Today, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) celebrates International Literacy Day, a worldwide recognition of the importance of reading. The Agency has released a video featuring USAID Deputy Administrator Paloma Adams-Allen reading the book Ou Ou Wants to Have Friends – a short story written by Phoutsady Keonilapha, illustrated by Vongsavanh Damlongsouk, and translated into English by Shannon David. In this story, a porcupine named Ou Ou wants to make friends, but everyone he encounters thinks his quills are too sharp. Ou Ou overcomes their rejections through their acceptance of Ou Ou’s differences. The story promotes empowerment and inclusion, themes central to USAID’s vision for inclusive development.
Too many learners do not have access to books, especially ones in languages they speak and understand. Ou Ou Wants to Have Friends is a book from the Global Digital Library managed by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation and supported by USAID with other donors and partners through the Global Book Alliance. The open source, online library that has more than 6,000 books available in more than 90 languages with more added and translated every day so that children, youth, and adults around the globe have reading materials. Increasing access to books in languages children use and understand is one of the key ways USAID is ensuring all children can learn to read.
USAID is the largest bilateral donor of basic education assistance and works in more than 50 countries to ensure that all children and youth – especially the most marginalized – have access to quality education in order to gain foundational literacy and numeracy skills they need for their future learning and success.
Now, perhaps more than any time in recent history, this work is critical. Even before the pandemic, learning poverty – a measure of children unable to understand a simple written text by age ten – was very high. As a result of COVID-19-related school closures and disruptions, learning poverty increased to 70% in low-and middle-income countries according to a recent report published by the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, FCDO, USAID, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Furthermore, crisis and conflict – such as the war in Ukraine – has extended and exacerbated education disruptions for affected children and youth.
USAID encourages all to join in celebrating international literacy day and the power of reading. Foundational learning skills are fundamental to future educational opportunities and reaching one’s fullest potential. Use the hashtags ##ILD and #USAIDLiteracy to post photos of favorite books, or a short video sharing how reading changed your life.