Today (September 8th) marks International Literacy Day and for one Rotary member, he is packing his bags preparing to fly to Zambia to see the impact of his charity’s work.
Ian Parker is the Chairman of the Devon based Literacy in a Box which, since 2006, has regularly been dispatching boxes of educational materials to children in Zambia, as well as the Philippines.
On Sunday, the day after UNESCO’s International Literacy Day, Ian, from Roborough Rotary near Plymouth, will be flying into Lusaka to visit some of the schools which the charity has been working with.
“In reality, we are just scratching the surface,” admitted Ian.
“When we first looked at this project we worked out that if we gave each Zambian child their allocation from a Literacy Box, we would need a third of a million boxes to give them something once! So, what we are doing is literally the tip of the iceberg.”
In 2004 Ian and his wife visited South Africa and was shocked to see the lack of books in some of the Zulu schools.
At the same time, Forbes Watson, a club colleague, made a trip to the South Luangwa Valley in Zambia and reported the same problem.
It is something we feel very passionate about and, at the end of the day, every child has a right to be educated.”
The Game industry is big business in Zambia, and as there is a need for children to be educated to work in it as adults, Forbes had this vision of helping them with their education.
So, with Roborough Rotary and the local Rotary District providing the backing, they linked with another Devon charity, Operation Sunshine, which has been working with Zambian communities for more than 30 years.
Operation Sunshine said “Put two boxes of school materials on our container and see what happens. That was in 2006,” recalled Ian. “In those first boxes, we asked the teachers what they wanted, and ever since then we have sent what they ask for.”
Costing £325, the charity sends a box packed full of educational materials which is enough for 25 primary school children. The boxes contain something to write on, something to write with, something to carry the items, something for their exercise such as a skipping rope or footballs, and anything else which is particularly needed.
Ian’s last visit to Zambia was five years ago. He thought they were working with 12 schools in the Bush region of the country, but it turned out that there were 22 schools involved as boxes were being shared.
“What we found out is that where those boxes are being given regularly, the children are completing their education, and that is what drives us,” he added.
Even so, the charity is not sending out as many boxes as it wants. With more than 40 schools to support it requires 1,000 boxes a year, and Literacy in a Box is nowhere near that target.
“If every Rotary club within Great Britain and Ireland could give a box every other year, we could meet the target” suggested Ian.
The charity is looking for more support generally; for trustees, ambassadors and greater Rotary involvement.
“We started in Roborough Rotary who remain as a partner. This is a genuine Rotary project,” he said.
“It is something we feel very passionate about and, at the end of the day, every child has a right to be educated.
“If we can do our little bit with a few schools, we will have succeeded. It is not a big ask. Everybody is very busy, everyone has time pressures, but there are ways people can help. Come and talk to us, see what we can offer and see what people can take up.”
UNESCO’s International Literacy day raises awareness globally on issues surrounding adult and child literacy. First held in 1967, it is now part of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals programme, which was adopted in 2015.