Big Problem, Little Solutions

Haiti is a land of contradiction.

Rich in natural beauty, natural resources, and human capital, it is nonetheless the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.


In the 1800s, Haiti was known as the Jewel of the Antilles. Not only was it stunningly beautiful, but it was also arguably the most prosperous colony in the world. Its verdant landscape provided massive quantities of coffee (more than half the world’s supply), rum, indigo, molasses, timber, and sugar.

It was, nonetheless, a colony, and the goal of the colonial power (in this case, France) was never to lift up the people who lived there. In fact, the majority of the Haitian population was comprised of slaves stolen from their homes in Africa and brought to Haiti for one purpose alone: to enrich the nation of France.

©  Carly Starnes , 2013

© Carly Starnes, 2013

The overt cruelty of this practice has ended, but Haiti still bears the heavy yoke of the legacy it has left behind. It is still a beautiful country: rich with azure waters, white sandy beaches, and rolling green hills. But poverty is cyclical, and a long history of natural disasters like the 2010 earthquake (which affected an estimated three million people) has severely damaged the island nation’s ability to build and grow.

The problems seem endless.

How can Haitians solve their nation’s economic difficulties when so many regions lack even basic infrastructure? How can they work toward a better future if large segments of the population must spend their days in a desperate scramble for basic necessities? How do they push back the legacy of abuse and reclaim the riches of their heritage?

These are questions faced by many former colonies around the world. There is no one, easy solution. But one very clear option that is dear to our hearts here at SIL LEAD is literacy education. Teaching people to read and write helps to protect them from exploitation and increases their access to health, legal, and other information that can be of great value. A child who can read and write has the tools to advocate for his or her own future. A literate population can engage their inherited problems with solutions that work for them.

In Haiti, we worked with an organization called NABU (formerly “Library for All”) that seeks to address this problem directly by creating and promoting “a new publishing network that democratizes access to literacy.”

The NABU website argues that “the cost to society of 250M children not achieving basic literacy is $129BN per year,” and that “if every child could read by the time they left school, there would be a 12% drop in world poverty.”

©  Carly Starnes , 2013

© Carly Starnes, 2013

Illiteracy is an enormous problem, complicated by the fact that many of the over seven thousand languages in the world do not receive official recognition or educational support on a national level. NABU is one of the great organizations that SIL LEAD works with on an ongoing basis, providing children with the education they need to remake their countries for the better. We first collaborated with them in Haiti, and are now supporting their work in Rwanda.

And it’s working!

NABU.ORG is currently the fastest growing reading app in Rwanda, with over 6,700 downloads of their app since this past February. The mission of NABU.ORG is to create a literate world as a way to eradicate poverty. In recognition of the world’s severe shortage of local language books, they have built a global publishing network of indigenous writers and illustrators, offering training in book writing software like Bloom to help local writers and illustrators to create high quality, levelled readers.

The problems of poverty are global, but the solutions often are not. They are local, hands-on, and completely within our grasp. So rather than focusing on the enormity of the problem, why not seek out ways in which you can be a part of the solution?

NABU.ORG has a subscription program of just $3 per month, where with a few quick clicks you can become a part of The Read To Rise Network, their community of creators and enablers investing in a new publishing system to democratize access to literacy.

Or visit our donation page to explore how you can further the work of SIL LEAD.

Whatever you do, remember that you can make a difference. Today!