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Help Children in Crisis
Children are the most vulnerable when violence, famine, or disaster strikes. But you can be there for them with your additional pledge of $7 per month!

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How FH Overcomes Barriers to Childhood Literacy

Can you imagine spending 5 or 6 years in primary school without learning how to read? Sadly, this is a reality for many children around the world today. Globally, two-thirds of children (approximately 68 percent) will reach the last grade of primary school–but will not achieve minimum proficiency levels in reading.

This is a critical problem–a learning crisis. Reading is a foundational skill that is a gateway to learn other subjects such as math, history, and science. Without the ability to read, millions of children are missing out on studying subjects that can further their education. Not only that–they are missing out on the simple joy of reading!

Each year on September 8th, the world celebrates International Literacy Day. This day is an opportunity to recognize the importance of literacy and to raise awareness about the challenges around global literacy development. This year, the theme for International Literacy Day is “Literacy and Multilingualism.” In alignment with the UN’s designation of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, this theme acknowledges the significance of language in learning to read.

School girl in India wearing a red coat focuses on her studies and looks down at book

Reading in Your First Language

For a majority of children worldwide, encountering books in a language they can speak and understand is extremely rare. Despite a multitude of research showing that children learn best in their first language, many education systems around the world insist on only one or a few languages of instruction. Often times, these are not a child’s first language, but a colonial or regional language. In fact, this is a common educational barrier we come across in indigenous communities where FH works–across all our regions! For example, did you know the following?

  • In Ethiopia, there are over 83 languages and 200 different dialects.
  • In India, there are 22 major languages in 13 different scripts, with over 720 dialects.

For education systems that do have favorable policies for children learning in their first language, the availability of books and learning materials in those languages is limited.

Aerial shot of two girls in developing community of India hovering over a textbook and reading together

FH has been working to alleviate this problem through translating books into indigenous languages throughout the places we work. Through the Global Digital Library’s online database, FH participated in a book translation sprint in October 2018. As a result of this effort, 462 individual books were translated into 10 different languages!

Children and families in Burundi, Indonesia, Cambodia, Uganda and India are finally reading books in languages they speak and understand. For some staff in Burundi, this experience provided them and their children with their first experience with a book in their first language of Kirundi.  

Educational flashcards showing a cow and sheep in Ixil and Mam, indigenous languages in Guatemala

Providing Reading Resources Worldwide

FH promotes early reading between parents and children as important for cognitive growth and positive caregiver and child interaction. For example, in Guatemala, FH designed sets of simple flashcards in different indigenous languages such as Ixil and Mam. For the first time, parents are using these flashcards to tell stories to their young children in their own language!

FH is also increasing access to books at the community level, through the setup of community libraries filled with books in national and indigenous languages. Increasing access to books in indigenous languages preserves cultural and linguistic heritage, facilitates the acquisition of reading skills, and promotes a culture and love of reading.

Join with FH in celebrating International Literacy Day by:

  1. Giving early readers and other resources through the gift catalog to provide an education to someone in poverty
  2. Reading a book with your kids in your first language.  
  3. Finally, learning more about worldwide literacy through the stories below!


Continue Reading:

These Story Books Will Change the Next Generation in Burundi

4 Ways to Celebrate International Literacy Day

Education is a Privilege, Not an Obligation

A Victim of Child Marriage finds “Happily Ever After” in Literacy Programs