A Manifesto on Literacy

By Karine Veldhoen and Dr. Susan Crichton

Literacy is the most basic unit of change for the world.  Literate children become meaning makers, critical thinkers, and creative thinkers.  Literate children become changemakers.

Literacy starts at an early age.

Very young children acquire language through conversation with their families and friends. In song and verse children find joy in communication and connection.

You can read to infants too.  Why? Because you are connecting and creating possibilities, introducing patterns, images, sounds, shapes, and relationship.

Gradually the young child begins to recognize that spoken words can take the shape of written language.  Through the complex literacy learning of listening, speaking, reading and writing, children become meaning makers.

Young learners need frequent practice in meaning making along their journey.  As Paulo Freire teaches in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Reading is not walking on the words; it’s grasping the soul of them.” Children must have consistent opportunities to explore the meaning of text.

Books are joyful journeys!

Books are the beginning of reading.

Open Books. Open Minds. Open Doors.

Over time, the child learns books are joyful journeys into the imagination, into new realities, and into unknown realms.  They are explorations into the light and shadows of our humanity, with opportunities to learn and grow through the experiences of others.  Books open the breadth of human knowledge, inviting both critical and creative thinking.

Books are a lens.

When we give a child a book, we are empowering her to explore the variety of information available in the world, a sense of personal identity, and an emerging idea of where she belongs within the global context.  As Freire explains, it is “to see the world unveiled.” Seeing is the first step in transforming. Transforming begins as the child discovers new literacies.

If I am literate, then I am empowered and I can think differently.  I can think differently in a process called design thinking. To think well, I need to focus my thinking.  I can question, be empathetic, and human-centered in my approaches to the contextual problems I face.

In an increasingly complicated and interconnected world, there are multiple literacies that children need, but the key to all of them is reading and writing.

A reading culture is a practice of promise.

By investing in the reading culture of challenging contexts and offering access to books, we give children an opportunity to read and write their way in the world.  Reading literacy is a core competency and the beginning of what it means to be a participant in the world, a global citizen.

When we give a child a book, we share with him the culture, history, and foundation of what it means to be human.  Books can become the first independent step in becoming a learner, an active participant, and a capable agent of transformation in the world.  To read is to participate in something bigger; it is a practice of promise.


I call it redemption. It is more than books. It is dignity.

This Place is So Good

by: Karine Veldhoen

It’s called Abuga Road. It is a redemption story.

In 2014 two Canadian teenagers and I attended the grand opening of the Niteo Africa literacy centre in Gulu, Uganda. The centre is on Abuga Road, not far from Lacor Hospital. Our story is in the contrast. It sits in the darkness and light; it is found in the clearing of the dust. Allow me

Our exploratory visit in 2013 enchanted us with the pine and mango tree nobly standing next to one another, like Canadian and African partners.

The land sparkled in the sunlight and was sweetened with the fruit! In this place, we could see the ultimate vision of mother and child expanding and growing together, through literacy and learning. The trees whispered their hope to house.

At first, it was about the books. Shorestone Homes made an exceptional and quiet grant to Niteo and our partner, Hope North, with Okello Kelo Sam. The centre opened its doors. The Local Council leaders attended with thanks and the teachers and children were present.

We even found caretaker Sam with a guitar and the celebration was rich!


But, today, on July 11, 2017, we formally interviewed caretakers Sam and Florence, of the Gulu Literacy Centre. The University of British Columbia is partnering with us in a formal program evaluation. It was a standard question. I innocently asked,

What is the impact of this library

I thought it was about books, education, literacy. I thought we would discuss academic progress and student visitors. Instead

They told us a haunting story.

Before the centre, Abuga road had violence. Killing was still in the air from the Kony terror. Northern Uganda tasted blood. And, this road, Abuga Road, wasn’t a neighbourhood, it was a danger zone.

Florence translates, Sama’s words,

Those days when this library was not there, people were not here at all. So those days, nobody was here. Yeah, this place was very bad. They kill people. They do what

So they were wondering how we were staying here after today? Why are they not coming to steal us?

So now people are very happy with us, because we have brought them here. Now all these bodies [people] that you are seeing, they’ve just come out [because] of the library.

Because they used to fear this place so, so, so much!

They always ask me, How do you stay there I say, That place is safe and I will sleep peaceful at night I’ve already stayed here now for three good years and I’ve not had anything.a�?

Even the area’s Local Councils are now thanking us because the owners of the lands here now they’ve gotten encouraged because from us. So now they are selling the land to the people.a

It’s like this whole neighbourhood has become good?! A community is blossoming.

Friends of Niteo, most days, I think that we send books to African children.

But, today, I got a glimpse of something greater.

What happens when you give the gift of dignity? What happens when you create something beautiful and available? What changes when your heart powerfully believes in people? What happens when you walk straight into the lions den and a miracle happens: the lions are silenced?

I call it redemption. It is more than books. It is dignity.

Our work in Uganda has just begun. We know that it is making an impact and in fact, saving precious lives through peace.

If you feel inspired please DONATE to Niteo Africa Society and help us reach more deserving communities.

These days they’ve learned that this place is so good for their children.