Project promotes literacy for social change
Rotarians work with Operation Upgrade to train instructions on topics like nutrition and health. Photo courtesy of Pat Dean/Rotary Club of Westville, South Africa
Residents of the rural community of KwaNibela, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, face poverty and frequent water shortages. HIV is also prevalent among the 26,000 who live there.
Rotarians are helping to confront these challenges with an innovative literacy effort, arming adults with the ability to read and write while providing lessons in nutrition and health, food sustainability, and basic business skills.
The Adult Literacy Projects -- known as KwaNibela and KwaJobe -- arose from a partnership among Rotary districts 9270 (South Africa) and 7950 (Rhode Island and Massachusetts, USA), Operation Upgrade, and the International Reading Association.
A staggering two million illiterate adults live throughout KwaZulu-Natal Province. The projects set out to teach men and women to read and write so they could participate in the economic and political activities of their country.
“Learning to read and write alone does not put food on the table, or help with issues like HIV,” says Pat Dean, director of Operation Upgrade and a member of the Rotary Club of Westville, South Africa. “But we can use literacy as a means for social change.”
Rotarians began collaborating with Operation Upgrade, which specializes in adult basic education, to train instructors on topics like nutrition and health, and to deliver an effective curriculum. Funding from The Rotary Foundation provided books for classrooms and community gardens.
Nearly 600 adults are attending literacy classes in KwaNibela, says Dean. The teachers lead group discussions on food security and health and hygiene, including HIV prevention. Topics also include social issues like gender equality.
Through the project, Rotarians have helped residents of KwaNibela form six vegetable cooperatives. Because the co-ops have contracted with traders and schools, they not only provide a sustainable food source but also generate income for residents.
In June, 573 adults took their first literacy exam, and 517 passed. Dean says the classes have produced a change in the students.
“As they progress, you can see the self-esteem in their faces and in what they do – even how they care for themselves,” she says.
Dean recalls how one woman described no longer being embarrassed to take her five children to the local clinic for treatment because she can now read their names on clinic registration documents. Another woman learned to make doughnuts and now runs a thriving small business.
“This project is helping adults take steps to change their lives,” Dean says. “One woman was able to leave an abusive marriage because she had the literacy skills to apply for low-cost housing for herself and her children.”
Dean adds that as the residents are learning more about health topics, they are beginning to voluntarily submit to HIV testing.
The success of the Adult Literacy Projects, especially KwaNibela, was formally acknowledged in 2008, when Operation Upgrade received the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy.
“Literacy has led to a positive change for the communities in KwaNibela,” Dean says. “Adult literacy is so important in a developing country; organizations around the world have adopted this model to integrate development through literacy. The KwaNibela and KwaJobe projects have proved very successful.”
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