Functional adult literacy in Mena

Functional adult literacy in Mena

Six months ago, she couldn’t sign her name, use a phone or count her money. Now she can and her life will never be the same again.

There is a barn in a cornfield in the town of Mena where people go to change their lives.

Two women roast coffee in a corner as 72 men and women trickle in to fill narrow wood benches. They range from 20 to 70 years old and clutch notebooks and pens. Some bring their children. Eagerly, they eye the chalkboard on the wall.

They do not wait for coffee to be served. The sun will set in just three hours; there is no time to waste. Dressed in a long white lab coat, Habtam Worku starts scribbling numbers on the board.

These people are all peasants. Most get up before dawn and spend their days tilling fields and herding cattle. Just a few months ago they were all illiterate, but since March, they’ve been coming to this cornfield four days a week to study from 4 p.m. until nightfall.

Desta Abdiyay holds the class’ first chalk board.
Desta Abdiyay holds the class’ first chalk board.

Desta Abdiyay, 36, is one of these farmers. She grows maize, sorghum and other cereal crops by day, and spends her evenings either making pottery to sell, or studying in this barn.

Last summer, she disliked and distrusted teachers, but at the urging of her friends and family, Desta finally started coming to these Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) classes.

For her entire life, she couldn’t count her money or sign her name. Desta couldn’t even call her grown children without her neighbours’ help—she didn’t know how to decipher the numbers on her cellphone. Today, she can do all these things.

“Before I didn’t know the meaning of education. Now I am happy because they changed me from dark to light. I want to learn until I die,” she says.

Desta Abdiyay, centre, considers a math problem.
Desta Abdiyay, centre, considers a math problem.

In 2014, imagine1day trained 315 Parent Teacher Association members from the Dello Mena District on the importance of FAL. Adult literacy is important because educated parents, they are far more likely to send their kids to school.

Our training struck a cord: more than 3,639 adults from 45 communities in the district of Dello Mena enrolled in FAL classes last year.

But the students in Mena have more than imagine1day and local community members to thank for their education. Four imagine1day team members acted beyond their call of duty to ensure that their class would be a success.

Semunigus Mekonnen, Amino Yohannes, Umer Limu and Worku Kejela all live in this community.

When they saw the small round chalkboard used for this FAL class, our team stepped in. Worku, Semu, Amino and Umer each agreed to pitch in to buy the class a standard chalkboard for their barn.

They didn’t stop there. Amino bought 15 reference books out of his own pocket, and Worku, Semu and Umer each offered 500 birr incentives: one for the top ranking student, another for a student with perfect attendance, and one for whomever could recruit the most new students.

On one sunny afternoon in June, I walked through this cornfield to the barn where people go to change their lives.

Semu Mekonnen, Amino Yohannes, Umer Lemu and Worku Kejela
Semu Mekonnen, Amino Yohannes, Umer Lemu and Worku Kejela

Seventy-two farmers who can now sign their own names drank coffee, ate honey and broke bread. They were celebrating the completion of their first year of literacy classes.

For one hour, they took turns standing and making speeches to thank imagine1day and their community leaders for starting this initiative. But the names I heard resonate most through the barn that day, were those of Worku, Semu, Amino and Umer.

To these farmers, my colleagues weren’t just imagine1day staff members, they were local heroes, and it was an honour to be part of their team.

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