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This article was published on September 8, 2010

Hlep ptoorme goalbl latceriy – Can’t Read That?

Hlep ptoorme goalbl latceriy – Can’t Read That?
Ahmad F Al-Shagra
Story by

Ahmad F Al-Shagra

Co-founder of, Ex-Editor of The Next Web ME, trainer, blogger, and programmer. Co-founder of, Ex-Editor of The Next Web ME, trainer, blogger, and programmer.

Bush didnt have the caring parents the rest of us didSadly, that is exactly what the world looks like for the 776 million people who can’t read – over 90% of whom are in Asia and Africa and 2/3 of whom are female. Happy International  Literacy Day.

About 3 years back while I was residing in Syria I used to manage a friend’s Internet cafe whenever I had the chance. One of my responsibilities was to make sure the underpaid 8 year old cleaning boy did his job. So I used to check after him, usually ending up with me doing most of the cleaning myself, but attempted to give him tips to make his job easier whenever possible.

One of those days, while I wasn’t managing the cafe, I saw him sitting around waiting for his 8hr shift to be over so I thought I’d  find out how it is a child only 8 years of age ended up working a part time job cleaning an Internet cafe instead of playing outside or checking out his favorite website online. So he started telling me a sad tale that changed my life forever.

The boy who’s short blond hair and dark blue eyes didn’t tell me about tragically deceased parents or a disabled relative, no, he started his story with: “I don’t like school”. So I asked him what level he was currently studying in, odd enough he couldn’t answer.

He went on telling me that his school wasn’t a good one, and that his teacher wouldn’t teach them much, while he, the bored hyper kid ran out to play unattended became accustomed to skipping school more than getting schooled, until his parents thought it was time he started at least making some money to help support himself.

Sitting in front of my precious HP Nx6310 Business series notebook at the time I offered to teach him how to surf the web after he pointed out he didn’t know what the Internet was. Again, this is around the year 2007 in a country where education is free of charge and widely accepted as good.

So naturally I started at the first logical choice: Google. Explaining to him what a search engine is, and why it’s important he knows what to search for, I showed how a couple of queries worked, then asked him to search for something he’d like to learn about. The answer crushed me.

He didn’t know how to read nor write. Of course not being able to grasp the reality of an intelligent child not being able to write anything other than his name didn’t quite hit me till I asked him how he knew to distinguish money bills where he replied: They have different colors.

Looking back on the incident I might have acted differently, but then I didn’t know any better than to ask him to grab a paper and pen and started writing down the letter of the alphabet in an attempt to fill the gap between himself and the rest of the educated world.

I kept taking out an hour every two days to teach him, but he eventually quit and I never heard from him again.

I used to always wonder what kind of school would allow a child to miss out on class, or a family to discontinue his education at the age of 8? But the answer is not with the parents or school, it’s within the society that allows such a behavior.

According to official statistics show that more than 776 million people worldwide cannot read or write. This figure will be expressed in a tweet similar to today’s blog post to attempt to show the educated world what it feels like be illiterate.

Share the tweet with your followers and through the tweet, they’ll be directed back to Twitter’s Hope 140 website ( where they will be able to decode the message and tweet out their own.

The campaign will also be supported by Twitter’s promoted tweet platform and be extended via other social media sites. Additionally, the website will offer other ways for users to take action to combat illiteracy including making a donation to support the publication of one of Room to Read’s locally published books for children in South Africa.

Don’t let other children around the world suffer, don’t be a part of a society that tolerates illiteracy.

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