On Wednesday 19 November 2014, seven inspired individuals met on Penryn Drive, Camborne, to talk about the future for the Shine initiative.

We agreed that central to the project is the belief that 'words are the key to the future'. Words are the building blocks of any language and are essential for communication. Every day on every level, we are communicating with each other. An extension of speaking is literacy, where we non-verbally express what we want to say with words.

Just how important are words?  We all yearn to be understood and we all seek to understand. It is a two-way street between individuals, both requiring strategies and tools to ensure it is a successful two-way communication.

There is a famous story about a young girl in the late 19th century, known as Helen Keller,  who developed scarlet fever as a baby and could not see or hear. Can you imagine a world where you could not see or hear?  A world that is completely black and lifeless.  It is no little wonder she sometimes had temper tantrums. Who wouldn't? And imagine how those around her felt, trying to communicate with her.

But one day, there was a quantum leap.  It did not happen over night but was a culmination of efforts by those who cared enough to give this girl the gift of communication - words. It was a defining moment when she felt fresh water on her hand, that she made the connection and said out loud, "water". That day brought Helen Keller out of a world where it was only black.

Many teachers could empathise with the frustration that comes in seeking and finding effective strategies to help children learn and reach their full potential.

How did Helen Keller's teacher feel the day she knew that all her hard work and determination finally paid off?  Helen Keller not only learned to speak, she learned to appreciate music by sound vibration, gave public lectures, used braille, wrote many books and read what people were saying by holding her fingers over their lips. At the age of 24, she became the first deaf blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was also politically active. She explained that her motivation for activism came in part from her concern about blindness and other disabilities. 

She is quoted as follows;  “I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.” 

It is here that Helen speaks of a different type of blindness.

We come in to this world a baby. From this day on, a baby is rapidly assimilating, processing and acquiring images, feelings, and sounds from which to make sense of the world. From this day on, a baby and those around it are building up a foundation of tools to communicate. This is the code through which a child has his or her needs met. As a baby progresses through its life, it desires and wants more than just food, comfort and shelter. It desires to belong, to learn, and to form relationships and friendships.  

Words really are the key to the future. Words are like bridges between separate highways so that, no matter which highway you are on, you are free to move between them, in the certainty that you will reach your chosen destination.

Words connect.  They bind, they inspire, they liberate. Through words we become active participants in society and form meaningful relationships with each other. We form opinions about newspaper articles, about movies, nature, science, politics, and world events. Words also have the power to dispel myths, break down walls, and remove misunderstandings. Words help us to achieve our dreams and help others achieve theirs.

That is why the Shine Literacy Project is passionate about words because we believe that no matter who you are, where you live, what languages you speak, nobody needs to live in the dark.

The Penryn Street Tea Party

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