Magazine article Momentum

Teachers Experíence Fírsthand the Joys of Líteracy

Magazine article Momentum

Teachers Experíence Fírsthand the Joys of Líteracy

Article excerpt

Frontiers of Justice participants see hope for progress in remote Indian villages

Through the generosity of the National Catholic Educational Association and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), this year's Frontiers of Justice group traveled to India for 10 days to experience firsthand the many programs in which CRS is involved.

Six teachers and three escorts visited Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta) and several small villages in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Jharkand. We were fortunate to meet such inspirational people, people who have benefited from a wide range of development efforts including self-help groups, food distribution sites, private education programs and literacy projects.

One issue that struck us as vitally important is women's empowerment. In many cases across the country, women are taking the lead in their communities and are solving some of their community's problems relating to money lending, education and health issues.

As a group we experienced a wide range of emotions. We continuously felt awe, joy and humility as we made strong connections with one another to reflect upon our reactions. In everything we experienced, we were most touched when we witnessed hope. We came away with a stronger sense of what it is to be a global citizen, and a steward of Christ's vision for the poor and vulnerable. We learned we must not forget our common humanity across borders, especially where dignity is concerned.

Teaching Women to Read

In the Dumka district of the state of Jharkand, CRS is helping to execute a program that teaches women to read and write in their native Santhal language in just four to six weeks. The women in this program were completely illiterate, because they were deprived of schooling their entire life. As educators we were flabbergasted! How would this be possible? By what methods? But when we met with the women of the village Asanbani, we learned that their new knowledge was beyond any typical educational "method."

Through a translator, we asked the women what it felt like to learn how to read and write. Several women responded: "Moneylenders cannot cheat us now," "My husband can no longer enslave me," and "I know now that there is so much more to learn; the world has opened up to me."

Our guide and translator, Vinod Parmeshwar (CRS representative for Ranchi State), said, "How do we know you can read?" All of us shot him a surprised look. How could he be so disrespectful? We didn't need proof; we heard their stories and we believed them. Yet the question was important because it challenged the women to speak up for what they had learned. One older woman stood, looked at him calmly, and in Santhal, replied, "Give me a book and I will show you."

The woman took the primer and read-slowly but surely-sounding out the words with a shy confidence. We watched in amazement-there she was, reading. We knew that her life was forever different for having this skill. She continued, and then another woman stood to read. And another and another.

If we could have stayed for another three hours, every woman in the room would have risen to her feet and read. We were so moved that silence overcame us. We were truly in the presence of greatness. We witnessed God's spirit in these women who, for the first time in their lives, are speaking their truth to the world.

On the other side of the world, we live completely different lives. …

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