Lily Cole and John Bird launch campaign to fight global illiteracy

Big Issue founder John Bird joins actress Lily Cole in calling upon the UN to tackle global illiteracy, the root cause of many social issues

Big Issue founder John Bird joined forces with model and actress Lily Cole yesterday in a global call to tackle illiteracy.

Big Issue founder Baron Bird – who will make his maiden speech in the House of Lords later this week – joined Cole in launching a Project Literacy campaign called the Alphabet of Illiteracy at the House of Commons. He called for a need for “social literacy” to be acknowledged, and illustrated his own journey from illiteracy, showing how learning to read and write changed the trajectory of his life.

It’s estimated that around one in ten people worldwide are unable to read or write. Nearly two-thirds of illiterate adults are women. Campaigners argue that these individuals are at significantly more risk of being affected by major social issues such as illness and crime.

The campaign lists a number of social issues that could be alleviated by improving literacy, such as child marriage, malnutrition, gender inequality and female genital mutilation. H in the alphabet stands for ‘homelessness’, highlighting how lack of literacy is tied into the issue of homelessness.

Project Literarcy is urging people to sign a petition calling on the UN to take literacy more seriously, saying it is the root cause of almost every major problem humanity faces.

“We need to put illiteracy more central to our thinking,” Cole told MPs. “I’m not pretending I have the solution to the problems. I’m trying to raise awareness and make people think about illiteracy in a more comprehensive way.”

Project Literacy is a global campaign supported by 40 charities and educational organisations with the target that by 2030 no newborn child will face a life of poor literacy.

Campaigners have launched a petition urging action on illiteracy, which will be presented to the UN in New York on International Literacy Day on 8 September.

“I would encourage you to sign that petition today,” Cole added. “It’s a very simple maxim: inform and empower people to take charge of their own lives, and they will become the agents of the change we wish to see in the world.”

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