A population of readers

GVL / Courtesy - International Literacy Club
 Joe Harris, Katie Conigliaro, Caitlin Mayer, and Lauren Yoder, eboard members of SAIL (left to right)

GVL / Courtesy – International Literacy Club Joe Harris, Katie Conigliaro, Caitlin Mayer, and Lauren Yoder, eboard members of SAIL (left to right)

Allison Ribick

A new student organization on Grand Valley State University’s campus is seeking to promote reading and literacy education both locally and around the world.

Student Advocates for International Literacy, or SAIL, was formed last semester by Katie Conigliaro, a senior at GVSU studying English and history.

Conigliaro came up with the idea after watching a video of author Neil Gaiman speak about the importance of public libraries and having a population of readers. What struck her about his speech was Gaiman’s mentioning of how the prison industry bases the expected number of inmates off of the number of 10 to 11-year-old kids who are unable to read.

“If they put that funding toward making sure the kids got an education and knew how to read and write, then they wouldn’t end up in jail in the first place,” Conigliaro said.

Thus, Conigliaro formed SAIL to help with literacy and education efforts in the Grand Rapids area and beyond.

So far, the club has done fundraisers for upcoming events and created a video for the Project for Awesome, a yearly event on YouTube that involves people uploading videos promoting charities so their charity gets more awareness and donations.

SAIL’s video focused on Room to Read, a nonprofit that promotes literacy and gender equation in education.

“I think a lot of people take literacy for granted since they only think of reading novels,” Conigliaro said. “It’s also the ability to read menus at a restaurant, the instructions on voting registration cards – it’s every time you read something.”

For Joe Harris, vice president of SAIL, it is important to advocate for other methods of language beyond reading and writing, since it is so important to a person’s culture.

“While it’s easy to forget that being able to read signs and texts are part of the whole literacy package, it’s even harder to remember that sign language and braille are important tools for people who need to communicate differently, and these tools aren’t readily available in large portions of the world,” Harris said.

Being able to see someone be able to communicate differently or easily for the first time is a wonderful thing, Harris said.

“I would love for everyone to have the opportunity to communicate with ease, in whichever way they can,” Harris said.

Conigliaro noted that restricting education and literacy is a common tool for oppression since people cannot learn beyond what they are being told.

“When you teach someone to read and write, it opens up a whole new world to express themselves and gives them the ability to write about the injustices they’re experiencing,” Conigliaro said.

“Around the World in 80 Books” is SAIL’s biggest event that is LIB 100/201 approved. It will take place Thursday in the Multipurpose Room of the Mary Idema Pew Library from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“You’ll be introduced to some awesome books and authors outside of the U.S. and Britain that you probably wouldn’t have found otherwise,” Harris said.

SAIL members will have stations around the room for regions of the world that will include notable books and authors.

English professor David Alvarez will speak at the start of the event about the importance of being exposed to literature from different cultures, especially those who live under foreign domination.

In the future, SAIL hopes to do more community service projects like building a lending library in a Grand Rapids suburb, organizing book drives and creating more events to give awareness to literacy issues.

A long-term goal for SAIL is to participate in BuildOn’s program of raising money to buy supplies for a fully-funded school in whatever country they choose, which includes a chance to travel to the school and help build it.

“It breaks my heart to know that there are brilliant minds in the world going to waste,” Conigliaro said. “When someone doesn’t get an education, their career opportunities are reduced. What other great things could have been in the world if they had the chance to express themselves?”

SAIL meets every Wednesday at 9 p.m. in Room 2227 of the Kirkhof Center.