International Literacy Day

Sep 9, 2014

Yesterday was International Literacy Day. We asked our Programmes Director, Katy Newell-Jones, where she really sees literacy making a difference in the work we do.

Katy: Two examples really stand out for me. The first is from this year when I visited one of our projects in Kenya. Our partner, PHARP has taken the 2nd point in Feed the Minds 5 point literacy plan very seriously – do not discriminate against those with limited literacy skills.

When I visited some of the community groups in Kibera they described how previously people who could not read and write at all were not really welcome in their group as the other women felt they would be a burden and not have anything to contribute. However, as a result of discussing the 5 Point Literacy Plan they realised that these women had other skills which could benefit the group.  In a group calling themselves The Solutions Group, in Kibera, I met a 50 year old woman called Everline Awino who has taught croqueting to other members of her group who are now using it to make handicrafts to sell to raise funds for their children to go to school. In return, women in the group have taught Everline to write her name, some other words and show her how to keep records of her business.  She now feels a valued member of the group and is able to join their saving scheme and understand the way the records of group member donations are kept.

The second was from a few years ago in our project with HRFRA in Rwanda. Through their work with local people in the legal profession, they were able to change the way high-powered lawyers communicated the law to community women.  They started with the idea that you must use legal jargon for legal concepts and ideas.  After a week of working on literacy they realised they could still communicate the same ideas but in language and vocabulary which community women could understand, without losing the meaning.  Suddenly they realised that the meaning was made more accessible through simpler language, even though they would always need to go back to the formal legal documents for legal cases.

In addition, HFRA has produced a ‘simple’ land rights handbook in Kinyarwanda with cartoons and straightforward text which other NGOs involved in land rights work are using. The result is that NGO staff, paralegals and community members understand the law more clearly and are able to be active in the process of claiming their land rights, rather than having to rely on those who can understand legalese. This has helped to demystify the process and increase the confidence of local women to engage in the process.

These two examples clearly demonstrate the importance of literacy in a practical context. Literacy to us is more than reading and writing, it’s a tool for transformation through practical skills that improve a person’s livelihood.