It was in the summer of 2013 when I met a young Maori woman whose mission in life was to give children the opportunity to learn to read.
Her name was Toni and her mantra was ‘literacy is the route out of poverty, reading is the pathway to prosperity’.
Sadly, Toni died while on a Rotary Group Study Exchange trip to District 1260 (Beds Bucks and Herts) that same summer, but her legacy lives on in the lives of countless children that were influenced by her work.
One of the key areas of focus for Rotary is literacy and in this country many members are active in reading projects in their local schools.
Around the world The Rotary Foundation supports its members providing literacy and educational programmes in many countries – including New Zealand, Toni’s home country.
Ask Roger Green from my own club in Ware what he gets out of helping little ones to read – his face lights up and he will regal you with wonderful examples of how the children are progressing!
It’s all part of Rotary’s contribution to the local community, a contribution that in this instance will help young people find the ‘pathway to prosperity’, and give Roger a great ‘feel good’ feeling at the same time!
It is a sobering statistic that 50% of prisoners in the UK are functionally illiterate. This means half of the 85,000 people currently incarcerated have a reading age of 11 or lower – with 20% falling well short of that mark.
Many prisoners are completely illiterate. For some reason they missed out on educational opportunities and now Rotarians are working to make sure successive generations have the opportunity to learn to read.
In Birmingham, the ShelterBus project will support the homeless. Nationally the figures are hard to verify but it is estimated that there were almost 5,000 rough sleepers on the streets. The Birmingham ShelterBus is acting as a catalyst for similar projects in other major cities.
One of the key issues affecting both those in prison and those sleeping rough is mental health. There is a growing awareness that we need to treat mental health issues in the same way as we treat physical health, by raising awareness of the issues and sharing knowledge of some of the simple helping techniques that are available.
Mental ill health often stems from loneliness and Rotary members are beginning to look at how they may be part of the solution when it comes to raising awareness and creating opportunities for people to get together.
The Worry Tree Cafe in Framlingham, Suffolk, is a great example of Rotarians working with their local community to provide a place where people can get together and where conversations about mental ill health happen.
Rotary is already known for its work with dementia – Rotarians easing the Problems of Dementia: www.repod.org.uk and in many areas they have set up, or are working with others on, memory cafes or dementia clubs.
The lessons learnt in this area of community service will be shared and built on as Rotary engages in the local community on the issues the community are concerned about.