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Saturday, 15 March 2014

Interview Exclusive: Suzy Wilson of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

KBR is thrilled to feature this exclusive interview with Indigenous Literacy Foundation founder, Suzy Wilson. A former teacher, education consultant and university lecturer, Suzy is passionate about literacy, and has become a catalyst for changing children’s lives through literature. The ILF has not only raised vital funds, it has translated dozens of early childhood books into the first languages of Indigenous communities, and supplied 100,000 books to people around Australia. More than 20,000 students now support the foundation through annual Great Book Swaps and other fundraisers. Here, Suzy chats with us about her recent achievement - Finalist for Australian of the Year Local Hero.

Welcome, Suzy. What did it mean to you to receive this honour?
I was very happy that the work of this Foundation with its goal to improve literacy levels in remote communities was acknowledged as being such an important challenge for us all.

You and the ILF team have worked so hard to build the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. What are you most proud of?
I am very proud of the fact that so many have engaged with the goals and work of the Foundation. The collective effort and spirit of generosity brought to the Foundation by donors, volunteers, foundation staff, booksellers, publishers, authors and musicians is really impressive when you sit back and contemplate its reach.

Can you believe how far the organisation has come?
No I really can’t. From a small idea it has grown incredibly quickly.

How far does it have to go?
I would like to take the word ‘far’ literally in answering this question because in delivering our program goals, there is an enormous amount of travel to be done. When we say we work in remote communities, the word ‘remote’ adds lots of challenges. Last year our staff, as well as some Ambassadors and board members, travelled over 50,000 kms.

The ILF has already raised almost $2 million dollars, distributed over 100,000 books to more than 230 remote communities, and has translated and published many community literacy projects, among many other vital initiatives.

How important is it to document and publish the stories and languages of our Indigenous peoples?
It is critical. We cannot overstate the importance of this part of our work. Funding and publishing stories in other languages in partnerships and with communities, has been an enormous privilege.

Another point for all of us to think about ... Imagine if when we started school we were expected to learn to read and write in another language that wasn’t our first language.

What can KBR readers do to help the ILF?
We would love your readers to be part of a Great Book Swap. It is so simple. You get your bookclub, workplace, school or community group to do one on Indigenous Literacy Day, September 3. Everyone brings along a book they have loved and then swaps it - making a donation to ILF in the process. (Note you can choose your own date to suit your school or community if this one is not possible.)

Or a donation would be greatly appreciated. Please go to our website and register.

Governor General Quentin Bryce once told you ‘be bold’. Can you tell us when she spoke these words to you and why?
She spoke these words about eight years ago when I ran the initiative out of my Brisbane bookshop, Riverbend Books. At that point, it was called the Riverbend Readers’ Challenge and the take up from schools was incredible. Hundreds of schools participated. The workload  was occasionally overwhelming, but with the encouragement of the then Governor of Queensland, I found a way of taking it to the next level and making the work become a national initiative of the Australian Book Industry, eventually gaining Foundation status.

What’s next for the ILF?
There are many plans on the drawing board that are very exciting. More trips, more community literacy work, more books being translated, more books being published. Visit our website if you would like to know more.

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