There are a myriad of causes worthy of support around the world, and a world of heartbreak when one confronts how hopeless the tasks sometimes seem to be.
I have always accepted the idea of teaching someone how to fish rather than giving a fish and walking away, but when people are in the midst of a tsunami or a drought, they don’t need lessons, they need food or shelter, medicine and water.
In the absence of a crisis, it still seems both smart and effective to try to deliver tools to those in need, and literacy, books, access to information have always – for me – seemed to be tools that can help change lives.
Tyrannies know this. It has often been suggested that it was access to the culture of the west (including blue jeans and rock and roll) that began the undermining of the Soviet Union. An embargo on information gets harder to preserve with a literate, aware population. North Korea may be fighting to achieve lock-down of its people in terms of what they know, what they can learn, but the effort is more and more difficult – or so we hope.
Because of this, I have always supported organizations and charities trying to bring books and reading to people. Children, especially, but not only the young. Cultures that educate and empower women of all ages always feel to be the ones with the best chance of escaping the barred strangleholds of violence and insularity.
So, building libraries and sending books to African countries such as Nigeria – which is the ongoing labour of STELLAA – feels worthy of recognizing. (I’m afraid I keep wanting to make a joke about ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ and shouting the name ‘Stella’ … but one has to have read or seen the Tennessee Williams play, and that, more less, is the point, isn’t it?)
Changes can sometimes be volcanic in their speed, though often that’s just the apparently sudden upwelling of processes long developing. More commonly, changes for the better in a society require patient, incremental labour – and contributions. Teaching people to read, giving them books to read … these feel to be exactly the sorts of things that might help create that upwelling of developments we hope to see.
Sharing what we have … well, most of us are triggered by the dramatic. It is part of our nature, and is supplemented by the media (and the social networking) of our modern world. But the slow work, the building of libraries, say, as STELLAA is doing … that’s where and how we have a chance to make a long term difference.
In the west, we’re worrying today about how cyber-culture is affecting whether and how our young people read. Let’s assist people, young and old, to learn how to read, with books available. We need access first, then we can sort out choices. Then we start to have choices.