The summer before I graduated from college, I spent two months in Uganda as part of Soccer Without Borders. While the entire purpose of the trip was to help those less fortunate, I was taken aback by the extent of the poverty in Uganda. Despite it being one of the most developed nations in Africa, many Ugandans live a life that few of us can even imagine - having to walk miles for clean drinking water, living in cramped spaces, and barely affording school fees to improve their own children’s future. Even if schools were fortunate enough to have a library, the books were kept under lock and key.
In the months after I returned from Uganda, I couldn’t help but be pessimistic and sad about what I had seen. In time I realized that this view wouldn’t help anyone - what Ugandans need is support, not pity. But how could we, living comfortably halfway across the world, help those struggling in Uganda?
Since it’s widely known that education is the fastest way to raise someone out of poverty, building libraries seemed like the right approach. Aside from the economic benefits, we can’t ignore the less tangible rewards that reading and literacy offer. I remember the excitement and wonder of reading as a child - but also recognize that I grew up in a household full of books and that there was public library down the street. Most of the students we come into contact with have never touched a book.
In founding The Literate Earth Project, my aim was to provide students with a resource that would not only help to better their futures, but also brighten their lives. The school libraries our organization establishes help to fully immerse students in the world of reading, and how it can be applied to both academics and personal enjoyment.
As we proceed, we are very careful not to be a “hand-out” but rather a “hand-up.” We partner with communities that value their youth enough to scrape together what little money they have to invest in a librarian and staff. We’re compiling the data to show how and what our work is doing, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that putting books into the hands of children is going to provide a net benefit to the people of Uganda. Developing this sort of base to support a struggling education system will create great leaders in all sectors of Uganda, and in time, many countries of the world.
It’s our moral responsibility to to level the playing field and help those, who by sheer lack of luck, ended up in a country without the institutions necessary to provide education, emancipation and personal empowerment. So this is where the founding and basis for our organization comes from - an understanding that we need to help others less fortunate, in whatever way we can.
- Jeff Fonda, Founder and CEO