As the sun bursts over the mountain and another new day begins, Thabo brushes off his shoes, stretches his back to release the aches and pains, and sits on a round cold coffee tin while he slowly ties his shoes. The chickens are scurrying around the outside of the house, kicking up dirt and screeching as motorbikes and buses fly by. With each lace he ties, time stops and Thabo thinks and rethinks, wonders and wishes about the life he had hoped for and the dreams left behind.
As Thabo sits and watches, he sees the world pass him by and he realizes his dreams do too. Ever since Thabo was 4 he has always dreamed about being a mechanical engineer—his hands were always how he worked and played. His fascination with the old generators at the power plant where he and his brother would play nearby was a factory of imagination to him. Thabo dreamed of so much, but he bore the brunt of his father leaving to find work, his mother dying of AIDS, his younger sister needing him to make money, and a never-ending cycle of neglect. Neglect of Thabo’s needs, neglect of Thabo’s loves, and neglect of Thabo’s learning.
So, now, Thabo, having taken care of everyone else, is unable to take care of himself and unable to live his dream.
Thabo is 43. He can’t read. While he is not a real person, I have met so many like him.
We always think of a young child who is struggling to learn, the one little boy who can’t properly write his name, the young girl who can’t read aloud in class.
We forget what happens to those who are left behind. We don’t remember that those young girls, who didn’t receive the help they needed, grow up, and that those young boys, who were never reached, get older. As they grow, as they become adolescents, as they enter adulthood, life doesn’t change, challenges don’t disappear, and they, as adults, continue to cope with all the demands that life brings.
The power of literacy, the ability to read and the capacity to learn, is often taken for granted. As you sit at your computer reading this blog, or as you scroll through your phone walking to work, or as you complete your final research paper, fill out your job application, send in your passport for renewal, sign a rental agreement, complete a medical form…you do it all because someone, somewhere taught you to read.
Today, on International Literacy Day, we ask you to partner with us, to help the Thabos of the world become mechanical engineers, the Peytons of the world become teachers, the Nanus of the world become doctors—by helping them learn, dream, open the gateways of their imagination—by helping them read.