Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown on DEAR Day
U.S. Embassy Kampala | March 15, 2023
(As prepared for delivery at Mugaga Nkozi Primary School)
Greetings and thank you all for the warm welcome here at St. Mugaga Nkozi Primary School as we celebrate together Uganda’s 9th National Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) Day together. I want to express my gratitude to the learners, teachers, staff, and board members of this institution for your dedication to promoting literacy in Uganda. And I am happy to see so many members of the media here giving this event and the importance of reading the attention they deserve. It is a great honor for me to be part of this special occasion.
I am often asked why I’m a diplomat or how I became an ambassador. The answer is simple: books. My mother and father strongly encouraged me and my sister to read. For every birthday or Christmas, we received books. And the library was one place we were allowed to visit alone. But there was one special book that sparked my interest in the world – this atlas that travels with me. As a very young child, I was fascinated by the many pictures in it and listened closely as my mother read to me. As I got older, I read by myself about the countries of the world, which inspired me to seek out more information and to read even more books. All of that led me to today, here with you, gathered as a community to promote reading, to celebrate the culture of reading, and to highlight the importance of literacy in Uganda.
The theme for this year’s DEAR Day is “Reading as a Way of Life.” It is a call for everyone to make reading a part of their daily routine. Reading is vital to enable people to live productive lives. It improves critical thinking abilities; stimulates imagination; improves vocabulary and communication skills; and promotes understanding of peoples, cultures, and way of life. Reading unlocks a whole new world outside the confines of where you are and opens limitless possibilities. It plays a crucial role in educational achievement, personal development, and success in life for all, regardless of physical challenges.
The United States government supports Uganda’s education sector and reading in a variety of ways. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the American people have supported literacy programs, nutrition programs, and since 2013, donated almost 7 million books to schools across Uganda, including more than 850,000 teacher guides and books in local languages for 2,645 schools across Uganda.
Here at St. Mugaga Nkozi, you may be more familiar with the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a service opportunity for American change-makers to work alongside host country partners in addressing the most pressing challenges in their communities. The first volunteers arrived in 1964, and since then almost 2,000 volunteers have served in Uganda. This year, St. Mugaga Nkozi Primary School is host to one of the recent cohort of 36 Peace Corps Volunteers who serves as an Early Childhood Literacy Teacher. I want to appreciate the educators and students who have so warmly welcomed Taylor Pangman.
Over the past 6 years, Peace Corps volunteers like Taylor have participated in the training of 9,369 teachers in improved teaching techniques; supported the construction and renovation of 75 school and community libraries; stocked them with 6,115,428 books; trained 119,929 girls, boys and caregivers in menstrual hygiene and management; and renovated/constructed 8 girls changing rooms and 12 washrooms. As part of this year’s DEAR Day celebrations, the Volunteers are partnering with their schools, learners, teachers, and parents/guardians to organize multiple reading events.
To support and encourage reading at St. Mugaga Nkozi Primary School, Peace Corps Uganda has donated a consignment of storybooks suitable for all ages. These books are written by Ugandans and draw inspiration from Ugandan folk tales. These books will be a valuable addition to the school library and will enhance the reading culture at this institution. I hope you enjoy and make excellent use of them!
I started with a story about reading and the power of books to change a life. I want to end with another story. One of my passions is art and in each country I live, I like to collect art and get to know local artists. Recently, I met batik artist Dominic Lukandwa. Batik is a style of painting on fabric using wax and dye. He told me he discovered batik in secondary school and took up the art form. But when he was not pleased with what he was making, he started reading about the history and craft of batik and applied it, perfecting his work. Now he makes art, teaches art, and displays his work all over the world. He attributes his success to hard work and reading as many books as possible.
I hope each of you make “Reading a Way of Life” and somewhere along the way, I hope you find a book that inspires you like my atlas inspired me and like art books inspired Dominic.