Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Paying it forward through literacy

“The loss of a tongue is a social, cultural, and even spiritual problem”

- MarĂ­a Virginia Haoa is one of the founders of the Rapa Nui Language Academy, Chile

Teaching is so very far from being a one-way street. I am constantly inspired by my former students. I have had some alumnae come back to school - live and through Skype- and speak to my Economics class as mentors in the business world. Some have come back to speak about their work as lawyers helping to sort out the chaos of the legal system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Another former student shared her work in helping to eliminate "Food Deserts" in Baltimore City.  All of these women (I work in a girls' school Garrison Forest School) are leaders in title and/or example. They create, innovate, and give back to the community.

Ah, giving back. That is where my heart lies.  If my students learn nothing else, I hope they learn about the value of using their gifts and opportunities not only to make themselves happy but, to help others. I adored the concept of "paying it forward" long before it was a movie or catch-phrase. I see my role as a teacher as paying it forward by educating students not only about content but about their responsibility for doing positive work in the world, whether through vocation or avocation.

And what of alumnae, paying it forward, and literacy? Another of my former students, Kate Joyce, joined the Peace Corps after college (actually, a number of my former students have joined the Peace Corps). Among her other jobs have been guiding a girls' magazine and serving as director of a book bank that provided books to massively under-served areas of the world. Her latest venture is the creation and directorship of Mother Tongue Books, a non-profit whose mission is to provide books in the original language of people in areas of the world that have limited resources, particularly books. As they note on their webpage,

"The lowest literacy rates in the world are in countries where affordable good books are not available in the languages people speak, so Mother Tongue Books translates good children's books into mother tongue languages and distributes them through organizations already doing development and education work in low-literacy countries."

Image from : http://customtripplanning.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/the-world-book-globe.jpg

What could be a greater way to pay forward her education and opportunities than to bring literacy to others, in their language? It is not as simple as taking American children's stories and translating them. American stories are filled with cuddly bears and pigs. Imagine these books in the hands of children for whom pork is sinful or bears are frightening. Producing these books involves tremendous cultural literacy.  They also pose a great opportunity for students. Some of our students taking advanced levels of French are working on the translation of culturally appropriate books into French. Not only are they performing a service, they are applying their language skills and they are engaging in meaningful cross-cultural education.

Mother Tongue books is a young venture with a bright future and ample opportunities for student engagement. Travelers, too, can be part of enriching literacy across the globe. Stop in a local bookstore and find a book that is culturally relevant. Send it along to Mother Tongue for translation. They will get it into the hands of children who will benefit so very much from the opportunity to develop their literacy.

Let us all help "pay it forward" by encouraging young leaders and visionaries by supporting their good works. Simple steps can make a world of difference.

For more information about Mother Tongue Books, check out their website or contact:
Kate Joyce, Executive Director

While we're at it, let's celebrate World Read Aloud Day