Today is Blog Action Day, in which bloggers all over the world are invited to write about and perhaps even do something about poverty. I’m glad to oblige. You see, I’ve been poor. When I was growing up, my mother always managed to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, but sometimes it seems just barely and only at great sacrifice. (Since I don’t say it often enough, thanks Mom!) Nonetheless, I do know from my first several years living on my own what it’s like to wonder about where my next meal is coming from, and to think seriously about what to do after my landlord threw me out – which never quite happened, but I came close enough that having a plan seemed prudent.

Nonetheless, what I experienced was only American poverty. I had the benefits of education, of not living in a place lacking basic sanitation and ravaged by illness or war, of being in an economy where the general number of people at least theoretically able to help was greater than the number needing help. People in poorer parts of the world don’t have even those advantages. When I think of poverty, it’s those people I think about and it usually doesn’t take long before I start to think about how literacy programs can help. Literacy doesn’t just help in the sense of enabling people to gain job-related skills. It helps them read warning labels and instruction manuals and directions (to the extent that such things exist but that’s another problem). It helps them understand more about the world, and perhaps have new ideas that can help them. It helps them exercise their imagination in ways that the already-fully-realized visions of TV and movies cannot, and in a way that cannot be taken from them. All of these benefits of literacy are at least as important as just enabling to become cogs in our global economic machine (even if that is still an improvement from their point of view).

Of the international literacy programs I’ve found, the one I’m going to recommend is FreeSchools. Just $15 a year can pay for not just educating a child for a year, but also free clothes and snacks that are often greatly needed in the area where the charity operates. If you donate there or to any other global-literacy project, let me know and I’ll match up to $100 (total) in donations. Give a really poor kid a chance.

Hat tip to Steve Todd for letting me know about this.