Cathy Leiber recently spoke with Sue Guiney, a Runner-up Prize Winner in 2016, we still find it amazing on how our recognition matters for others “fighting” the battle of literacy all over the world. Here is an update from Sue.
Four years in a life doesn’t seem like much. But in the lifetime of a non-profit, it can mean the difference between broken dreams and expanding horizons. In 2016, I was honored to receive a Judith’s Reading Room award for the work I had begun with my newly founded NGO, Writing Through. Still in our infancy, we were testing and developing our programs in Cambodia, using the writing of poems and stories to develop literacy and self-esteem in that tragic nation. At that time, I was full of dreams for growing my organization, but “the how” was still a mystery.
Much has happened over the past four years. Between 2016 and 2019, Writing Through expanded to include working with over twenty organizations throughout Cambodia, and then into Singapore, and then Vietnam. We were reaching hundreds of students, young adults and adults alike, throughout the region with a staff of 1.5 and nearly 50 volunteers. Plus, I had realized that the workshops we were running were accomplishing even more than literacy and self-esteem. It became clear to us all that Writing Through was actually using creative writing as a tool to develop thinking skills. Once our triumvirate of goals became clearer – Thinking Skills, Language Fluency, and Self-Esteem via Creative Writing – the demand for our programming grew, and so did our staff. There are now 3 of us who oversee it all, always also relying on our ever-growing global list of volunteers.
On a personal note, after living in London for 26 years, I repatriated back to the United States. The plan was to visit SE Asia twice a year and work remotely the rest of the time as CEO. During the first two years of moving back, that is exactly what I did. Then came 2020 and the pandemic.
We did not allow these troubled times defeat us, though. Actually, we used the skills we had been teaching to imagine new ways to deliver our programming, and we realized that CoVid and the necessity for online learning was, for us, an opportunity. Over this past spring and summer, we developed an online platform for our workshops. This immediately allowed us to reach people around the globe in a way we never could have imagined. A series of free, public workshops saw Zoom screens full of people from as far away as Mexico, to India, to Cambodia, to the US and Canada. And as our partners started needing online lessons, we were there to provide them. Because of online programming, we have not only further expanded our list of partners in SE Asia, but we have also begun US pilot programs in Pennsylvania, California and Massachusetts. And more is on the horizon.
The encouragement I received early on from Judith’s Reading Room helped me believe I was on the right track. It helped me believe that I could accomplish my goals and that there were many others in the world waiting to work with me. Through Writing Through, I have been able to prove what I have always known in my heart, namely that the arts, and especially the language arts, teach people how to think. Everyone in the world has the right to literacy of language and thought. Whether in person or online, Writing Through now helps marginalized and at-risk populations throughout the world learn these skills, wherever we are needed.
Sue Guiney, Founder and CEO www.writingthrough.org