Literacy: Achieving Self-Worth

Illiteracy Context in Haiti

Illiteracy is one of the greatest obstacles of the poor. Literacy is a basic right of all men and women. When one has access to this precious right, one is able to gain the necessary knowledge and competence to better function in society. Without this essential tool, a person remains marginalized and frustrated. Illiteracy constitutes a true obstacle to social and economic development. Where people do not have confidence in themselves, we cannot expect that they will have trust and confidence in others or that they will have the capacity to cooperate in order to build enterprise and generate income. Illiteracy then can be understood to be a condition that impedes human development. It is impossible to undertake sustainable development actions without placing priority on the problem of illiteracy.

When men and women learn to read, to write, and to use basic mathematics, they discover their own capacity for learning. This becomes a first step towards achieving self confidence. Confidence in self leads to confidence in others. This reciprocal and collective confidence is essential when undertaking sustainable development activities. In Haiti, the national illiteracy rate is estimated to be 56%. In rural areas where FIDA/pcH is present, this rate is between 70% and 80%. Literacy and adult training that includes dialogue and participation has become the centre of all FIDA/pcH programming as it is understood to be the most appropriate strategy for building a foundation for sustainable development.

It is essential for all training sessions to take into account the culture and experiences of the beneficiaries. Therefore, all training and any other form of communication must be undertaken in their native language. This demonstrates respect for each other and for each member within the development process. The actions and attitudes of those who are leading the development process must be an example of respect. When we offer respect, we become influential and more capable of alleviating frustration in favour of self confidence and confidence in others.

FIDA/pcH provides literacy training to adult members of agricultural cooperatives and farmer’s groups. These beneficiaries, between 18 and 55 years, are typically simple farmers living in rural communities in Haiti. Women usually constitute 52% to 56% of members. Women hold a special place in the social sector of Haiti, but they are otherwise marginalized in part because of illiteracy. We are motivated to conduct literacy training in order to correct a social injustice. Like the rest of the world, Haitians deserve the opportunity to become literate. Although this opportunity is emerging later in life, courses in adult education stimulate self awareness and self confidence in farmers, which allows them to improve their social and economic situation. We must give them the power to decide for themselves.

Literacy training programs are conducted each year in a three year program, with the participants divided into three levels. Level I includes those who have never attended any educational establishment. Level II includes those who have a rudimentary knowledge of reading, writing and mathematics. Level III includes those who have successfully completed Level I and Level II, or who already have the prerequisite knowledge. The length of each level is 9 months, 2 hours per day (10 hours per week). In Level I, sessions address basic knowledge in communication and mathematics. The other two levels apply the concepts learned in Level I to focus on a series of themes relating to social and economic transformation. All subjectsare discussed with the aim of achieving enhanced comprehension and knowledge. Specific sessions relating to health, protecting the environment, agriculture and cooperative development are discussed both theoretically and practically. This enables participants to connect their learning to their environment.

Strategy to Eliminate Literacy

The illiteracy elimination program is a dynamic training program that has several actors, including the literacy monitor. These individuals are chosen from the community and receive appropriate training that equips them to facilitate the training of their peers. The training of monitors is focused on a strategy that stresses the importance of dialogue. The monitor becomes a facilitator and the adult participant is the subject of their training. They are placed at the center of their training. The method is based on their own experiences as an adult. Dialogue steers them towards the discovery of new knowledge about objects, actions, causalities and events that are found in their own immediate environment. They have the opportunity to reflect, discuss and propose solutions based on their own experiences. This is why the training of monitors is extremely important.

The most important tool in the training process is the  Kreyol language; the language that all Haitians speak and understand. This is a point of demonstrating respect for the beneficiaries. One cannot assist another to learn effectively in a language they are not familiar with. Utilizing the Haitian language improves learning. The student understands automatically and learns more quickly.

The experience of life in a literacy centre, though it is short (2 hours per day) is an experience of living together. Psychologically, the influence of the group affects the individual. The participants begin to learn of their strengths and their weaknesses. They also learn to identify the worth of others. In fact, they seek to increase their value, taking direction from the monitor who is working as facilitator. This is why the proper training of monitors plays such a significant role in the operation of the literacy centres. Through the process of distributing tasks and responsibilities to various groups within the centres, there is a lesson in leadership and in serving others.

As well as being the facilitator in adult learning, the literacy monitor is the brain of the centre. Monitors are humble, patient, responsible, and respectful of others. They truly must (and do) embody all of these qualities. The success of the centre depends in large part on the monitor being a model for the learners, and on the learners having confidence in them. It is a great challenge and a major responsibility to be a literacy monitor.

It is natural to assume that each learner has a personal motivation for participating in the learning process. In literacy training for adults, there is also a collective motivation; all of the participants wish for the ability to identify and write their first and last names. Much of the frustration of an illiterate individual rests upon the ability to carry out the one simple act that most of the world can; that of signing a document. The day that a man or woman overcomes this obstacle, they begin to discover a miraculous feeling of personal possibility. It is a most important victory over a deeply embedded uncertainty.

Much change comes when a participant is able to write their name. Typically, the achiever will find any possible occasion to celebrate their victory. One of the occasions that simply cannot be resisted is writing their name for the pleasure of their spouses and children. In Haiti, when a signature is required and the individual cannot write, they make an “X” in place of their name. It is precisely through writing their name that much of their frustration disappears. This is also why, in the literacy centres, the first activities carried out by the monitor involve the first name of each participant. Firstly, they identify their names; then step by step, they begin to write their full names. For the observer, it is a most rewarding and moving experience.

At the end of the training process, it is important to evaluate knowledge gained and to note the achievements made. For learners, the greatest moment is the graduation. It is the ultimate celebration of their efforts and their sacrifice. This activity is also part of the learning process. It is easy to observe the positive dynamic of the group that is preparing for the graduation ceremony. Through initiatives and decisions taken in the group, one can easily identify the grass roots leaders. Their capacity and creativity is clearly evident.

Literacy is a mission wherein the goal is the transformation of the human person in order to bring about true socioeconomic transformation of communities. An integrated literacy program assures a strong foundation for all future development action.

by Pierre Richard Pierre, Country Coordinator, Haiti

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