BUNYAD Foundation, also known as Bunyad Literacy Community Council is a nonprofit civil society organization founded in 1991 by a group of intelligentsia primarily to literate the children from deprived communities. Realizing its impact on children’s lives,the BUNYAD was registered in 1994 under Societies Registration Act 1860 to serve its cause via professional and systematic approaches. The foundation started its operations by establishing five basic literacy centers in rural areas of district Hafizabad, Punjab, with donations of local philanthropists which set forth its journey of community uplift via dedicated and endurable future plans. With the passage of time and commitment to the cause, the foundation grew surprisingly every year serving diverse beneficiaries in expanded populations. The foundation’s history of 25 years witnessed constant growth multiplying its beneficiaries into millions, reaching grass-root communities in around 21 districts of Pakistan, and expanding its operations other areas like health, microfinance, gender, education, environment, child as well as minority rights.
8 September is International Literacy Day. If you are reading this, it probably does not mean much to you.
It didn’t mean much to me either. Almost as long as I could remember, everybody around me read. Illiteracy did not exist in my vocabulary. By the time I reached the third grade, my sister and I were already reading big tomes of that great Chinese epic, The Three Kingdoms, in our own language, Thai, to our parents as an after dinner recreation.
My grandmother who would have been 130 years old if she was still alive today, indulged a good part of her days reading series of great Thai classics. She read piles of books such as the story of a Burmese king whose prowess won him colonies in 10 directions and women in more. She read in prose and poetry and quoted from them. Reading was an automatic, natural act to her.
As a girl, her father wrote letters of the alphabet on her bare back. He made her trace his writing in her imagination and pronounce it. She grew up to be a reading junkie. Raised in her large household in southern Thailand, I couldn’t possibly understand the scope of what illiteracy could mean to a person, much less to a nation.
UNESCO just reported that 758 million adults 15 years and older still cannot read or write even a simple sentence. Two-thirds of them are women.
If we know how it feels to be illiterate, maybe we’ll think about the word differently.
An anonymous Californian man told Author Jonathan Kozol of his predicament.
“I stood at the bottom of the ramp. My car had broke down on the freeway. There was a phone. I asked for the police…They said to tell them where I was. I looked up at the signs. There was one that I had seen before. I read it to them: ONE WAY STREET. They thought it was a joke. I told them I couldn’t read. There was other signs above the ramp. I looked around for somebody to help. All the cars was going by real fast. I couldn’t make them understand that I was lost. The cop was nice. He told me: ‘Try once more.’ … I couldn’t read. I only knew the sign above my head. The cop was trying to be nice. He knew that I was trapped. ‘I can’t send out a car to you if you can’t tell me where you are.’ I felt afraid. I nearly cried. I’m forty-eight years old. I only said: ‘I’m on a one-way street …’ ”
The torment, the frustration not to mention the humiliation of this unknown man brings home the fact that real women and men like him are, in fact, just like us, though their voices are rarely heard and faces rarely seen.
Then came along SueTorr. She was addressing an auditorium full of international audience at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. Her face was in the bright light, her voices brimmed with emotions. Many grown men were spotted crying a she spoke. Sue Torr learnt to read and write at the age of 38. Until then, “Everyday of your life is frustration, fear, anger, isolation embarrassment and rage. You have no self-esteem. You lie a lot.” Once she got a break, her life changed forever. “You get the feeling that you want to learn it all, NOW. Then you realise for the first time in your life that getting an education is so important.” Sue wrote a play, Shout It Out, which was performed in schools all over Great Britain. She also wrote a book, Secrets, about her past which came with an additional easy- to- read version for new readers. Her life has become an inspiration to many like her. Sue’s service to the nation earned her a royal decoration, Member of the Order of the British Empire.
While we don’t know how life turned out for that anonymous Californian, Sue did not transform their lives into happy, contributing and empowered citizens without help. Across the world, people are struggling hard to facilitate the learning of people like them. These literacy workers, many serve as volunteers, are often not even recognised as teachers. Called literacy workers, auxiliary workers, or just simply temporary employees, they work under dire and unstable conditions, underpaid, if paid at all, often risking their own safety in remote difficult areas with little material or other support. Their dedication, stamina and wisdom have humbled me and inspired me.
On this Day, also their Day, I bow my head low to them in respect and gratitude.
One person stands out for me, in this regard, Pakistan’s Shaheen Atiq-ur-Rahman. Sure, Pakistan is not exactly a country one thinks of as outstanding example of literacy. But Shaheen has focussed her life on educating women, young girls and young children in the country’s poor rural areas. Bunyad Foundation, where she has worked since 1992, steadily produced the highest number of literacy graduates in the country. The graduates transformed themselves into autonomous, productive and engaged citizens through programmes integrating literacy skills with other relevant life skills like sewing and raising goats.
Shaheen also has engaged with carpet factories that use small children to tie tiny knots making up fine carpets to allow the children to learn. She did the same with small boys who stitch leather pieces to make footballs and the boy camel jockeys. She saw to it that the lessons are relevant to learners. In a country where Islam is a way of life, the first letter is introduced as A: Allah, for example. In this way, the Bunyad programme wins approval of the communities they serve and attracts more learners.
The evaluation of the programmes indicates that most graduates are now leading more independent lives, for example, finding their own directions, and administering medication to their families and reading the Qu’ran by themselves. They developed self-reliance and confidence which, in turn, has enhanced the status of women within their families and communities. Her latest project is using mobile phones to facilitate reading and writing skills.
Shaheen’s work has brought her into the International circle. People like the president of the World Bank, other top United Nations officials and a US president and First Lady have heard and praised her stories. She has partnered with several world agencies -ILO, UNESCO, UNICEF- to name but a few. She shared her experiences with others like her across the globe with her direct no-nonsense talks. Yet what impresses me most about Shaheen is her unwavering belief that education can save her people and her country.
Born in a privileged family in a country where class system rules supreme, Shaheen has never minded going among the poorest of the poor to persuade them to learn. A hands-on woman, she dashes around Lahore and the dusty country roads of the Punjab in the heat, her thin scarf loosely flipped over her fluffy hair. She leads training programmes, lobbies local leaders and politicians, encourages and honours literacy teachers, informs, provokes and amuses the media with her wits and humour and fixes the many unexpected problems.
Once, a phone call woke her up in the middle of night. A literacy worker was in a predicament. One of her young learners had eloped. The fearful couple ended up on her doorstep. She sheltered them. But this could not last. If discovered, tradition could win and everyone’s life would be in danger, not to mention Bunyad’s credibility.
Yes, working in literacy is an eternal struggle. It’s never glamorous. If it is well done, literacy work often means getting your hands, and often your feet, dirty. It means unlearning what you believed about these people. It means showing respect to them and meaning it. It means consultation because, once imposed, the impact of the idea is likely to dwindle. It also means eating what the people eat, and sometimes not eating. It also involves speaking the same kind of language and, working with people so they could help themselves, reach out and realize their aspirations. It also means knowing when to leave them to fend for themselves confident that they are running their own lives.
Most importantly, it means learning from these people, who though illiterate, are not stupid.
Registering children specially separated, unaccompanied, orphan and child headed households. Maintaining daily attendance. Providing recreational facilities to the children and conducting recreational activities. Conducting sessions on health and hygiene and different child protection issues with the children. Inquiring from the children about their dreams, fears, problems, identifying of CP issues with the children, recording the issues and notifying to the CP Monitors and CP Coordinator and suggesting the solutions. Taking care of the material provided in the CFS and ensuring its cleanliness.
Please encourage poor children to go to school…as Education means Knowledge and….. knowledge leads to better decision..and better Decision leads to better….