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War On Illiteracy

Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Mr. Limbani Kumanga

“A country that does not know how to read and write is easy to deceive.”
– Che Guevara

Illiteracy remains one of the major impediments of socio-economic development in Africa, and Malawi in particular. In a globalized world economy where technology continues to play a central role, inability to read and write neutralizes an individual’s effort to attain meaningful personal improvement, and molds disempowered citizens. Disempowerment, in this case, occurs because illiteracy undermines an individual’s capacity to fathom and contribute positively toward the development of their community and country. For this reason, as posited by several academicians, it is important that individual African countries should galvanize their efforts toward addressing their current worrying literacy statistics. 

Before 1994, when the Malawi government introduced free primary education, access to education was a far-fetched dream to the majority of underprivileged Malawians. This means that children from families that could not afford to raise tuition failed to enroll in primary schools, where people are expected to acquire reading and writing skills. Common in rural areas, this predicament limited education attainment for the majority of rural residents back then. As a result, such people would age without knowing how to read and write, and thereby having to deal with consequences that are associated with illiteracy.

In Likoswe Village, certain residents have taken the mantle to tackle illiteracy, which is mostly pervasive among adult females in the community. With assistance from Tadzuka Women Forum (TAWOFO), a local NGO based at Chiradzulu Boma, these residents hold afternoon classes where adults that did not get a chance to enroll in primary school during their youthful years can be taught basic literacy and numerical skills. In addition, the curriculum is also designed to increase awareness of the existence of various forms of human rights, specifically women’s rights. I visited these women to learn more about the objectives, experience, and progress they made since the inception of this program. Below are topical excerpts from the long and insightful dialogue that I had with them.

Origin: 
According to Mrs. Winnie Nkhuladzi, the facilitator and tutor for Likoswe and Mkumba villages, this program started in September 2015 to fill the void left by the defunct government-run elderly literacy classes. Then, TAWOFO sought and trained female volunteers from surrounding villages and charged them to conduct these classes. For Mrs. Nkhuladzi, who also volunteered as a tutor in the aforementioned government-run program, this opportunity fitted her aspiration to assist her fellow residents, most who are older than her, in whatever way to achieve their dream to become literate. Currently, Mrs. Nkhuladzi is the only tutor for the residents of Likoswe and Mkumba – adjacent villages.

Objectives:
To impart reading, writing, and numerical skills. The curriculum is in Chichewa, Malawi’s national language.
To increase awareness of human rights, particularly women’s rights.
To provide a safe platform for interaction and peer advice on topics of interest such as marital relations and household management.
To promote economic empowerment by encouraging saving through village banking.

Current Status: 
Actual classes are conducted on Mondays and Wednesdays. Mostly discussion based, classes run from 2PM to 4PM. Friday are reserved for village banking activities and general conversations that seek to promote integration and strengthen group cohesion. The school calendar corresponds with the government school calendar on a three terms per year format. Enrollment is free and currently the joint Likoswe and Mkumba chapter boasts 31 active members. Grimly, out of the 31 active members, 3 are men, who all happen to be teachers at Malavi FP school. The three male teachers joined the group in order to provide moral support. So, essentially, illiterate men from the two villages shun this opportunity.

Source of Motivation for the Facilitator (Mrs Nkhuladzi):
As indicated above, Mrs. Nkhuladzi runs the Likoswe-Mkumba chapter on a voluntary basis. In other words, she gets zero material benefits from TAWOFO and refrains from soliciting anything from her students. Despite not getting private material gains, she still works with unspeakable diligence and ardor. She is a hero. She confided in me that the following aspects motivate her:Remarks from her students on how the knowledge she is imparting has improved their respective marriage lives.
The observable confidence and character that women have gained.
The progress that most of her students have made, which is evidenced in their ability to read and write. At the commencement of the program, none of her students knew how to read nor write.
The attendance and commitment of Chief Mkumba’s sister, an elderly woman in her late 70s.
The minimization of cases of property grabbing against widows, which used to be pervasive in the community.

Challenges: 
High dropout rate. At the beginning, the program had 127 members. Lamentably, this number has plummeted to 31.
The dearth of reading and writing materials for students and the tutor.
Eyesight problems for senior students (most cannot afford a pair of glasses).
Lukewarm support from community leaders.
Negligence from men. This prompts other women to follow the negative trend set by men.

Testimonies from Students:
Mrs. Enelle Maulana, a resident of Mkumba village, is proud that she is now literate and that she poses the confidence to contribute meaningfully during community meetings.
Mrs. Estele Namakhona, a boisterous lady who left school when she was in standard 1 due to school fees issues, is proud that she has learned how to write her own name and therefore does not need to use finger prints for a signature.
Like Mrs. Namakhona, Mrs. Effelo Faki, quit school because of fees unaffordability. She left school when she was in standard 2, but she is happy for this program because it has given her a second chance to gain literacy skills.
For Mrs. Adidja Charles, information shared at this school has improved her everyday life, especially her marriage. In addition, knowing that women have rights and freedoms makes her feel safe in a society famed for high levels of misogyny.

Conclusion:
Meeting these ladies was a thrilling experience for me. Each individual student has their own story that explains why they are found in this predicament. Of course trends can be drawn, especially for those that failed to progress in education because of monetary hardships. However, undeterred by age and other distractions, these women have seized the opportunity to have a second go on education and are putting in tremendous effort to enhance their livelihoods. I have maximum respect for Mrs. Nkhulidza for the work that she is putting in to help her fellow residents. Malawi needs people like her. People who have the courage to sacrifice their time and resources for the general good of the nation. To show my appreciation for what these women are doing, I pledged to assist them in learning, and most importantly, join them every week during their Friday meetings. I think this will be fun!

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