It all began with the telling of a story… In a small community hall in Ontario in the early 1950s, a group of Canadians listened to one woman tell the story of her life as a teacher and speak passionately about the need for literacy in the developing world. This one story of a committed educator more than 50 years ago launched the story of World Literacy Canada. That woman was Welthy Fisher, the inspiration behind the founding of World Literacy Canada, and the story she told was of India’s shockingly low 18% literacy rate, its lack of adequate schools for children and the pervasive problem of poverty for much of its population.
At 76 years of age, Mrs. Fisher had spent her entire adult life working as an educator, and had recently started a new literacy program in India at the request of Mahatma Gandhi.In 1955 she was invited by Dr. Frank Laubach, a leading pioneer of the contemporary literacy movement and the founder of the “Each One Teach One” adult literacy teaching method, to share her experiences in India with a small group of Canadians at a Camps Farthest Out meeting. Inspired by Welthy Fisher’s vision and commitment, several of those present decided to form a group in support of Literacy House – the small, non-formal school established by Mrs. Fisher in Lucknow, India. World Literacy Canada was founded in December 1955, and its four directors – Ethel Ayres, Robert Darrell, Laura Johnson and Frank Rogers – began raising funds in support of the vocational training opportunities and functional adult literacy classes provided by Literacy House. World Literacy Canada was the first Canadian literacy organization to work internationally and it was also one of Canada’s first non-governmental international development organizations. From 1955 to 1968, Literacy House was the only project that World Literacy Canada supported. The organization then broadened its reach during the 1970s and 1980s, initiating programs in Africa, Latin America, the South Pacific and the Caribbean. During this time, World Literacy Canada also expanded its efforts to educate the Canadian public about the key role of literacy in social and economic development. Since the late 1980s, World Literacy Canada’s work has been focused primarily on projects in the region of South Asia, specifically India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. In 1995, a World Literacy Canada branch office was established in Varanasi, India, allowing us to build even stronger partnerships with local NGOs.
Over the years, World Literacy Canada has worked hard to build a cohesive and dynamic program, consistent with our overall development objectives in Canada and South Asia. We concentrate on programs that address the issue of adult literacy, and particularly on meeting the needs of women. We believe in a holistic, integrated approach to literacy and community development, and try to develop our programs with sensitivity to the needs and the cultural context of the communities in which we work.