Because September is National Literacy Month in the U.S. – and September 8 is designated by UNESCO as International Literacy Day – maybe it’s time to reflect on the fact that an estimated one in five adults around the world lack minimum literacy skills and 35 countries have a literacy rate of less than 50%, according to UNESCO’s analysis.

Sobering facts.  But what does it mean to us, here in the U.S. and other developed countries?

Well, it means that our literacy problems are better hidden than “over there,” and often hit children who don’t get much exposure to books, certainly outside of school.
Child literacy has been an important issue for The Junior Leagues for decades.

In 1937, the Junior League of Mexico City teamed up with the Asociacion Ignacia Trigueros, a group founded by blind men hoping to expand educational opportunities for the blind in Mexico.  The two groups established the first Braille Library in Mexico, creating Braille materials in Spanish. The reputation of the library and a new printing press led to requests from other Latin American countries and the United States to purchase books.  The project would gain even more recognition with a visit to the center by Helen Keller and with the naming of Mexico as the official center for Braille printing in Latin America by UNESCO.

More recently, the Junior League of Washington has played a significant role in the Library of Congress’ National Book Fair, hosted by Laura Bush.  The League has donated trained volunteers to staff the event and help celebrate the joy of reading and lifelong literacy.  JLW continues to foster literacy by donating over 1,000 books annually to community organizations through its “Books for Bright Futures” program and has a partnership with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, where it supports various projects that the library offers to encourage reading among children.

Other Leagues that have developed their own programs to support child literacy include the 12 Junior Leagues of Georgia – Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Cobb-Marietta, Columbus, DeKalb County, Douglas County, Gainesville-Hall County, Gwinnett & North Fulton Counties, Macon, and Savannah – recently completed a project in which Georgia’s underserved children sat down for stories read by League members.  They called it The Million Minute Read, because that’s how much time Georgia League members contributed to the project.

Leagues also participate in other organization’s literacy programs.  For example, the Junior League of Birmingham participates in the Dollywood Foundation’s Imagination Library, which provides children under 5 with age-appropriate books.  Working with organizations like JLB, Imagination Library recently sent out its 25 millionth book.

So what’s a good way to celebrate National Literacy Month?  Why not read a book to a child?