8 September 2013

A STROLL WITH ADORA SVITAK (For International Literacy Day)

 “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society.” ~Kofi Annan

In the world today about 775 million adults lack minimum literacy skills; one in five adults are still not literate and two-thirds of them are women; 60.7 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. In many developing and under-developed countries, the education of the girl-child is often ignored due to prejudices and illiterate beliefs, but my guest on the stroll is a very educated girl-child who is also campaigning for the proper education of other children in the world.

Adora is a published author, essayist, poet, blogger, feminist, and literacy activist. She has spoken at the TED 2010 Conference, and  the United Nations 2013 ECOSOC youth forum. Presently, She’s the host and curator of TEDxRedmond, and she manages to balance all this with the pressures of regular school and a regular teenage life--a privilege many gifted teens like her don't have.

She told me about her writing and reading skills, her literacy projects, what she thinks about Malala, and how she manages her addiction to semicolons.(hehe) Here’s my stroll with Adora:

Ebenezar: Hello Adora, it is nice having you on the stroll.

Adora: it’s a pleasure to join in.

Ebenezar: Okay, today is International Literacy Day and for over the years UNESCO has strongly emphasized ‘Education for All’ (EFA). In fact the UN also has eradicating illiteracy as one of the Millennium development goals to be reached before 2015, and all the global campaigns supporting this cause have been centered on building schools and equipping classrooms. But I’d like to know, does attending school alone make a person literate?

Adora: I know that even here in the States, kids who are required to go to school may pass through grade after grade without truly becoming literate. (And unfortunately, illiteracy in elementary school is one of the biggest predictors of dropping out in high school!) Beyond simply being able to read and write, I think it's important that young people actually seek reading and writing opportunities. If you never use your abilities, picking up books outside of school or writing for fun/purpose, you're basically consigning yourself to a kind of voluntary illiteracy. That's the kind of thing that I really try to combat when I present to students about loving reading and writing. So to answer the question--no, just attending school can't make a person 'literate,' it takes a great deal of attention, practice, and desire to read and write from the students themselves. Of course, much of that can be (hopefully) found in school.

Malala(right) receiving her 2013 International Children's Peace Prize with the 2011 Nobel Laureate Karman(left)   AP Photo/ Peter Dejong
Ebenezar: She's a feminist, you're a feminist too; she's a literacy activist, you're a literacy activist too; ehmmm… she has spoken at the United Nations, you've spoken at the United Nations too (Lol), I could go on and on. What do you think about Malala Yousafzai and her incredible journey so far?

Adora: I'm a huge fan of MalalaYousafzai. Once I made a video for a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog as part of their "My Hope for 2030" campaign; in my blog post, I wrote about how she provided a role model for action to girls like me. We're both around the same age, but I haven't had to face half the obstacles she has. That's definitely a motivating realization.

Adora's 2010 TED Conference talk
Ebenezar: You gave a TED talk in 2010, and presently you're the curator and host of TEDxRedmond. Now, I'm part of the organizing team of TEDxStadiumRoad here in Nigeria, and I know the amount of energy and regular sleepless nights needed for organizing a successful TEDx conference. My question is, how do you manage all that pressure alongside school?
Adora: I don't manage it well, to be completely honest. Usually my solution is some combination of procrastination, sleep deprivation, and last-minute all-nighters (or some combination thereof). It got to a point last year where I'd wake up in the morning, eat some coffee beans (because I was too lazy to actually make coffee)

Ebenezar: hahahaha… Whao!

Cross section of the TEDxRedmond team
(Image Credit: tedxredmond.com)
 Adora: Yeah, and drag myself to school in a half-lucid state...but the good thing is that, that kind of lifestyle is extraordinarily temporary AND that it forced me to prioritize things. So yes, I had to drop a couple goals last year--when I took up a sport at school, I didn't continue with National Novel Writing Month--but the important things will always be doable alongside each other. A family friend once told me, "Many people look at life as an 'either-or'--that every action comes at the expense of something else. Big-minded people look at life as a 'both-and'--that you can have it all." So I juggle, imperfectly, but it's better than giving up :)
Ebenezar: haha. Yeah, it is. Do you have other hobbies apart from reading and writing? And how do you manage your addiction to semi colons? (Hahaha)

Adora: I'm wannabe-outdoorsy, so I absolutely love running and hiking (when I have the opportunity to do so, canoeing and rock climbing are awesome too). The addiction to semicolons is hard. I feel withdrawal symptoms when I write short sentences (like these!) so then I go overdose on parenthetical asides and everything gets better. At some point my writer friends will hold an intervention, but we haven't come to that point yet. 

Image Credit: techwomen
Ebenezar: Finally, you've achieved so many big things and I'm curious to know; what is your biggest dream? Is there anything you still wish to achieve?

Adora: I don't think I'll ever come to a point where I think, "There's nothing I want to achieve in life"--most people's bucket lists are far too long for that. I don't have one static "biggest dream," although my standard answer for many years has been a Nobel Prize, or presidency of the US. Needless to say I'd be pretty content even if I didn't make it up there, though.

Ebenezar: Yeah I understand that totally. Thanks a lot for strolling with me, Adora, and good luck with your campaigns and projects

Adora: You’re welcome Ebenezar, thank you too.

For more about Adora(@adorasv), and to read her blog click here

Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” Even when the millennium development goal of Universal Basic Education is reached, the question is; how many people will keep reading after they learn how to read? How many adults and youths read outside the academic world? Will you still read after you get your last academic degree? Yeah, that’s the ultimate question, and only you can answer that question.

Talking about reading; I'd like to send a big birthday shout-out to my reading pal, psychologist, friend, and sister; founder of TherapyMe (Africa's First Online Rehab); Queeneth Agubamah. She turned 19 yesterday, and I wish her all the greatness of life and above all, the grace to fulfill God's purpose for her life :)

In course of the two decades I've spent on earth, I've read many books but one book I can vouch for that has changed my life greatly is; the Holy Bible. Seriously, I think you should try it; It’s so cool.

Till my next stroll; Jesus Loves You

Ebenezar Wikina(@poeticjazz)
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