Today I visited one of our projects working to combat illiteracy among women. As we walked through the busy marketplace of Nyamirambo, I was at first confused where we would find a classroom among the crowded pathways that separated stalls of fabric, shoes, buckets, jerrycans, pots and tools. We rounded a corner and ducked into a darkened classroom in a cement building that abutted the market. As my eyes adjusted, I saw about 30 women squeezed side by side at desks usually reserved for children. Innocent Baguma, teacher and founder of this initiative, called “Let Us Build Ourselves” was finishing his reading lesson, as women followed along in books filled with cartoons.
When the class was over, Innocent introduced me and invited me to the front of the classroom, as the women applauded. I offered thanks and acknowledged the courage of these women, some appearing to be in their 70s, to make the effort to learn to read. I then had a chance to ask them more about how the project, just completing one year of operations in July, had begun to transform their lives. Here is what they said:
I came here with no knowledge of how to read or write….I remember before, because I had no knowledge of how to read or write, someone would write a letter for me. But for now I am able to write it for myself. At that time I was very, very shamed because someone else could know my secret…that was very hard for me. I’m very grateful for your support in helping women in this literacy program.
It was a very difficult period when my children would come from school and say, Mother can you please explain to me what is happening here in this homework? And I couldn’t say anything and it was very hard. And I was in possession of a cell phone. Someone could send me an SMS message, but I couldn’t read it. And someone could even call me and I would not know who was calling. But now I can tell.
I am married and I have four children and a husband. I came here with absolutely no idea of reading and writing. But for now I am very, very thankful due to our leaders who have been very patient… This project has been most helpful to the extent that we used to go to town and people would tell us where we were to stay, but we didn’t know where we were going because we had no knowledge of how to read the signs on the road. I came here and didn’t even know how to write my name. But currently I am able to write my name and even the name of my children and my husband. Before I couldn’t go to the hospital or carry my babies to the hospital because I couldn’t read what was written on the papers given by the doctors. And I had to ask my husband one day to be absent from his job to escort me to the hospital. It was as if I was not a full person, and it was very shameful. As for now, we do not have any problems. We can take our children to the hospital and buy medical treatment without a problem.
I came here to sell flour. I couldn’t measure what I was giving to the customer.
Before people in my region didn’t respect girls and did not send them to school. And they would say that the diploma or certificate for a young girl was to get a husband. That’s why I grew up with illiteracy and it was very hopeless to us. Now, even our daughters have to be taken to school so that they may not face the same problems that we faced.
Girls used to pass along all their days working at home. Girls were supposed to go to the kitchen, sweep, draw water. But now we have a chance because we have been able to go to school. We do believe that young children, girls and boys, they do have an equal right to schooling.
I was so touched by the commitment and determination of this group of women. They sat wearing eyeglasses that we had collected and sent to them earlier in the year so they could see their books or the blackboard. I have no doubt that the gift of reading will propel these women forward in many dimensions in their lives. Let Us Build Ourselves is not only creating new hope and opportunities for this group of women, but transforming the way in which they will raise their girls and influence other parents in their communities.