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SIL Celebrates
International Literacy Day

On September 7, 2001, SIL International joined with 20 other participating organizations of the International Literacy Network (ILN) to celebrate International Literacy Day.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) first established International Literacy Day in 1968 to highlight literacy issues that span the globe. The celebration this year in Washington, DC was hosted by the Smithsonian Institute, where SIL participated with an exhibit in the Ripley Center. Later that day SIL hosted a Leadership Luncheon, specifically for the purpose of promoting discussion on the effectiveness and impact of the network. Ongoing partnerships within the International Literacy Network allows SIL and other member organizations to work together to have more impact than any one of them could have alone in the fight against illiteracy.

On September 8, SIL was also involved in the First Lady's Book Festival at the Capitol building with an exhibit in the popular Great Ideas pavilion. The focus of the SIL exhibit was "Literacy in Languages of the World." The exhibit highlighted the Ethnologue: Languages of the World, volumes that describe 6,800 languages, in addition displaying other literacy-related print and CD resources produced and made available by SIL. One popular activity connected to the exhibit gave young people an opportunity to practice writing their names in hieroglyphics. Organizers of the event estimated that between 20,000—25,000 people attended the national book festival this year.

Literacy is recognized by SIL as a key that unlocks a whole new world of information and communication options. Yet even in the twenty-first century, illiteracy remains a serious issue around the world, particularly in developing countries. The numbers are staggering—one billion illiterates in the world, two-thirds of these are women, and one-half of world illiterates are speakers of lesser-known languages.

SIL members are working in over 1,000 of those lesser-known languages in their commitment to the endangered languages and marginalized minority peoples of the world. Fieldworkers partner with national colleagues and work along with local communities in: linguistic analysis, orthography design (in the cases where an alphabet does not already exist, including non-Roman scripts), literacy programs and materials development, and literature production. By participating in the International Literacy Day celebration SIL hopes to promote an awareness for the global disparancies in literacy particularly among minority languages groups worldwide.

Article contributed by Pat Kelley, International Literacy Coordinator, SIL International