Live in for Literacy sets up camp at Stauffer

Students aim to spread awareness of child illiteracy

Kathleen Waterston and Emily Robertson in their tent in Stauffer library.
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In the Stauffer foyer this week, a long table sits in front of a small tent. Inside, two campers are roughing out one week in the library, only taking breaks to shower or attend class. 

Kathleen Waterston, ArtSci ’19, and Emily Robertson, ArtSci ’18, sat down with The Journal three days and two nights into their seven day project, to discuss their goals to raise awareness of child illiteracy. 

The pair are working with a not-for-profit called Room to Read, which supports female students in impoverished countries while seeking literacy and education. Room to Read raises funds for books, libraries, and schools across both Asia and Africa. 

“Your position in life affects your outcome in the world,” Robertson said. “In Canada, it’s not even seen as a possibility that you wouldn’t be getting an education.” 

She cited the public education system as a privilege that’s often overlooked. “We think of education as a basic right, yet we still complain about having to go to class,” she said. 

Living in a tent in Stauffer isn’t intended to liken their situation to students in impoverished countries seeking an education, Robertson clarified. “I don’t think you can even equate the two,” she said. 

“Live in for Literacy is not to say we are suffering like them. The purpose for living in the tent is to raise awareness. It’s making a statement ... The library is a great place to raise funds.” 

Waterson agreed, noting that students in the library already have education “on the mind”. 

Every day, the initiative has run different events, like bake sales or tea sales. The tent has prompted questions that allow them to discuss their cause with passing students, and the funds, according to Waterston, go towards educating local people to become educators and librarians themselves. 

“$1 is enough to make a book in their local language. $300 sends a girl to secondary school where they can learn important life skills. $1,000 is enough to train a librarian,” she said. “All by building up their own local communities so they have the opportunity to build the community themselves.”

“It’s us not trying to impose our own beliefs and cultures on them,” Robertson added. “It’s saying ‘look we recognize you that you don’t have this opportunity and we want to help.” She added that for women, illiteracy is substantially more prevalent in developing countries. 

As for the live-in itself, the pair had already reached a routine. “We take our stuff to the washroom, brush our teeth, wash our faces, and get our pajamas on. Then we get back to the tent and basically cocoon ourselves into our sleeping bags,” Waterson said.

The lights in Stauffer, they noted, never turn off. Robertson said they were constantly exhausted so far, never getting to turn off the awareness that they were in a public place.  

The Live in for Literacy initiative will continue until Sunday at Stauffer Library. 

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