International Literacy Day really snuck up on me this year. I must admit, the calendar is full of random celebratory days and I tend to ignore most of them (although my favorite might be International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19 — ooh, ooh, that’s coming up soon!). But International Literacy Day must not be dismissed with a nod  and a ‘oh yea.’ It’s much too important for that. The question is, why?
International Literacy Day was established 50 years ago by UNESCO in the belief that the ability to read and write is key to the breaking of social and economic barriers. This year, the theme of their annual conference is Literacy in a Digital World with the aim “to look at what kind of literacy skills people need to navigate increasingly digitally-mediated societies, and to explore effective literacy policies and programmes that can leverage the opportunities that the digital world provides.” To me, this means taking the now old discussion of book vs ebook and placing it in the middle of the educational process. And I believe that is really what literacy is all about.
Last year, I was honored to receive an International Freedom Through Literacy Award from the organisation, Judith’s Reading Room on behalf of the work I do with my NGO, Writing Through. I was asked to express my individual philosophy about literacy, and this is what I wrote:
       Literacy is more than an ability to read and write. Literacy is fundamental to our ability to think – conceptually and critically. Through language we access our thoughts and feelings. Our ability to use language fluidly provides us with the tools to process the exterior world, bettering understanding of our own internal worlds. Literacy is the switch that turns on that light of conceptual thought, opening doors to new possibilities, ultimately improving self-esteem and communication.
Two years later, I have seen the meaning of those words brought to life as we helped more and more at-risk teenagers and adults in SE Asia discover their own ability to use language as the switch to “turn on that light”.
But there are far better spokespersons for the importance of literacy than I am. Here are some other quotations you might find inspiring (thanks to the Indian Express for finding these):
  Literacy in itself is no education. Literacy is not the end of education or even the beginning. By education I mean an all-round         drawing out of the best in the child and man-body, mind and spirit.”
              – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Literacy is much more than an educational priority – it is the ultimate investment in the future and the first step towards all the          new forms of literacy required in the twenty-first century. We wish to see a century where every child is able to read and to use        this skill to gain autonomy.” 
           – Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General
      Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every             man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” 
           – Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General
So, happy International Literacy Day everyone, no matter what language you speak, what format you prefer to read, what genres you like to write. Keep reading, keep writing, keep thinking!