A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the post office to mail some ‘getting started’ items to Emory University, home to one of our newest chapters. While waiting in line, I overheard the man in front of me addressing the clerk. The customer was inquiring about how to change his address and the clerk kindly responded that all he needed to do was fill out a form.

The customer, who was probably in his late 60s replied very simply, “But I can’t read or write.” The clerk responded, “What do you mean you can’t read or write?” He said this incredulously and with a bit of laughter assuming that his absurd statement couldn’t be true. The older man just stared back at him and said “no.”

The clerk then realized he was serious and helped the customer fill out his change of address form. I watched curiously and saw the difficulty the man had in ‘signing’ his name.

In the US, this picture is a rarity and although we might conceal our reaction better than the postal clerk did, many of us would also be shocked to encounter a person who could not read or write.

Since my encounter, I’ve been thinking more and more about how someone could operate as a successful citizen in this country if he did not know how to read and write. How would he find a job? How would he even know which jobs were available? How would he vote or navigate the city?

As seen in the infographic below, worldwide there are 250 million children who are not receiving the basic education they deserve.

At Building Tomorrow, we believe in the importance of a basic primary education. Our vision is a world where every child has access to a safe, permanent and local environment where they can receive the knowledge they need to succeed. According to UNESCO, if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty.

As Thanksgiving approaches and we all begin to think about what we are most thankful for, I challenge you to be thankful for your basic education, for your literacy, and to think about where you would be, who you would be, if you never learned to read and write.


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