Why aren’t there books in remote communities? There are a couple of reasons.
English isn’t used much on many remote communities. It’s the third or fourth language for many people, after their own indigenous languages. Many of those indigenous languages aren’t written languages, and few books have been translated into indigenous languages (one of the problems is that there are so many of them). That means that reading, and books, aren’t part of the daily life of most people on communities.
At the same time, without English skills, people have few options. Education, training, employment – to do any of these things, you need English. The point is not to replace indigenous languages with English, but to add English to the language repertoire of people who are already multi-lingual.
Without books, it’s very hard for the kids in schools in remote communities to become well-practised in written English. Imagine any school with hardly any books – it doesn’t make literacy easy.
As many parents know, even in urban and non-indigenous communities, most of the books in the local public school have been paid for by parents (all those lamington drives, all those school fetes …). But on remote indigenous communities, the opportunities for fund-raising are almost non-existent.
This is where the ILP comes in. In consultation with the communities, books are chosen that will be useful in remote indigenous schools. Generally they’re picture books or the like, for primary-school age kids. Then – under the auspices of the Fred Hollows Foundation – the books are given to the communities. An indigenous Field Officer travels around the communities, getting feedback on what’s working, what’s not, and what might be good to try in the future.
I was lucky enough to visit a couple of these communities earlier this year. It was just inspiring to see the kids using and enjoying their books. The kids we met were cheerful, energetic, eager to learn, tackling the daunting mountain of written English with intelligence and gusto. These are kids who really deserve the best. They have such enthusiasm to learn, and so much to offer.
The strengths of the ILP are that it’s a relatively small-scale, practical, immediately-effective project. Everything is done in close consultation with the communities it supports, and other than the Field Officer, everything’s done on a voluntary basis.