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.




By Lori Taetz

Trespassing. Stealing. Finding themselves away from parental support. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. These are some of the reasons the 50 or so young people are residing at the Gulu Remand Home in Uganda.

We arrived at the jail to find approximately 47 young men and 3 young women, between the ages of 13 and 20, sitting side by side on wooden benches. They were in two different classrooms, separated by a wall. The wooden enclosures were unadorned, as the students sat with bare feet touching the concrete ground. A lone chalkboard, much like those used in the 1970s, covered the front partition. There were no books in sight, aside from the few they shared between them with the day’s math. In Uganda, most of the teaching is done by rote, with the students echoing the teachers’ statements. We were privileged to see a small spark of creativity and life as the students welcomed us with a special clap designated to honor visitors. Karine responded with a heartfelt statement of our maternal love for them and concern for their welfare, reminding them of their worth as human beings.

We could not help but notice that all of the occupants wore the same plain green outfits. Apparently, this is the only outfit most of them have with them in this place, despite the fact that they must wear civilian clothes to approach the government officials when they finally find themselves with a court date. In addition, they must come up with the funds to get to the court when they are called, after waiting several months to a year to be heard, even though the system boasts a wait time of 6 weeks.

On approaching the occupants’ living quarters, we felt an immediate dread at the lack of anything that might bring some joy or hope into their drab existence. The rooms were small and dark, devoid of electricity. They were made of concrete from floor to ceiling, and the pervasive smell of urine mixed with dust and grime filled our senses. The bunks were stacked on top of each other, with one dirty blanket on each. In between rooms was a locking door that led to a small, dismal bathroom, consisting of a hole in the ground and a shower stall, whose grimy surface conjured up endless stories of darkness, despair and a thousand bad dreams.

Was there anything we could do to brighten up their lives and bring some sense of hope? Although we came with limited resources, we did have something that could transport them to another place. One full of hope, joy, adventure, friendship and discovery. A chance to learn and gather knowledge for their futures. We brought the blessing of books! Our hope now is that the young teachers at the Gulu juvenile jail will learn to use the books to share both knowledge and enjoyment with their students, giving them something to look forward to each day.

Moses’ Treasure

Moses’ Treasure

by Karine Veldhoen

Moses had a package. It was homemade. The package was made out of corrugated cardboard of two sorts. The pieces were folded and inter-locking. I was suspicious they held a treasure inside. I was curious. I cajoled him in English to share his treasure with me. The children around us giggled about our awkward adventure of discovery. I continued to smile my encouragement and use the nearby, homemade soccer ball as a diversion from the intensity.

Slowly Moses began to open up. Slowly he began to unfold the treasure. Slowly he shared.


As he pulled the tab out of the body, in a barely audible whisper, he said, Book and showed the homemade pages inside. At that moment, my eyes filled with tears at his creativity, our communion, and the hallowed ground on which we stood. Out of all that 100 tons of books that Niteo has sent to Uganda, none is more precious than the one in Moses’ hands. I don’t have the next picture, you can’t see the pages, because it is our job to build on his dream.

We will send books to Moses and his sister. We will send books to the school because that this next part of the story.

Of every 10 children who start school, only 3 will complete elementary school successfully (2017, USAID). Passing the knowledge based examinations at the end of the cycle in Primary 7 or Grade 6, is a major barrier. This high stakes examination requires the student to have adequate knowledge on a broad range of topics memorized, and fluent reading, writing, and numeracy skills. Those skills are enhanced when children have access to books and read daily.

Niteo Africa exists to help Moses and his sister to fulfill their promise. Let’s ensure we get books into their hands!

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