Charlie Coffey, O.C.
Executive Vice President
Government Affairs & Business Development
RBC Financial Group
Literacy Forum in Mission
Best Western Mission City Lodge
Mission, British Columbia
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Rhian, thank you again for the wonderful introduction and warm welcome. It's great to be in Mission tonight - "to be nestled in the rugged Coast Mountains across the Fraser River, so named after the first and largest mission in the Pacific Northwest, the Roman Catholic St. Mary's Indian Mission, founded in 1861." There's important First Nations history in your community.
Before we get started, I want to tell you about an award winning book Rhian recommended in January for Family Literacy Day (or any day for that matter) called "Hana's Suitcase: a True Story" by Karen Levine. As you may know, this captivating book is about Japanese children, visiting a Holocaust Centre in Tokyo, who are intrigued by a suitcase inscribed with the name Hana Brady. The curator of the Centre resolves to find out "what happened to Hana" for the children and travels to Europe on a search that eventually leads her to Canada. I must say that the book and backdrop to the story made me reflect on two things: 1) literacy is a human right it bears repeating, literacy is a human right and this means every child should be able to read "Hana's Suitcase" in any language; and 2) the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, to be built in Winnipeg, may be able to help keep Hana's story alive for millions of children (and grown-ups) around the globe.
When Rhian invited me to join you this evening, I was delighted to hear that the Mission AM and Mission Midday Rotary Clubs are involved in an event about literacy, sustainability and community development, the focus of my remarks. Obviously Rotarians "get it" when it comes to pushing the envelope on literacy. After watching the marvelous video, I want to commend Brenda and the Literacy Now team for such a superb effort. Literacy truly is all about learning and community development. Literacy truly is the ability to engage the world in ways that matter to you. And literacy truly starts with kids and ideally never stops. It's simply smart thinking for Literacy Now to be part of the 2010 Legacies Now action plan! I'm not surprised that this organization also supports community events like this one.
The literacy link to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games has not gone unnoticed by RBC, who was chosen by the Vancouver Organizing Committee as the premier national partner for banking. We believe in the Olympic Games because they demonstrate excellence, leadership and diversity - the same values to which we aspire. And we also believe the Games will benefit all of Canada from the perspective of economics, education, sustainability, cultural activity, and tourism. RBC supports legacies' programs - and that's why we're huge fans of what this province - your community - is doing to advance literacy and learning, Now.
As the video suggests, research shows that improved literacy pays off in economic activity, productivity, lower health care costs, better outcomes for children and safer, more cohesive communities. There's more statistics and research from the Movement for Canadian Literacy that's worth a closer look:
This is a call to literacy action. Governments, business and communities have a critical leadership role to play in changing the Canadian literacy landscape. In addition to the work of Literacy Now, what's happening across the country and right here in Mission to help address this priority issue?
At home in British Columbia your provincial government announced it would "provide $1.34 million for 50 adult literacy programs including new and continuing programs affecting more then 4,900 people in numerous communities across BC." Right here, the Mission Literacy Association has been a huge influence in the community over a number of years, with accomplishments that include: Books for Babies, the Riot of Reading annual event, Reading Buddies and adult tutoring with volunteers. The Rotary Club has sponsored the start up of 'Books for Breakfast' carried out by the School District. Books are regularly donated to the Family Place and the aboriginal Family Place. And a special book was produced for the Headstart program, while dual language books were bought for the Punjabi population. As I look around this room and applaud your achievements, there's a great deal to be proud of, yet still much work to be done in communities from coast to coast. All one has to do is absorb the research, step outside our comfort zone and read editorials like the one in the November 24th edition of the National Post, "The high cost of immigrant illiteracy" to come to grips with the fact that literacy is a journey, not a destination.
And this is just one more reason why business must continue to step up to the literacy support plate (and in greater numbers too), especially in terms of partnerships and sharing knowledge. There's a lot riding on literacy in the corporate community. CanWest Global gets with the program through its annual Raise-a-Reader campaign - a "unique project based on a model created in 1997 by the Vancouver Sun, to increase awareness and raise money for children's literacy programs in British Columbia."
On this note, I'm delighted to say that for the fifth consecutive
year, RBC supports the B.C. Library Association's Summer
Reading Club, a province-wide program that encourages
children to read throughout the summer. We take special pride
in providing medals for the children who have successfully
read a number of books in the Club that's organized by the
public libraries. It's great to know that the RBC team is
also on the push for literacy team.
"The United Nations Literacy Decade (2003-2012) aims to extend the use of literacy to those who do not currently have access to it. Over 861 million adults are in that position (two thirds of these people are women) and over 113 million children are not in school and therefore not gaining access to literacy either. Literacy efforts have so far failed to reach the poorest and most marginalized groups of people - the Decade will particularly address such populations, under the banner of Literacy for all: voice for all, learning for all."
There's no doubt that the Literacy Decade is part of a wider spectrum of international work in education and development, with literacy promotion being the heart of its goals. Since literacy is also being promoted on both provincial and national fronts in Canada, it will be interesting to see how the literacy profile unfolds during the federal election campaign and ultimately whether promises made are promises kept, regardless of the standings in the House of Commons or the governing Party.
Four days after our federal election, Canada will mark ABC
CANADA Family Literacy Day, a national initiative that promotes
the importance of reading and learning together as a family.
"Every year, on January 27, families and communities
across Canada celebrate this special day at literacy-themed
events coordinated by literacy organizations, schools and
libraries." And speaking of libraries, special thanks
to Rhian of the Coquitlam Library (who wears her Rotarian
and library hat tonight), for helping to organize this evening.
In closing, literacy, sustainability and community development can be likened to a learning partnership that starts with kids and ideally never stops. I'm convinced that the essence of our literacy journey is leadership and in the words of scientist John C. Polanyi: "Anybody who can do so much as read, has an obligation to those who cannot"! Let's make Family Literacy Day every day in Mission, British Columbia and Canada!
Thanks very much now let's hear from you.