Assèta Tirakoya is a young woman from Burkina Faso who refused to let anything stop her from learning to read and write through buildOn’s Adult Literacy Program in Soubouaré. Despite being pregnant and going into labor just before her final exams, she persevered and passed her exam from her hospital bed! Assèta's story is a testament to the power of education and its ability to transform lives.

Out of the Dark: Assèta Tirakoya’s Incredible Literacy Journey

Imagine it’s the morning of a major exam. Most of us who have gone to school know this feeling all too well. The jitters, the nervous quizzing yourself in your head to make sure you covered everything when studying. The general anxiety that comes with needing to perform. Now imagine doing all of that while giving birth.

That was the reality Assèta Tirakoya faced the day she took her literacy exam.

It’s easy to get caught up in the statistics surrounding literacy, especially in buildOn countries where the numbers are so stark. As we discussed in our World Literacy Day blog, over 773 million people around the world cannot read or write–a shortcoming that costs the global economy almost $1.2 trillion annually. 

And yet, there are stories that hammer home the importance of literacy far better than any statistic can. One such story is that of Assèta, our young woman from Burkina Faso with an unwavering spirit and drive to learn. 

In a country where many women never get the chance to learn to read and write, Assèta refused to let any obstacle keep her from becoming literate.

Like many women in Burkina Faso, Assèta never had the opportunity to learn to read or write as a child. 41% of all women in West and Central Africa are married before 18––marriages that often mean leaving the classroom in order to perform household tasks.

When Assèta heard that buildOn was offering Adult Literacy Classes in her hometown of Soubouaré, she jumped at the opportunity to improve her life and the lives of her family members through education. 

Assèta believes that education is essential in life, and says she wanted to learn to read, write, and count in order to improve her living conditions. “The environment in which we are living is constantly changing,” she explains. “And I considered it imperative for me to be literate because I have plans.”

Her plans include opening a money transfer and phone credit shop and, if all goes well, adding other goods and services. This work will not only uplift herself and her family, but bring economic opportunities to her community.

In today’s rapidly changing and increasingly online world, people who cannot read and write only fall further behind economically, and communities where illiteracy is common fall behind with them. 

“Today someone who can neither read nor write remains completely in the dark.”

Assèta Tirakoya

This is something that Assèta understands deeply. “Without those skills I would not have the courage to open my shop. Now I can better manage this delicate project. I can note and calculate the different monetary transactions as well as the profits generated for the well-being of my family.”

Assèta’s journey to literacy is like many other women in the countries buildOn works in. But her story is different in one crucial way––while she was learning to read and write, Assèta was pregnant. 

Despite the daily challenges associated with pregnancy, Assèta continued to learn and attend classes in buildOn’s Adult Literacy Program. “My real difficulty encountered during these literacy classes was in the last moments of my pregnancy,”  Assèta says. “I had a hard time following the lessons. But despite this, whenever I missed a class, I did my best to catch up with the other learners.”

Her resilience and perseverance were put to the ultimate test when she went into labor just before her final exam. On the morning of the exam, which is run by Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Education to determine whether someone has achieved full literacy, Assèta gave birth to a baby boy, Adoul Mubarak. 

Even recovering from labor couldn’t stop Assèta from completing her quest to become literate. She took and passed her exams from her hospital bed! 

“I really wanted to pass this exam! So my only concern even being on my hospital bed was to be able to pass this exam.”

Assèta Tirakoya

Assèta’s commitment to education is rooted in her belief in its transformative power. She recognizes that literacy is not merely a skill, but a gateway to opportunity and empowerment. “Today someone who can neither read nor write remains completely in the dark,” she asserts.

Adoul Mubarak is fortunate to have been born to a strong, determined mother who understands the importance of education.

Assèta’s success is not merely her own; it is a victory for her community. Her story serves as a beacon of hope to others like her. “I intend to be an example for those who refuse or who are ashamed to learn because of their advanced age,” she says.

She also plans to pass down this love of learning to her son. “I first hope to enroll my child in school as soon as he is of school age,” she promises. “I want him to study medicine.”

As we celebrate Assèta’s achievements, let us also honor the countless other individuals who, like her, are striving to overcome adversity and achieve their dreams through education. Their stories are a reminder that education is something worth fighting for.

buildOn’s Adult Literacy Programs are transforming lives across the globe.

Assèta’s journey to literacy would not have been possible without the buildOn Adult Literacy Center in her community. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank buildOn for allowing me to learn,” She says. “For bringing light into my life.”

Will you support buildOn’s work to transform lives through education? Bright the light of literacy to those who need it most by making a tax-deductible donation today.