Adult Literacy Programs Empower Communities Beyond the Classroom

Taught in the evenings in the same schools their children attend by day, buildOn’s Adult Literacy classes give parents and grandparents the education they need to build a better life for themselves and their children. Seventy percent of students are female, and the Adult Literacy program gives women who were denied access to education as girls a chance to learn to read and write.

But literacy is just the beginning. Through the promotion of basic education, the Adult Literacy Program addresses the problems of poverty, disease and injustice. In each class, students spend the first six to twelve months learning to read, write and do basic math through the lens of health, agriculture, and relevant life skills. Participants then put these skills to the test through income generating activities. First, communities tell us what they want to learn. Then buildOn works with villagers to inventory their resources and create a strategic action plan for progress. Income generating activities have included dry-season gardening, animal husbandry, and textile production. Classes are taught by facilitators who come from the villages where they teach, selected in partnership with village leaders and trained by buildOn staff.

buildOn currently conducts the two-year Adult Literacy Program in Haiti, Malawi, Mali and Nepal, with classes starting in Senegal in the fall of 2015. Malawi alone is a great example of one country where adult community members are using their literacy skills to empower themselves and change their lives. Just a few examples of things our partner villages in Malawi are doing:

School Feeding Programs: In Vigando village, community members saw that children were suffering from hunger and many of them missing school because of it. After many years of trying to lobby other NGOs to come and operate a school feeding program without success, the adults organized themselves to grow soya and maize and are now feeding the children at their school.

Village Savings and Loans: In many communities, the participants have started to contribute to their own bank. They bring in a few kwacha each week and then make loans to the group. Participants are using the loans to buy school supplies for their children, to put roofs on their homes, to buy goats, and to start small businesses. The village of Mnyamazi is a great example – they have over USD $2,000 in their village bank.

School Uniforms: The HIV/AIDS epidemic has left many orphans in Malawi. Some buildOn Adult Literacy Program communities – such as the villages of Mnyamazi, Nkhono, and Kazenga – have worked together to grow peanuts which are then sold to buy uniforms to allow orphans to go to school.

Reforestation: The community members at Kasumbi village planted hundreds of trees around the school in order to beautify their new school while also reforesting their village.

Goat Raising: The community of Kabila is raising goats. They have four goats and will share the offspring amongst the group.

Beekeeping: The villages of Kabila and Chimbalame have started beekeeping to generate income for their community. Between the two villages, they have 83 beehives producing honey.

Watch some of these villagers in action in this recent video from Malawi: