Providing literature to remote communities

Indigenous Literacy Foundation’s The Great Book Swap raises funds for remote Australian communities: you can host a book swap at your workplace, school, organisation or even your footy club.
Providing literature to remote communities

‘I believe every child in Australia deserves equal access to education and books.’ – Justine Clarke ILF ambassador. Photo via Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Suzy Wilson, founder of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, was perplexed when she first heard of literacy rates in remote communities. In response, she started the Riverbend Readers Challenge in 2004 to raise money to improve literacy levels.

As the challenge grew, Wilson then teamed up with the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Australian book industry to create the Indigenous Literacy Project in 2007. In 2011, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) was born.

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‘Our Foundation is eight years old but its history goes back a lot further when our founder Suzy Wilson first heard about literacy rates in remote Indigenous communities and asked how it was possible in such a wealthy country like Australia that these could exist,' said Karen Williams, executive director of ILF.

A notional book industry charity that doesn’t receive any government funding, ILF has supplied over 350,000 books to over 280 communities from its own fundraising efforts alone.

ILF’s work focuses on three streams: supplying new culturally appropriate books to remote communities, introducing an early literacy program which encourages early literacy skills in children under five, and community literacy projects that have enabled the publication of approximately 80 books written by the community.

Williams said: ‘Our vision is equity of opportunity for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in remote Australia. This is a big statement but we hope our literacy-based programs will give Indigenous children future choice around employment, wellbeing and health. 

‘We hope our programs will instil a love of reading from the word “go” and open a door to a wealth of opportunities. In doing so, we are enriched by learning about Indigenous cultures and nurturing a new generation of writers.’

Jessica Mauboy is a proud ILF ambassador. Photo via ILF.

Passing on the love for books

Run by the ILF and open to everyone, The Great Book Swap is a national initiative and fundraising program that can easily be held at schools, businesses, book clubs, football clubs and other organisations.

'The Great Book Swap is a very simple fundraising and advocacy campaign. It's really important as it's helping to educate a whole new generation of children, as well as helping to raise funds,' Williams explained.

The idea is simple: bring a much-loved book to a hosted morning tea, a book club or lunch party, and swap it with another. The entry fee of a gold coin donation raised at the Great Book Swap will go to new books for remote communities.

‘If you are a school, pay a gold coin. If you are an organisation, swap it for a note,’ Williams said.

'Each organisation can enrich the experience by very simple ideas such as bringing in an Indigenous Elder, author or illustrator to be part of the event, or finding out more about Indigenous culture and literacy rates.

'The money raised from the Great Book Swaps is sent to us to use for remote communities who have no books in their homes,’ she said.

Indigenous Literacy Day, on the first Wednesday in September each year, is a key date for the organisation.

‘It’s a national celebration where we focus on our community publishing projects. We ask all Australians to make a donation on this date,’ Williams concluded.

Register your organisation for the Great Book Swap: greatbookswap.org.au

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Andrea Simpson

Tuesday 4 September, 2018

About the author

Andrea Simpson is ArtsHub's Feature Writer and Reviews Editor. Andrea is a Filipino-Australian writer with a love for diverse Australian stories. She is curious about all forms of art, though she has an especially keen interest in the publishing sector.

Andrea has had short stories published in various anthologies, and is currently working on her first novel.  

You can follow Andrea on Instagram @andi_jayyy