When you know how to read, it’s easy to take the skill for granted. You read street signs, directions to assemble a bookshelf, the price of milk at the grocery store and the bright red “Urgent” on the front of an envelope. But around the world there are many people who never get the chance to learn to read or write, or who don’t have the time or supplies to practice.

MCC supports literacy programs that give children and adults opportunities to learn how to read and write: opening doors to new jobs, new leadership opportunities and making everyday life a little bit easier. To celebrate international literacy day on September 8th, meet some of people benefiting from MCC-supported literacy programs around the world. 

Afghanistan

MCC photo/Matthew Lester

Laila Afzai is a tailoring instructor at Le Pelican, an MCC-supported school in Kabul, Afghanistan. But before she was instructor she was a literacy student. “I didn’t know spelling, I need writing because I am a tailor. When I measure people I need to write the measurements,” she says. Afzai started school when she was a child, but stopped going in third grade when war broke out. Now she takes math, Dari and English classes at Le Pelican and loves coming to the school, “The class is very interesting, when we are learning we don’t want to go home.”

Working as a tailor and instructor helps provide for her family. “My husband really encourages me to go learn,” she says. “My husband’s salary is not enough for us I have to help my husband and my family.” Learn more about Le Pelican in the summer issue of A Common Place.

Guatemala

José Caal Yat, centre in yellow, is pictured with his classmates in November 2015 at graduation ceremonies for a literacy and secondary education program.Fundameno photo/Juan Timoteo Chen

In Guatemala, José Caal Yat only learned to read as an adult. That meant for a long time he wasn’t able to take a job as a pastor. Caal Yat says he felt the calling to serve God since he was a child, but when his congregation asked him to be their pastor he had to turn the position down because he couldn’t read or write. “In the worship services I listened to the word of God but did not bring my bible. I couldn’t read it. It pained me that I couldn’t accept the position they were offering me,” he says.  

But his friends and family encouraged him to attend literacy classes, and he started studying at an MCC-supported program run by partner Fundación Menonita K’ekchí de Guatemala, which provides basic literacy and secondary education for youth and adults. He learned to read and write in his first language as well as Spanish and now works as a pastor at Assembly of God Church of New Dawn in Sasis Chitap Village. 

Egypt

Literacy student with her teacher in Egypt Nadia Fathy, left, and her teacher, Mariam Alfy.  Diocese of Mallawi photo/ Father Yohanna

Nadia Fathy was born in El Bayadia Village in Egypt; she missed out on getting an education as a child because there was no school in the village. To get to school, children would pay to catch a ride on a donkey or a truck, which was expensive and often unsafe.

Fathy never lost her dream of going to school and learning to read. Today she is married and has three children who all attend primary school. When she heard a Sunday School teacher, Mariam Alfy talking about a literacy class, Fathy jumped at the opportunity. Fathy loves her literacy teacher and has made quick progress in the MCC-supported class. She attends regularly and after nine months earned the highest marks for level one. She turned 30 in spring, and she has high hopes for the future, planning to complete two more levels and eventually get a school certificate. She is already able to help her children with their homework. 

Canada

Summer reading program students at Sam's Place Lucien van de Laar and Carlos Salimbuat share a laugh over a book at the Sam’s Place summer reading program.  MCC photo

Sam’s Place, is a café, book store and social enterprise owned by MCC Manitoba, in the Winnipeg neighbourhood of Elmwood. For the last two summers they have offered a reading program from 10:00-11:30 each weekday morning. The program brings in children from a large area, but most come from the neighbourhood around the café.

“In this neighbourhood, a lot of kids can’t afford to go to things like summer camp,” says Andy Arthur, the manager at Sam’s Place. “We wanted to offer something that would be fun, would support literacy and would help kids get excited about books.”

Laos

Teacher with her studentslin Laos MCC photo/ Saiphone Khotsaigno

After Vanhueng Thammavong graduated from teacher training college, she started work in the remote Vangma Village. Most students in the region are from ethnic minority groups and farming families.

Thammavong tried teaching students there with the techniques she learned in school, but it was not as effective as she expected because most of the students have limited knowledge of the official Lao language.

She recently had an opportunity to attend training on creative classroom activities, which was supported by MCC. At the training she learned new teaching methodology and discussed experiences with other teachers. She has applied many tactics from this training, and says those new skills have helped her improve students’ progress and participation. 

Make a difference