Find a piece of scrap paper, dig for a pen at the bottom of a drawer or your bag, and write out your name. Now, write it again, this time with each letter spread out widely enough that they no longer resemble a singular word, but rather a listing of individual letters. Try and remember a time when that A or B or whichever symbol was foreign to you. Were you… six years old? Four? Most of the time in the United States, as with most first-world countries, we are exposed to literacy at an early age by our families or our teachers. We are taught songs about the alphabet and given papers and pencils with little dashed-line A’s and B’s to trace over and over again in order to build muscle memory and pattern recognition. This is done with the hope that, in the future, those A’s and B’s will become second nature. That there will never be a time that we won’t understand a prescription label or find our way while reading a bus schedule. Because of this early exposure, it is easy to forget that literacy is not an innate human trait but rather a learned skill developed over time. And while this reality, the reality of the majority of adults in the United States, is generally accepted as the norm, is not the reality of so many adults across the globe.
In countries like Malawi, where EKARI Foundation centers its efforts, the majority of adults were not taught this foundational skill in their youth, and instead must navigate the world around them without the ability to read or write. Often times their skills are limited to a general understanding of short, simple words, or recognition of basic phrases they have been able to pick up over time or through the help of those around them. This barrier creates a divide between the kinds of resources they can take advantage of or utilize. They might struggle to find employment, or understand a street sign or menu at the market. They may have issues reading the instructions off of medicine bottles or on a package of food. Even if they have been able to learn those simple words or phrases to get by, there is an invaluable difference between being able to read, being able to read well, and thorough understanding of all information presented.
While education at an early age is vital, and EKARI Foundation makes an enormous effort in bettering the lives of students through core scholastic and livelihood programs, these adults are also in need and their education matters too.
As EKARI Foundation’s mission states, our goal is to educate Malawians toward self dependency. EKARI does not limit opportunity to the younger generation and offers a multitude of community programs for people located in the areas our students live. Those programs include classes surrounding business management, finance, agriculture, vocational training, infrastructure improvements, and, of course, adult literacy. Currently our adult literacy program serves about 200 adults annually. These participants range from a seventeen-year-old mother and high school dropout, to a seventy-year-old grandmother who was never able to attend school.
As with our student programs and all the things we do, EKARI’s overall goals are to empower people and foster self-reliance. While many other nonprofit programs offering food and supplies positively affect the communities that receive them, our goals differ in that we want our impact to last past that bag of rice or individual backpack. We want to ensure that once those supplies run out, the children and families in that community are not left with nothing, waiting for a supply drop to return. Instead, our programs, including the adult literacy program, are in place to reinforce the community over time and teach each person the means of providing for themselves one day, and to pass on those skills to their children and future generations. Finally, it is the hope that someday, these communities and individuals will need no outside assistance at all.
UNESCO reports that as of 2016 only 65.8% of adults in Malawi are literate. For adult men, the literacy rate is 73% and for women it is 59%. Literacy rates are generally worse among older adults than among younger people. And while there are many external factors that are involved in what causes these issues, EKARI Foundation will continue to provide quality education in reading, writing, and many other vital skills to those communities in the Phalombe region. For more information about the Adult Literacy Program, as well as all of our Youth and Community Programs, see the Programs page on our website.
EKARI Foundation Volunteer Coordinator