Strengthening Human Capital - Increasing the World’s Literacy Rates

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Illiteracy is a global issue with far reaching effects. Promoting literacy through poetry and short stories is an effective tool that can be used to help increase the value of strong reading and writing skills.

The United Nations defines an illiterate as, “a person who cannot with understanding both read and write a short simple statement on everyday life.” Just how far reaching are the affects of illiteracy? The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports as of 2004 parts of the world have illiteracy rates that reach as high as 40% or more of their total population. More than 5% of the United States population (ages 15 and up) are illiterate or functionally illiterate (data taken from UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) May 2004 Assessment).

A 2003 UNESCO/OECD study found that the affects of illiteracy reach beyond the individual, family and community levels and affect entire countries. In Indonesia someone with tertiary education earns an average of 82% more than a person with only secondary education. In Paraguay the difference jumps to more than 250%. In the United States according to the National Literacy Forum as of 1997 high school graduates earn 42% more than the average high school drop-out with college graduates earning substantially more than drop-outs or those who only have high school credentials.

The affects of illiteracy reach out even further. For example, seven in ten prisoners perform at the lowest two literacy levels. Parents’ literacy levels affect the literacy levels of their children which can create a vicious cycle of poverty and educational disadvantages. Clearly, illiteracy cannot be ignored.

Denise Turney, author of the books Portia, Love Has Many Faces and Spiral is paying attention. In her efforts to focus on literacy, she funds the Chistell Annual Writing Contest. “Since the contest began four years ago, people from India, Europe, Africa, Canada, here in the United States and other parts of the world have entered the contest. Their stories are poignant and impossible to be ignored,” Turney states. “The ability to communicate, to read and understand what one is reading and writing is often taken for granted by everyone except the persons who are lacking these very skills,” Turney adds. “Many people are illiterate because their parents were illiterate because their parents’ parents were illiterate. . . . I am committed to helping those who lack literacy skills gain them,” Turney adds. “The annual contest is one way to help encourage people to value literacy.”

Winners of this year’s Chistell Annual Writing Contest were Susan Richardson, a writer and tutor recently awarded a Churchill Travel Fellowship from Cardiff, Wales who won Second Place in the Poetry Competition for her poem “So Long As All You Want Is A Penguin’s Egg” and Antony Davies, a 29-year old student at the end of his second year of a creative writing degree from Leeds, England, who won Second Place in the Short Story Competition for his short story “Snow Is Due”.

First place winners were Arisa White from Northampton, Massachusetts who won the Poetry Competition with her poem “Sister!” and Sonia Chopra, a woman who grew up in Calcutta, India dreaming of becoming a writer and who today makes her home Orlando Florida. Sonia won the Short Story Competition with her short story “And In Other News Today”. The Chistell Annual Writing Contest is open to people from various walks of life around the world. Congratulations to this year’s winners.


Denise Turney is the author of the books Portia, Love Has Many Faces, and Spiral (her new release). She served on active duty in the United States Navy where she earned two Navy Achievement Medals. She is a former Big Brothers/Big Sisters Volunteer and works or has worked with the National Youth Leadership Coalition, No Longer Bound (a drug and alcohol prevention agency in Bucks County, Pennsylvania) and Saturday Scholars (a military literacy program). Turney also hosts her own literary radio program “Off The Shelf” at where she focuses on the importance and the value of literacy. Her work is featured online at She will appear at the AFRAM Festival in Norfolk, Virginia in the Literary Café during Memorial Day Weekend.

Contact: Rhonda Campbell
(215) 245-6222

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