How Literacy Transforms Lives

A Life Without Literacy

Taslima Begun is a mom from a big family in a rural village in Bangladesh. Because of her family’s poverty, she never got the chance to attend school as a child. Since she saw herself as “cursed” with illiteracy, marriage to an educated and wealthy man seemed like her only option. For a while, she seemed to have a happy marriage and life…until her husband abandoned her with their young son. Taslima struggled under the burden of making a living without being able to read, write or count. With few ways to make money and less hope that life would be different in the future, Taslima became depressed. Nevertheless, she never stopped thinking of ways she and her son might overcome their poverty.  

Celebrating International Literacy Day 

Today is International Literacy Day, when Food for the Hungry (FH) joins others around the world in promoting literacy as a tool for development. International Literacy Day reminds us of women like Taslima who are caught in a cycle of poverty because they can’t read or write. Despite growth in literacy over recent years, in 2016, there were still 758 million adults around the world unable to read or write. The majority were women.

Not only are those women the most vulnerable to poverty and violence, but we know that education is an effective way to help end poverty. Educating women and girls creates ripples that spread through their families and communities. The child of a mother who can read is more likely to be immunized, twice as likely to go to school, and has a higher chance of living past the age of five. Literacy gives access to better-paying jobs and financial stability. Educated women have higher household incomes. Studies from the World Bank, the UN, and the OECD reveal that literacy is an important step in moving individuals and societies out of poverty through better employment, health, participation in society, and gender equality.

Literacy both creates ways to escape poverty and can be part of a total transformation of how individuals view themselves and their place within their communities.   

The Impact of Empowerment

At FH, we know that the first years of life are essential for setting the foundation for children’s physical and mental growth and development. With that in mind, FH focuses on early childhood education and development that equips little kids to succeed in school. In addition to that, Mitzi Hanold, Director of Education Programs at FH, says, “Children raised by a mother who can’t read are at a great disadvantage entering school. By age six, the child already trails behind his peers in learning and development. Adult Literacy bridges the gap, giving mothers and their children a second chance to aspire, grow and thrive.”

Food for the Hungry’s work with women like Taslima also shows that giving women health knowledge and skills stops illnesses that cause child sickness and death. Consequently, working with illiterate women has long-term impacts on children, families and even entire communities! We’ve seen how helping moms paves the way for their children to succeed in school and escape from poverty.  

However, equally important is seeing illiterate women grow confident as mothers and community leaders through health training, literacy or both. That kind of double outcome is the goal of poverty alleviation. At FH, we want to find empowering solutions that fix the root causes of material poverty and the shame and hopelessness caused by physical circumstances. This means that education is a key element of our work!

Where is Taslima now?

Taslima experienced transformation firsthand and Food for the Hungry’s work in Bangladesh was a big part of her journey. Because of FH, she learned to read, write, and do basic math. With those new skills, plus learning how to sew through FH’s vocational training, she opened her own tailoring business. Now Taslima manages her own business accounts and is able to feed her family. Yet even beyond that, Taslima is no longer depressed. She has the courage to face the future. She gained confidence in her ability to lead her family and participate in her community. Gaining education empowered Taslima to escape poverty. But most of all, learning restored her sense of dignity.

Would you like to join the transformative process?

You can be part of empowering those currently in poverty to live fruitful lives. Here are a few ways you can see others explore their talents, abilities, and potential as people made by God: