July 20, 2011 Tokyo
The book café, where both bookworms and café connoisseurs can peruse worn and well-loved novels whilst sipping café lattes, has become a familiar site in cities around the world. So why not a “book farm”, where literary buffs and foodies alike can stock-up on their weekly fresh groceries whilst listening to intriguing stories from across the globe?
On Saturday, 9 July 2011, the UNU Library brought this innovative approach to combining books and fresh-produce shopping to Tokyo, with its inaugural open-air reading event held at the weekend Farmers Market @ UNU in the courtyard of UNU Headquarters. Organized in support of the United Nations Literacy Decade, this open-air reading event aimed to enhance understanding of the challenges involved in achieving universal literacy, promote awareness of the United Nations University (UNU) and demonstrate how literature can bring people from diverse cultures together.
The forty-five minute event included three readings of different texts selected by UNU Library, with each story highlighting issues of concern to the United Nations. The colourful picture book, For Every Child, a Better World (1993), illustrated by Bruce McNally, presents nine stories (as told to Louise Gikow and Ellen Weiss) depicting children’s basic needs and the ways these needs are often unmet. How the Camel Got His Hump, the classic tale by Rudyard Kipling (first published in 1898), tells the story of a camel who refused to work, even as other animals around him did so, and offers an analogy of inequality and justice in contemporary societies. The third story, If the World Were a Village of 100 People: Food Edition, by Kayoko Ikeda (2004), uses a “world-in-miniature” approach to convey the diversity of our planet and its human inhabitants.
The selected stories were read aloud by UNU staff (including volunteers from GEOC, Conference Services, UNU-ISP and the UNU Library) simultaneously in different languages, to an audience ranging from infants to teenagers and parents. For Every Child, a Better World, for example, was presented in both English and Japanese. Some UNU staff also displayed their musical talentsby forming a band and performing in the breaks between the readings.
Farmers Market @ UNU, held every weekend in the main courtyard of UNU Headquarters in Shibuya-ku, offers some 40 stalls selling fresh fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers, as well as rice and a variety of other produce, mostly grown by farmers based in the Kanto plain area. It is anticipated that the next open-air reading event will take place later in the year.
The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that one in five adults globally cannot read or write, of whom two-thirds are women. The UN Literacy Decade, led by UNESCO, encourages the international community to cooperate to increase literacy around the world and empower all people everywhere. Expressed in the slogan “Literacy as Freedom,” the UN Literacy Decade recognizes that the promotion of literacy is in the interest of all, as part of efforts towards peace, respect and exchange in a globalizing world.
The initiative recognizes that factors such as a lack of basic education and access to teaching, reading and learning materials can affect literacy rates. However, though theses challenges are often greatest in developing countries, literacy promotion is also important in developed countries. Even in major economies, poor literacy skills can inhibit an individual’s ability to participate actively in public life.