I want to put ending illiteracy at the forefront of the national agenda.  Illiteracy is an issue that flies under the radar.  It is the unspoken of symptom of a failing education system.  It is a badge of shame for adults and children alike who struggle to live everyday life in a world of words. 
The facts speak for themselves.  Currently, 774 million adults around the world are illiterate in their native language.  Women represent 2/3rds of the 774 million illiterate adults.  20% of adults in the United States function at the lowest level of literacy, with 14% of the country’s adult population reading at or below a fifth grade level. 34% of children enter Kindergarten without the basic language skills that they will need in order to become literate.
There is a direct correlation between illiteracy and extreme poverty, crime, substance abuse, low self esteem, the spread of preventable and infectious diseases and gender abuse. Illiteracy affects all aspects of a person’s life, from their ability to fill out a job application to their ability to take control of their health.  Individuals who are illiterate spend, on average, 17% more at the doctor’s office and are more likely to suffer complications due to their inability to read labels, follow directions and make informed decisions.
The greatest barriers to literacy are access to books and access to literacy instruction.  As Miss International, I will leverage my partnerships with First Book and Reach Out and Read to attack these issues. 
Using my partnership with First Book, my first goal is to take on the issue of access.  As a result of First Book’s relationships with corporate sponsors such as Walmart, Cheerios and Target, as well as its relationships with major publishing houses, such as Random House, Disney Publishing and Harper Collins, First Book donates about 18,000 brand new books per day.  As Miss International and an ambassador for First Book, I will increase that number through the implementation of my virtual book drive and by securing additional corporate sponsors and donations.
Through my partnership with Reach Out and Read, I will address the issue of access to literacy instruction.  Reach Out and Read believes that the best way to immunize children against illiteracy is to read aloud to them.  As Miss International, I will tour the world reading aloud to children and I will work to establish literacy friendly areas in pediatric centers.   My goal is to spark the desire to read in children and to make reading a family affair. 
Lastly, through my partnership with the American Heart Association and the Go Red for Women Campaign, I hope to advance the mission of the AHA and raise awareness of the link between women’s health and women’s literacy.
The journey of a lifetime has begun!  Let’s Go!!
Ciji Dodds


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