The Power of an Education

Taught in the evenings, in the same schools their children attend by day, buildOn’s Adult Literacy Program gives parents and grandparents in rural communities a second chance to receive an education and the skills they need to build a better life for themselves, their children and their communities. Not only does this important program help adults learn to read and write, but it also provides them with basic math and business skills and access to incom- generating activities. 

In the rural Malawian community of Katchereza, buildOn’s Adult Literacy Program gave 85 parents and grandparents the opportunity to receive an education, many for the first time. One of the program’s most enthusiastic participants was Falesi Phiri. This determined mother of five never had the opportunity to attend school as a child and is very grateful for this second chance to receive an education. “I failed to go to school when I was young mainly because of poverty and long distances to school,” says Falesi. “My dad died when I was just a year old, and I was brought up by a single mother who struggled to pay for my schooling. Long distances to the nearest school also prevented me from obtaining an education. Many other girls in my community also experienced similar challenges and ended up getting into early marriages.” 

Falesi is now able to write her own name for the first time.

A lack of education ended up creating several challenges for Falesi as she became a young wife and mother. “Before attending Adult Literacy Classes, I was not able to read or write and because of this had challenges in traveling from one place to another,” remembers Falesi. “Now, because of buildOn’s Adult Literacy Program, I can easily read, and I am able to tell what bus to take to my destination. At the same time after selling my farm produce, I am able to count the money I have earned at the market. I can easily calculate profits for the small-scale business that I am currently operating. This could never happen before joining the Adult Literacy Classes. Some people would even steal from me as I was not able to calculate the correct change to give to a customer. I am also now able to write my name and, therefore, I can easily fill out certain forms at the hospital or bank which I could never do in the past. In addition to these new skills, buildOn encouraged us to do a Village Savings and Loan initiative which has helped in eliminating the financial challenges we used to face in our homes before the program.” 

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The Village Savings and Loan initiative allowed Adult Literacy Program participants to cumulatively save money that could then be used by the members to make larger purchases than they could on their own. Falesi was thrilled to be a part of this initiative and says, “The Village Savings and Loan initiative has assisted me and other community members financially because we were able to get small loans and use them to cover various needs in our homes. We have also gained important business skills from the program. Through this initiative, we have managed to contribute MK 9,750, which was used to buy school uniforms for underprivileged learners attending primary school in our community.” Although the cost of school uniforms, roughly $4 USD, would not be much for most people, for Malawian families struggling to survive on less than a dollar day, this cost can be extremely prohibitive. When faced with deciding to feed their children or send them to school, most families will choose the former, further perpetuating the cycle of poverty they are caught in by eliminating the opportunity for their children to gain the skills needed to advance in society. By using the entrepreneurial skills they learned to help provide school uniforms for families in need, Falesi and her peers played a key role in eliminating one of the major barriers that kept children in their community out of school.

“We have also gained important business skills from the program. Through this initiative we have managed to contribute MK 9,750, which was used to buy school uniforms for the underprivileged learners attending primary school in our community.”

Falesi Phiri

Falesi has also benefited from the Animal Husbandry initiative run by her Adult Literacy Class. Through this program participants are given goats which they then breed and pass on to other participants, as well as selling the livestock to earn money for their families. Falesi is the proud owner of three goats, which she hopes will assist her in paying the school fees for her daughter and other household needs. “I had been having challenges paying school fees for my daughter who is in secondary school, but now that will be history,” exclaims Falesi. “After the goats multiply, I will be able to have money for school fees, uniforms, and other household necessities such as fertilizer, food and clothes.” 

The three goats that Falesi received through her Adult Literacy Program will give her enough money to pay for her daughter’s secondary school fees.

As most members of the Adult Literacy Program were small-scale farmers, they were also taught skills to help them yield better crops, further increasing their income and helping them to feed their families. Falesi and her peers learned about manure making, and how to use it to fertilize their crops. She says, “After being trained on manure making, last growing season I made some manure and applied it on my 0.5-acre field. This helped increase my yield from eight bags to 15 bags. Thanks to this new farming technique my home will be food secure.” 

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For men and women like Falesi, buildOn’s Adult Literacy Program paves the way for them to not only learn valuable literacy skills that will help them in their everyday lives, but it also provides them with the training and resources they need to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of extreme poverty.