ROTARY ROUNDUP: The joy of literacy

Surrey, White Rock Rotarians change others’ lives around the world

It’s September, and as our kids say goodbye to summer and settle into another year of learning, I remember an awe-inspiring trip I made to Haiti in 2014.

I attended a graduation ceremony for an adult literacy program my Semiahmoo Rotary club supports in Duchity and Gojet.

That Saturday, Dec. 13, I stood alongside 1,400 adult graduates celebrating their ability to read and write.

From the moment I woke up that morning, I felt an incredible energy that continued to build to near-overwhelming levels. I felt it wash over me like a tidal wave as I stood in the middle of the road as graduates marched, danced and sang all around me as we made our way to a church in Gorjet for the ceremony.

With more than 2,000 people in attendance, there wasn’t an inch of space in or around that building as friends, family, and graduates gathered to celebrate.

Eyvaise Joseph, a 60-year old mother, grandmother, farmer and graduate, said, “Here you are, you’ve got grey hair and you’ve learned how to write your name. Oh my goodness, that’s something. Before, I was afraid and ashamed. Now, I can sign my name, and I am not afraid.”

Lotanie Milor, a 25-year-old mother of two, farmer and graduate, said, “Writing my name for the first time made me feel very happy. I have more strength because of that. I have one child in kindergarten and one who hasn’t started yet; I can now help them with their lessons.”

The literacy program is combined with training in agriculture best practices, conflict resolution and other programs to help individuals and community from the ground up.

The program is delivered by www.fida-pch.org, who have been building capacity in Haitian communities since 1984.

Working closely with the Haitian community, the program leverages local expertise to help the community work independently and together in business.

Literacy was not the original goal but became one of the foundations of the program.

All my life, I have taken my ability to read and write for granted. In Haiti, I witnessed individuals who are the first in generations to be able to read and write in their own language, sign their name and count currency.

Graduates and family members spoke with me about how literacy has transformed the way they fundamentally feel about themselves. They shared a sense of hope and dared to glimpse and dream about the future.

Here at home, education and learning opportunities for our youth are a passion for our five Rotary clubs.

The South Surrey club provides the South Surrey White Rock Learning Centre with scholarships and job interview preparation.

They also fund the RCMP-endorsed DARE and WITS programs at two elementary schools. The DARE program teaches drug awareness resistance education while the WITS program addresses bullying.

The White Rock Peninsula Club is ramping up their support for the Starfish backpack program (www.starfishpack.com), which ensures that children who may not have access to nutritional meals over the weekend can bring home what they need to eat and be more ready for learning on Monday morning.

On another note, the White Rock Rotary Club is holding its annual Terry Fox Run on Sept. 17, in support of the Terry Fox Foundation for innovative cancer research. Registration is at 8 a.m. at the Rotary Fieldhouse, South Surrey Athletic Park, 14600 Rotary Way.

Allan Baedak writes monthly on behalf of the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s five Rotary Clubs – allan@wpmmedia.ca

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