“I’m really full of hope because I am giving hope”, says Valentino Okongo, Youth Peace Maker, South Sudan.
South Sudan is a country that is not often associated with hope so when a young South Sudanese man, orphaned by the war, speaks of hope, how can we NOT help?
South Sudan has a great deal of potential – just have a look at UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker’s work in South Sudan … Inspiring isn’t it? The Forest Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) is building a network of youth peace workers across South Sudan which is stunning in its simplicity, power and inspiration. Literacy is a central part of what he and his passionate team are building. When you learn the South Sudanese literacy rates – 70 % of all adults are illiterate and 84 % of women – it doesn’t take much convincing to know that literacy is a vital part of their initiative.
“Can we write a new story for South Sudan?” asks Brian Williams WPDI Conflict Resolution Expert in a video on WPDI’s work. When you watch him working, when you listen to the Youth Peace Makers, when you see Forest Whitaker in the video it is difficult to think anything but YES!
So how can we, antiquarian booksellers, collectors or librarians in a world so very, very different from the one experienced by South Sudanese help?
Just a little money goes a long way in South Sudan. ILAB booksellers raised over 10,000 Euros at the ILAB Pop Up Book Fairs on UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day in 2015. What good did this do? 500 South Sudanese young people were given a prized notebook and pen (because these items are prized there) and 1,930 books were placed in 10 centres of the Forest Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative. That’s a lot of young people who were helped in their journey of hope. The following chapter on “Promoting Connectivity and Education” from the official 2015 WPDI Report shows where this journey shall lead to:
“Education opens doors to new worlds of knowledge and opportunities. But in communities impacted by violence and poverty, young people often do not have access to the educational resources they need to lift themselves out of these vicious cycles. WPDI is constructing a network of Community Learning Centers (CLCs) in EES to serve as hubs for education, technology, and civic engagement where all are welcome. In 2015 - in coordination with our partners and local authorities - we opened two CLCs in Torit and Nimule, and renovated three additional sites for CLCs in Kapoeta North, South, and East, scheduled to open in January 2016. WPDI plans to renovate and open four more CLCs in 2016, so community members in every county of EES will have access to these resources.
Thanks to Ericsson and Zain, all of the CLCs are equipped with hardware and connectivity, so community members throughout EES are able to access the Internet. ICTs have transformed how humans communicate and access information. But, while 82 percent of individuals in developed countries use the Internet, in South Sudan, only 15 percent do. In fragile communities like those in EES, we believe that ICTs can be tremendous assets that empower women and men to tap into the world’s entire collection of knowledge, to connect with others in their communities and around the world, and to participate in conversations as informed global citizens. WPDI staff offers daily computer trainings for community members to provide them with valuable job skills and allow them to explore and interact with the online world, giving these individuals access to a vast array of knowledge and educational resources.
The CLCs also house small libraries, where community members can check out books and develop their literacy skills. In South Sudan, illiteracy among both adults and youths is still widespread - 73 percent of the population over the age of 15 cannot read or write. There is also a significant literacy gap between men and women because of cultural pressures that sometimes force girls out of school at an early age. Our CLCs are committed to spreading a love of reading. Each center houses a library and, in collaboration with UNESCO, holds regular literacy classes, many of which are targeted specifically toward women.
The two CLCs established in Torit and Nimule are proving to be incredibly popular - each center is routinely visited by more than 200 people every month. The ToTs and other YPN members are using the centers as headquarters for their recruitment and community-building projects. In a field adjacent to our center in Nimule, a girls’ soccer team has been established and holds weekly practices. Our vision for these centers is that they not only serve as locations for literacy classes and computer access, but also as vibrant hubs of community life where individuals can gather to participate in a wide range of activities and civic discourse.”
10,000 Euros from ILAB booksellers and book collectors worldwide for 500 notebooks and pens and 1,930 books in 10 WPDI centres was a good start in 2015 – and it is far from being enough. That’s why ILAB booksellers will stand up again on UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day, 23 April 2016, to raise even more money for this entirely important project. The children in South Sudan need our help, they deserve to learn, to read and to lead a better life in the future. So, there is still a lot more to do. Let us give our vital support to the UNESCO, the Forest Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative and most of all to the children in South Sudan with another giant chain of books presented on ILAB Pop Up Book Fairs from Australia, to Korea, Japan, South Africa, all over Europe and to the United States.
When? On UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day, 23 April 2016.
Where? Across the world.
Booksellers take part in a Pop Up event – collectors and librarians visit these events.
In just a few hours or with just a little money you can give so much hope.
Look at the video. Read even more about The Forest Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative in their report just released.
And say YES!
Help us to help the children in South Sudan. Get inspired! Organize an ILAB Pop Up Book Fair wherever you are, and be a part of it.
February 2016 – For immediate release. Pictures: ILAB, UNESCO, WPDI