Life without literacy.

Reading and writing have always been as essential to me as love, laughter, oxygen and food. It is part and parcel of everyday life; I cannot imagine living without this ability. Life would be hell.

So when I discovered that a friend was illiterate, my stomach overturned. I asked her how she managed. Imagine a world where you have no idea what is written on the paper that you pull out of that envelope. On that packet. How can you live without this essential tool for communication?

My hedgehog book sits beside my bed. A meeting between a child and a novel creates beautiful things.

My hedgehog book sits beside my bed. A meeting between a child and a novel creates beautiful things.

The answer is dependence. That terrible state I never want to be in is her everyday situation. Her husband reads the notes from school to her, and her daughter reads the homework instructions out loud so that she can understand. Her daughter is sweet, understanding and fun. Like her mum. She reads for her mum. Her mother trusts her to tell her the truth. A delicate equation of trust and dependency between a mother and daughter that will continue for as long as they need each other, in a world where a child is the eyes of her parent, reading the news before passing it on. When she grows older, will she filter out the bad stuff, like we do as parents for our children before they know how to read? The necessary role reversal that had occurred so naturally shocked me.

But there is no firewall, nothing and no one to protect her if one day those helping hands suddenly disappeared. This dependence shocks me; how can illiteracy still exist in this day and age? The clock is ticking, and nothing has changed. Time that could be used to make things better is running through the hourglass.

I tried to motivate her. A simultaneous desire to hug her and shake her out of her lethargy and into action. Sign up for classes. You’re so young. Be independent. Rely on yourself. Be proud. Do it. Prove to yourself that you love yourself, and if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the sake of your daughter. Please. Don’t rely on others for something so essential. Respect yourself. React. In this day and age, it is wrong to accept this kind of situation as a fatality.

I have suddenly realised that like so many other things in life, like love, health and happiness, things that I had always considered a basic staple of life are a privilege. That although we grew up in the same world, at the same time, she didn’t get the same chances as me. I have taken a real slap on the face. I am thankful for having parents who refused to let me let go, who cocooned me in a world full of books, literacy, library visits, who encouraged me and pushed me to never be dependent on anyone else. Education is a right. But it is also a privilege.

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