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I Learn to Read by Luis Diego Lemus, Guatemala


A girl carries a load of tobacco leaves she has picked at a plantation in the municipality of Santiago Ixcuintla, in Nayarit state, Mexico. UNICEF/ HQ96-0966/Jose Hernandez-ClaireLike every other morning, Joel patiently waited for the bus. It was only 4 am but there was already a crowd at the bus stop. Some of them were children like Joel, 10 or 12 years old, who went to town to earn their living. Joel had worked for years selling newspapers.

When he started to work on the streets, he wondered what could be so important about those papers full of images and symbols to attract his clients. One day his mother explained that those symbols were called letters and that put together they formed written words , just as sounds make up spoken words. Reporters would write them so that people could read. It was like reading the writers' thoughts.

Joel became interested in what was for him this new method of communication and asked his mother to teach him how to give expression to his thoughts on paper. Being able to read gave Joel some advantages over other newspaper boys who could not, since he yelled out the headlines and sold more papers. Joel considered himself a very fortunate boy.

Joel's story is similar to that of millions of other children in Latin America 's developing countries. In Guatemala , almost a million children work all day and do not go to school. Lack of education is both the cause and the consequence of poverty.

Adapted from Luis Diego Lemus , Age Group 13-15, Guatemala, in Spanish, Highly Commended, Writing Contest for International Human Rights Day 2006, Cyberschoolbus, United Nations