International Mother Language Day is observed every year to recognize the importance of worldwide linguistic diversity and to affirm the right for all people to speak their local languages. We celebrate it on February 21st to memorialize the university students who were shot and killed in Pakistan on this day in 1952 while demonstrating for the recognition of Bengali as a national language.
This year, International Mother Language Day is specifically aimed at raising awareness about science and education in a multilingual world. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, said “Local languages constitute the majority of languages spoken across our world in the field of science. They are also the most endangered. Excluding languages means excluding those who speak them from their fundamental human right to scientific knowledge.”
This is a position that Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance has always taken. Successfully managing complex medical conditions like cancer or diabetes means educating patients about the relevant science. In Guatemala, this means educating people in Mayan languages. Doing medical work in Guatemala without speaking the local languages means excluding people from their fundamental right to know the science behind what is happening to their bodies.
Today we stand with UNESCO and the speakers of minority languages everywhere in celebration of International Mother Language Day. I hope you will stand with us as we work to make access to medical care in Mayan languages as easy as it is for speakers of Spanish or English.