by Catherine Bassey
“If you can make children fall in love with a book, you know they will go on reading throughout their lives, and they’re going to read to their children, so you start the circle of a reading culture,” says popular children’s author Andy Griffith, who is an Indigenous Literacy Foundation ambassador.
This is one of the aims the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) seeks to achieve, and it is what Indigenous Literacy Day is about – helping bridge the literacy gap in Australia.
The ILF’s seventh fund-raising event, held at the Opera House recently, was for an enthusiastic audience of children – including a group from the remote Tjuntjuntjara community in Western Australia – with special activities such as the Great Book Swap.
The event, hosted by news presenter Natalie Ahmat, of National Indigenous Television (NITV), was attended by Andy Griffith and another ILF ambassador, award-winning musician Josh Pyke.
Juliet Rogers, Chair of the Foundation Board, said the Foundation’s primary focus is to build a platform for literacy in the early stages of a child’s life. Many children in the remote communities where the Foundation works, have no access to books, and miss out on one of the corner stones of literacy. So the Foundation draws on the Australian book trade to provide, at the best possible price, a range of carefully selected new books, such as the old favourite The Very Hungry Caterpillar, chosen by a panel appointed by the Foundation.
She said a variety of book packages are offered to more than 200 communities who then chose the package they like.
“The more we can build awareness through social media, traditional media and through schools, the more money we raise and the more books we can supply,” Ms Rogers said “If communities want further assistance, we work with them either through Book Buzz, which is a program for young children where every child in the community receives his or her own range of books, along with support material and resources to help the families and elders work with the children and help them discover the joy of reading.
“We also take our ambassadors into these communities and they run workshops with them, a number of which culminate in books that the children put together and that we print and give back to the communities, some in English and some in their own language,” she said.
As Josh Pyke said, “Creating an environment where people have choices is very important. Literacy opens doors to having that kind of choice, which is what ILF is about.”
The audience listened intently as individual children went to the stage and took turns to read from their favourite books, among them The Naked Boy and The Crocodile, How does your Garden Grow? (compiled by Melbourne school boy Lachie Coman and children at Tjuntjuntjara following a visit Lachie made there in 2010) and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
“To see how confident they are and how, in their own environments, they can do a lot of things – they can read the land, they know how to survive – but they need literacy in order to engage with the wider world. That’s why it’s very important that they have that choice. Without literacy you have no choice,” Andy Griffiths said.
Author Anita Heiss, a Wiradjuri woman and Adjunct Professor at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at UTS, said reading helps her get by every day.
“Today, for instance, I’ve read emails from people about work, I’ve read tweets, I’ve read Facebook to find out what’s going on with my friends and family, I’ve read the newspaper to know what’s going on around the country and a the world, I’ve read a warning sign so I can protect myself,” Dr Heiss said
“Because I can read, I can make decisions for myself in every aspect of my life, what I need to eat, how to be safe. I know how to have control over my life. These are the things I want for all Indigenous kids, being literate means that they can make decisions for themselves, they can be in control of their lives and their future. The reason for the Indigenous Literacy Day is so we can make great changes in the future of young Indigenous people.”
The event concluded with the much awaited Great Book Swap where the children exchanged books they had read for new ones.