While learning to read, people also gain valuable life skills that help them deal with trauma, ethnic tensions and HIV/AIDS. Often this change affects not just the individuals, but extends to whole communities.
A life-changing literacy programme in isolated and rural areas of Latin America is helping women stand up against domestic violence. The Read To Live programme in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Panama is annually helping thousands of people, mostly women.
Apart from teaching them to read and write, the programme in these male-dominated societies is helping to break the silence around domestic violence, a scourge affecting seven out of ten women.
Programme participants are taught basic literacy, and then move on to a series of reading comprehension booklets. These contain Bible verses and reflections about gender equality, mutual respect, children’s rights, forgiveness and communication.
Many say the programme is improving their family relationships, while others seek help instead of staying silent about the abuse they experience at home.
“My husband and I are starting to build our marriage afresh,” says Janeth in Ecuador, who is participating in the programme with her husband.
“He has stopped drinking since we studied the booklet which talked about alcoholism and other problems.”
In Chile, 54-year old Marta once suffered from very low self-esteem. Like more than 200,000 women in her country, she had only attended school for a few years.
Last year, she enrolled in the Read to Live programme and is making steady progress. She is delighted at being able to read, and is starting to gain more self-confidence.