For a few years, I worked to promote literacy at a library in the City of Monterey Park, which is in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County. I don't miss that commute but I do miss the work and grant writing.

I was always astounded, in my research for the grants, at the low literacy rates in the United States. Just think, if it's bad here, what must it be like in Africa?!

Granted, literacy is likely low on the list of priorities when many nations in the continent are struggling with war, poverty, AIDS and disease, unemployment, widespread crime and other troubling problems that people in the United States--by and large--do not have to face.

Still, I can't help believing that the research is right--when literacy levels rise, crime levels fall.

Learning to read, write, speak, comprehend and apply critical analysis to a text is key in helping impoverished nations grow and thrive but how can literacy rates improve in places like Africa where the majority of people can't afford school and books for education?

My research shows that does not have a strong market in this continent. Book suppliers tend to be local and quite honestly, if people in the U.S. complain about buying a $24 hardcover, how must people in Africa feel about it?

All these questions are plaguing me because literacy is an important cause; it's a cause I know I'll support until the day I die. My contributions now have been small (raising $100k in grant writing at my old job, donating to various charities in my spare time) but in the future, once I've made a successful career out of writing and teaching, I'm hoping to use my skills and experience to fuel the literacy rates in developing nations.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1.) Research shows that in various African nations, broadband services are either slow or non-existent. Desktop computer usage is also low but there is hope! The research uses South Africa as an example: "While there are only 4.5 million web users there are 43 million mobile phones (80% of the population), a $2.4 billion market dominated by carriers Vodacom and MTN and manufacturers Nokia and Samsung." Broadband access is improving because cellphone usage has increased quite a bit in Africa and will continue to do so in the future.

2.) Given that devices like the Kindle or Sony eReader are relatively expensive, the next option would be to find a way to allow cellphone users in Africa to download content from allover the world such as stories, novels, articles, etc. through their cellphones; the idea being that digital content is often free or much less expensive than the printed content.

3.) There are several programs that offer basic netbooks to children in developing countries. Perhaps basic eReaders are not far behind?

4.) If artists and the publishing industry projected their efforts in the longterm and supported the digital age--developing nations would be greatly impacted. Information could be shared faster, freely (or close to free), and furiously. Literacy rates would begin to rise. As a result, I'm sure the walls of censorship in certain places would also take a hit, brick by brick.

This is my dream as an artist, to see literacy rates rise and watch the chains of those who have been denied the right to read fall and hope for their freedom through the sharing of art.

Imagine how many artists would be born, would rise out of this digital age in developing nations. Just take a moment to imagine.


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