Ida lives in a New Jersey suburb just ten miles west of New York City. She's 62 years old, has kept the same job in a factory for twenty-nine years and lives in the home where she grew up and raised her family. But for years, she has lived with a secret that not even those closest to her knew: Ida cannot read.
When Ida's husband died two years ago, she faced the overwhelming task of having to go through mounds of paperwork. Her husband had taken care of the finances all of their lives and she was unable to fill out even the simplest of forms. Faced with anxiety and shame, she finally shared her secret with her eldest daughter.
"I used to order the same thing at restaurants because I couldn't read the menu. Everyone thought I just didn't like to try new things," she said.
When her daughter found out her secret, she immediately enrolled Ida in an adult reading class. One year later, Ida was reading at a first-grade level. Her greatest pleasures are now reading books to her four-year old grandson and going to the supermarket because she can finally read the labels. For years, Ida would only pick out foods which had a picture on the label. Ida's new gift also brings her daughter new security. Her mother can now read the labels on medicines that warn of hazards.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), illiteracy threatens a staggering 781 million people translating into 1 billion people worldwide who are unable to read. Two-thirds of the illiterate population are women. In the United States, it's estimated that there are 44 million people - like Ida - and many experts say the number is growing at an alarming rate.
If a child is not able to read proficiently by the third grade, they are also more likely to drop out of school according to UNESCO. That was the case of Jackie. Jackie grew up in Newark and dropped out of high school when he was sixteen years old. It wasn't that Jackie couldn't read books or do his homework. He couldn't read street signs or subway signs well enough to make his way outside of his neighborhood. Jackie eventually turned to a life of petty crime and it cost him one year in prison. However, he says it was the best year of his life because it's where he learned to read. Because he was charged as a juvenile for a misdemeanor, Jackie is now studying to become a teacher.
These are some of the success stories. However, one in five people on the planet are still denied this basic privilege of learning how to read. While there are many personal stories, there are also billions of economic stories. Those who cannot read often cannot work costing governments billions of dollars in welfare and unemployment.
Out of concern for the worldwide illiteracy rate, a historic reading event called "Read Across the Globe" will be held on Monday, October 19, 2015. This initiative is being organized by Points of Light, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Volunteer Houston and Deloitte with a goal to break a GUINNESS WORLD RECORD title. Read Across the Globe will bring thousands of supervised volunteers into schools to read to classrooms for thirty minutes - all in a 24-hour period.
"We are forming partnerships with school districts and volunteer networks across the U.S. and across the globe," says Neil Bush, Chairman, Points of Light. "By working across time zones and with hundreds of partners, we hope to read to the most children ever in a 24-hour period."
The current record for "most children read to by an adult in 24 hours in multiple locations is 238,620. Read Across the Globe is aiming to set the new record at 300,000. Organizations from the following countries are also participating in the initiative, including: El Salvador, England, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Korea, Nicaragua, Panama and Spain.
Volunteers are needed in classrooms. Online registration is available at www.pointsoflight.org/readacrosstheglobe. All volunteers will be reading "Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table" by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Eric-Shabazz Larkin.
While many people take literacy for granted, those who are denied this basic skill will always have some of life's most essential necessities out of reach. For Ida and Jackie, that is no longer the case. This year, Ida will vote in the Presidential race for the first time because she can read the names in a voting booth. Jackie will stand as an example at his alma mater that reading can transform lives.
"I hope my story will inspire others to read. For me, the darkness is gone. I can finally see," says Jackie.
To make a positive change in the life of a child, please volunteer to read to a child on October 19. Volunteers can register online at www.pointsoflight.org/readacrosstheglobe