Book Fair Editorial
Stabroek News
December 6, 2001

The Guyana Book Foundation must be commended on the organisation of the book fair held at Hotel Tower. At a time when standards of literacy have deteriorated alarmingly and reading has been further threatened by the all pervasive television sets few things could be more important than trying to encourage access to books and a love of reading. Our bookshops were well represented and there was an interesting selection of books on display. There was reasonable patronage from the public, including school children.

In his address at the opening of the fair Dr Ian McDonald stressed the importance of reading in a good education: "If one had the power to give a child a single gift and no other, the gift to choose would be a love of reading. That is a gift which incomparably combines immense usefulness with life-long access to intellectual stimulation, emotional delights, spiritual inspiration and unceasing entertainment. The usefulness comes in the huge head-start a love of reading gives a child in his or her education. A child who loves reading is going to learn faster and better than his or her peers who do not and is going to be able to retain and organise and express what is learnt much more usefully and with infinitely more effect than those whose minds are closed to books."

He noted too the detrimental effect on a society when literacy levels fall: "Let me say it again because it is so vital for any country to remember, societies suffering from low levels of literacy are voiceless, powerless, and culturally oppressed. They are worse off in terms of life expectation, infant mortality, nutrition, health services and income per capita. Industries are less developed and agriculture is less productive. Culture is more vulnerable to foreign takeover. National interests are more weakly defended and national identity less strongly defined. A rapid and continuing reduction in illiteracy is essential not simply to improve the performance of the work force and lift national standards all round but ultimately to preserve the dignity, integrity and sovereignty of the nation."

One must hope that this pioneering effort will lead to an annual event, perhaps on a growing scale. The Guyana Book Foundation, a non-profit organisation whose president is Ms. Leila Jagdeo, has been doing valuable work for the last eleven years. With the help of some funding from the Canadian Organisation for Development through Education (CODE) it has provided reading materials throughout the country to community libraries, schools and other educational institutions. It has been awarded contracts to implement literacy projects funded by the European Union and the Government of Guyana. It has held training workshops for library assistants and teaching of reading workshops for some 400 participants. The dedicated women and men involved are striving for the difficult but noble objective of providing a literate environment for children and adults.