The Toronto Star reports on two Canadian philanthropists who have traveled to Africa to see how their donations to an Ottawa-based literacy agency are being used in the fight against AIDS.
Bill Burt and Judy Thomas – a retired couple from Toronto – are following up on their donations to CODE (Canadian Organization for Development through Education), which advances the idea that improved literacy leads to improved living conditions for people in developing countries, and hence a reduction in the level of HIV infection – or, as AIDS activist Steven Lewis puts it, “Drugs help keep people alive. Books help keep people from contracting HIV.”
The charity also funds the “fledgling” book industries of developing nations like Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Guyana.
The group works with about 400 authors and 65 illustrators in Africa and the Caribbean each year and has published 503 titles in local languages like Amharic, Kiswahili and Chichewa since 2001.
Their average book costs $2.50 to write, illustrate, publish and distribute. Plots include anything from healthy living and sanitation to science and micro-financing.
Nearly 100,000 children read the books in libraries and classrooms across Ethiopia.
While the report is hopeful, it ends with this caveat.
But the correlation between literacy and development, and development and HIV/AIDS is not clear. South Africa, arguably the most developed country in Africa, has a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS than other African nations.
Still, activists say there’s merit in CODE’s efforts. “There are loads of billboards about HIV/AIDS in Eastern Africa,” says Will Postma of Save the Children. “It’s a huge boost just to have kids with the ability to read them.”