If you’re reading this right now, congratulations! You and I can count our selves among the lucky ones, because according to UNESCO, 781 million adults in the world today cannot read or write. Of those, two-thirds of them are women.
Could you imagine? So much of our daily lives in the United States revolve around reading. Imagine not being able to read letters or text messages from friends. Imagine how difficult it would be to navigate to a new place, read a menu at a favorite restaurant or keep up on current events. And then on top of the mild inconveniences, imagine trying to find a job.
Ashiya (right) sits with her granddaughter. After receiving her literacy training, she knows that her grandchildren’s education is of the utmost importance.
In Bangladesh, the literacy rate is much lower than the U.S. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, 41.5 percent of women over the age of 15 are illiterate. This is largely due to the fact that families either cannot afford school, or only choose to pay for school for their sons. In Bangladesh, men traditionally stay and take care of their parents, so education for boys is seen as an investment. Families see it as a better investment to marry their girls to educated men rather than paying for her education.
Up until three years ago, 50-year-old Ashiya Begem was one of those women.
Ashiya grew up in Char Borobila, Mymenshingh Bangladesh, where she attended school until fourth grade, when her family could no longer afford it. Shortly after that, she was married at age 12. Quickly following, she became the mother to two children. Ashiya says her desire to learn never waned but she did not have the means to go back for her education.
That was until she joined a FH literacy group in 2012, where she received her second chance at an education. Ashiya attended literacy training for eight months, where she learned basic lessons on both the English and Bangla alphabet and numbers. In her group she learned how to read, write, do basic math and how to sign her signature. She can also recite poems after learning how to read. Being literate has boosted Ashiya’s confidence and stressed the importance of education for her grandchildren.
“I got a second opportunity to be educated,” Ashiya said. “I want to make my grandchildren educated as well. I want to help them with their education.”
Ashiya is now equipped to help her grandchildren with their homework, which she loves because her dream is to see her grandchildren complete their education.
She also continues to pursue her own development. Currently, she is learning lessons on health, law and values, as well as savings money for future investments. Ashiya is an active member of her learning and savings group and manages all the accounts of her group as an active cashier. Her future dream she has for her group is to build a stronger Village Organization (VO) for her community.
The more Ashiya learns, she says, the more she understands the value of education.
Do you take for granted your ability to read? I know I have a tendency to do that. But let’s agree to stop taking it for granted and appreciate our educational privileges. Then, let’s pay it forward. To help women like Ashiya learn to read, click here.