United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Winners of UNESCO literacy prizes 2003

Paris – UNESCO’s international literacy prizes for 2003 pay tribute to programmes in Bangladesh, Zambia and South Africa, and to a network of 350 NGOs, the International Reflect Circle (CIRAC). These winners of the International Reading Association Prize, the Noma Prize and the two King Sejong Literacy Prizes were chosen by a jury that met at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris from May 20 to 23.

The awards recognize exceptional work in the fight against illiteracy, one of UNESCO’s major concerns, and the efforts of thousands of men and women around the world who have worked hard for many years to teach people to read and write. This year, the jury also gave preference to candidates whose programmes were gender sensitive.

The four winners, picked from among 26 candidates, will be presented with their prizes in their own countries on International Literacy Day, next September 8. The occasion will also be marked at UNESCO Headquarters with a ceremony and workshops to discuss the progress of literacy in the world.

The International Reading Association Prize* has been awarded to the Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), an NGO in Bangladesh, which since 1980 has provided informal education of more than 3.8 million of the country’s poorest people of all ages. The Mission aims to help children who are the worst-off and most difficult to reach (such as street children and those in domestic service) to rejoin the formal education system. It also helps adults, especially women, to become more independent and expand income-generating activities to improve their standard of living. In addition, it runs classes about protecting the environment, clean water, hygiene and health, drug taking and trafficking of women and children.

An Honourable Mention goes to the Fundación Alfabetizadora LAUBACH, based in Medellín (Colombia), for its work promoting basic education and literacy in Mexico, Panama and Colombia. Against a backdrop of great poverty, violence and unemployment, the Foundation provides educational materials, technical courses for young people and adults (especially indigenous people), rural women and those excluded from formal education. In 1998, it founded a magazine, Revista Debate en educación de adultos (Discussing Adult Education), which prints 600 copies and whose 15th issue has just been released.

The Noma Prize** has been won by Zambia’s Panuka Trust, which since 1997 has enabled girls and women (between 15 and 75) in the country’s rural south to learn to read, write and earn a living more easily. The Trust hopes to make 85 percent of the area’s women literate by 2020.

An Honourable Mention goes to the sustainable development project of Morocco’s Ribat Al Fath association, which since 1990 has helped women to become self-reliant through literacy courses totalling 200 hours per person. Having gained literacy skills, these women manage their lives better and are able to play a more important role in society. The project also enables marginalized or excluded children to take part in community life.

One of the two King Sejong Literacy Prizes*** has been awarded to the Tembaletu Community Education Centre in South Africa and the other by the International Reflect Circle (CIRAC)*, a network of 350 NGOs and governmental agencies in 60 countries. The Tembaletu Centre is honoured for its programme of training schoolteachers and basic literacy instructors both in mother tongues and in English. The programme, which has so far benefited 500 people (two-thirds of them women), promotes on human rights, development and democracy.

CIRAC is an unusual candidate for a UNESCO literacy prize since it is neither an institution nor a programme, but rather a network of NGOs, formed in 2000. All members of this network agree that every community should develop its own methods of training and learning based on its own aims and time frame. This means the programmes cannot be standardized but must be adaptable and flexible. Through CIRAC, NGOs exchange experiences, teaching and written materials in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

An Honourable Mention goes to Saudi Arabia’s National Guard Directorate of Educational and Cultural Affairs for opening schools for illiterate adults, as well as intermediate and secondary schools. These take in many soldiers and their families of nomadic tribal origin who had no chance of an education as children. The jury also gave an Honourable Mention to the Government of Cuba for its establishment of a chair of literacy and youth and adult education at the Instituto pedagogico latinoamericano y caribeño, which conducts literacy campaigns through radio and TV, thus reaching remote country dwellers, especially women.

The jury also admired the work of two other organizations without awarding them prizes or Honourable Mentions. These were Spain’s Pioneros para la prevención y atención de dificultades psicosociales and the Nsamizi Training Institute of Social Development in Uganda.

The Pioneros care for marginalized or excluded social groups such as gypsies in the country’s Rioja region and promote tolerance, solidarity, social and cultural involvement through literacy courses and training in sewing, graphic design, business and management. The aim is to provide these groups with the means of finding employment. The Nsamizi Institute targets Uganda’s 6.9 million illiterates (5.5 million of them women) by training students, through two-year courses or by distance learning, to set up literacy programmes for communities that want them.

*The $15,000 International Reading Association Prize was established in 1979 and is funded by the association

** The $15,000 Noma Prize was set up in 1980 and is funded by the Japanese publisher Kodansha

***The $15,000 King Sejong Prizes were founded in 1989 and are funded by the Government of the Republic of Korea

Two of this year’s literacy prize winners, the Dhaka Ahsania Mission in Bangladesh and CIRAC are featured in the latest edition of the new UNESCO Courier (N°3, April 2003), which is available free of charge from the National Commissions for UNESCO in Member States, or online at www.unesco.org

Source Press Release N° 2003 - 30
Generic Field
Editorial Contact: Cristina L’Homme: Bureau of Public Information,,Editorial Section. Tel: +33 (0)1 45 68 17 11
- Email c.l-homme@unesco.org
Publication Date 27 May 2003
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