Opinion

Literacy empowers lives

I have been fortunate in life. God brought people to me early enough to shape my academic life and help bring me to where I am today.

In high school, I came under the mentorship of two individuals, outside school, who took an interest in my education. They challenged me to read and write. They gave me novels to read and I spent several hours soaking in story after story. I marveled at how a person could put all those words together. I was intrigued at the elegant way words were crafted to tell a compelling story.

They also gave me writing assignments, mainly essays, and would painstakingly grade each with generous comments in red ink. Long before I got into a college writing class, I was already familiar with different aspects of essay critique: content, lexis and structure, mechanical accuracy, organization etc.

Then, there was the principal of the local high school I attended. He had led big schools in big cities, but decided to return home to the village before retirement. He would hold school-wide seminars on personal development and asked us to dream big. He encouraged us to succeed. He inspired me to learn, to use the school library with its scanty and archaic book supply.

I graduated from high school in 1988 knowing without a shadow of doubt that I could be anything I wanted to be; who I became or what I did with my future depended on me, squarely on me.

Twenty-eight years after graduating high school, God brought that rural African boy to the greatest nation on earth as a college professor. As I look back, I wondered if I would ever be where I am today, if I didn’t have the support of those key individuals early on in life. I grew up in a village where we walked a couple of miles just to fetch water, in buckets we carried on our heads. I studied my books countless nights under a candle light or a kerosene lamp; thankful to even have that kind of light under which to study my books. I was afforded the opportunity to learn, to dream and to grow.

This is the backdrop over which my interest in literacy-based social entrepreneurship has been formed. I have committed myself to social entrepreneurship, with the goal of literacy empowerment. I am approaching this social empowerment on two fronts: first is through Kharis Publishing, a traditional publishing house aimed at giving voice to writers from under-represented groups. I firmly believe that the opportunity to have their voice in print is empowering for those who feel like they have something important to say.

The second front of our social empowerment is connected with establishing resource centers for orphanages. Being an orphan is limiting in many ways, but they don’t have to be limited. As I look back on my own improbable journey, I realize the power of books and literacy. Books have the ability to inspire kids to greatness, to help them dream of a better future, to create identification with stories of great men and women throughout the ages who have overcome immense trials to make something of themselves and their society.

I may not be able to help orphans on many levels, but I can help with books and provide them an opportunity learn, dream and grow. Just because they are in an orphanage today doesn’t mean they have to be average or mediocre all their lives. I truly believe that literacy empowerment can make a difference and help lift them up for a better future.

So, what am I doing about equipping orphanages with literacy centers? I am using the platform of Kharis Publishing to help me set up resource centers for orphanages. For every book we sell, we donate $1 to buying books and other resources for such centers.

There are simple and effective ways you can help. Our current project is establishing a resource center at an SOS Orphanage in Tema Ghana. Along with providing shelter and food, this orphanage also helps educate students. We want to help them do this. There is a current book drive going on here at JBU throughout the month of April to help us raise all the books and laptops needed. The drop box is at the JBU Library. If you have any question, contact Brent Swearingen at BSwearingen@jbu.edu. For those donating a laptop, leave a sticky note if you want the IT department to wipe off your personal data before the laptop is sent.

On the publishing end, we need people who can volunteer their time occasionally as editors, reviewers, graphic designers (cover designs), business/marketing interns, or simply to answer emails and correspond with authors from across the globe. If you are interested in serving in any
way, simply send me an email.

Even if you are not able to volunteer, your prayers are coveted for the orphans whom we hope to reach, and for our meager effort to support them.

donations final copy

Umesiri is an assistant professor of chemistry. He can be reached at FUmesiri@jbu.edu.