In 1985, Rotary declared basic literacy to be a pre-condition to the development of peace. Literacy continues to be one of the focus areas of Rotarians and our Rotary Foundation – and so March is named “Rotary Literacy Month”.

Literacy is the foundation for virtually all forms of education and a crucial component of effective social and economic participation, human development, and poverty reduction. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) nearly 800 million people over the age of 15 lack even basic reading and writing skills worldwide. In addition, there are roughly 137 million school age children who are illiterate around the world. Sadly, over 64% of all illiterate people in the world today are women.

As some of you have heard me comment, when visiting India I am struck by the thought, “But for where I was born . . .” Because over the 4 visits I have realized how few girl children are finishing school, and how low the illiteracy rate among women in India is. My education and my love for reading and learning has framed my life – and when our 2010 Texas Team to India learned that one of the barriers to female education was the lack of private toilet facilities, proudly the Rotarians and Interacotrs of our district stepped forward in support of the “Pints for Polio . .and Potties Too!’ event last October. And as a result one toilet block (for girls and boys!) was funded. The work of our district Rotarians resulted in the addition of funds and hands-on-work of the Rotarians in Agra India to provide a second school with new toilet facilities, and when the Rotaract members from Salt Lake City learned of the need, they stepped forward and raised the funds for yet a third school to have new toilets. 
This project is not a literacy project – but it supports literacy in the most basic way – it addresses one of the root causes of illiteracy and removes the barrier   … and when I recently received a letter from one of the young girls at one of the schools where new toilets were built by Rotarian hands and funds, you can imagine how I felt when I read, “I hope you will be most happy to learn that a 25 total of new girls are attending our school because of the toilet block. Your girls will make you happiest.”

The benefits of literacy to society are undisputed. Literate populations are less likely to experience civil strife and are more likely to develop economically. There is also a direct connection between literacy rates and community health. People who are literate are generally more aware of health concerns in their communities and are therefore better equipped to avoid illness. And when together we work to increase literacy in the female population, huge impacts are made on the future – because the educated mother encourages all of her children to be better educated and helps to improve the economy of her family, her community and our world.

Indeed, Rotarians around the world see the world through different eyes – and together we work hand-in-hand to remove barriers and make our world a better place . . .

What service can you and your club participate in to improve literacy either here at home or abroad? Go after it!  . . because in the words of Mike Ditka, “"I don't think anything is unrealistic if you believe you can do it."