clubs globally, with 1.2 million members. There were 10,000 Rotarians at this particular conference.
- Each club is expected to do a literacy project each year.
- Fortunately all of the Bangladeshi movers and shakers for literacy were at the conference and attended the meeting.
- We agreed to work together with the North American Rotarians helping the
Munros to raise money and the Bangladeshi Rotarians, receiving and dispensing
the funds and providing oversight of the project.
- The Munros added Rotary clubs to their lists of book stores as a potential source of revenue.
- Since then numerous Rotary clubs have given or pledged money as a result of
our being able to get the Munros in front of their members to describe their work and its success.
- Two Rotarians, from 2 different provinces, joined Amarok’s Board of Directors to
help establish a strategic plan and to make sure that all non-profit regulations were being followed:
- One of these men is a former Director of Education, the other is a retired Air
Force Lieutenant-Colonel with an MBA who spent 3 years in Banladesh with the Red Cross
- Financial support increased each year and a portion has been set aside as the seed money for a $40,000 -$50,000 grant from Rotary International to assist the Amarok project.
- There are now 13 schools with 250-300 mothers and 1200-1500 children
learning to become literate in Bangla and English.
- It’s a drop in the bucket but it could also be the virus that starts a literacy epidemic.
- We need some Sneezers to help spread the virus. Could We Do The Same Thing Here?
If we can assist Amarok Society to continue its work when it has no paid staff, no
office except where they happen to be that day, at a distance of 11,000 miles in a
incredibly difficult slum environment using formerly illiterate mothers as teachers,
and malnourished down-trodden children as students, is there not a strong likelihood
that we could do the same thing in North America?
My answer is a resounding “Yes” and I will share with you a North American
example in my next blog.