President Evo Morales declared Bolivia free of illiteracy on Saturday after a three-year project sponsored by his leftist allies Cuba and Venezuela helped about 820,000 people learn to read and write.
Roughly 97 percent of the adult population in Bolivia, South America's poorest country, can now read and write, project officials said earlier this week. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a country can be declared "illiteracy free" when over 96 percent of adults have been taught to read and write. In 2001, a government census found nearly 14 percent of Bolivians were illiterate and nearly 26 percent of people in rural areas could not write or read. "Thanks to help from our brothers from Venezuela and Cuba, today we are eradicating illiteracy in our country," Morales said during a ceremony announcing the achievement. The project was carried out by thousands of Bolivian, Venezuelan and Cuban volunteers who taught mainly in rural areas and used an alphabetization method developed in Cuba. Although most students in Bolivia learned Spanish, some 37,000 people were taught to read and write in indigenous Aymara and Quechua languages. The vast majority of students were women from rural areas, project leaders said. Morales, an Aymara Indian, has lamented that his father, like most indigenous Bolivians in rural areas in the 1950s, barely knew how to read and write and needed the help of local teachers to understand some texts. "The Bolivian project is an example and surely it's going to inspire other countries to implement similar programs," UNESCO officer Edouard Matoko said during the ceremony. Some 774 million people, roughly one out of five adults in the world, can still neither read nor write, according to UNESCO.