Since 2012 more than 100 Aboriginal people in four Western NSW communities have graduated from a mass adult literacy campaign using the Cuban model known as Yo Si Puedo (Yes I Can). The campaign is run by local communities themselves with support from advisors provided by the Literacy for Life Foundation and the Cuban Government.
The Campaign was initiated by Aboriginal health and education leaders who recognised the importance of education, and particularly adult literacy as a determinant of health.
Their intention now is to roll this campaign out nationally in order to significantly reduce the current rates of low English language literacy estimated to be as high as 40–50%, and much higher in more remote communities. The cohort of people who benefit from this campaign carry the highest burden of morbidity and mortality as well as high levels of poverty, unemployment, incarceration and other known determinant of poor health.
The evidence now emerging in the communities where the campaign has run is dramatic. Firstly, completion rates are over 75% which is more than five times that of mainstream adult literacy programs run through formal courses. This success spans the age distribution from 16 to 65 years, and includes both men and women.
Further, the impact is now being seen across a range of sectors. Participants are engaging more effectively with their community health services, are engaging less negatively with the law and justice system, their children are attending and engaging more successfully with schools, and, most importantly, they are taking greater control of their lives.
This paper will look at the Campaign model including its origins in Cuba, and how it has been adapted to the Aboriginal context, and its three stage community development process. It will also explore the reasons for its success.
The Campaign, according to its Aboriginal leadership, both locally and nationally, is providing the essential foundation for Closing the Gap.