“I Couldn’t Sign My Own Name”

It’s difficult for many of us to imagine what it’s like to live in a remote village in Nepal. While rural life can seem idyllic in many ways, rural villagers are often cut off from education – particularly women who often never had the opportunity to go to school as girls. The way women move through the world is very different; they may need to get permission from their husbands to leave the house, and even when they do leave their homes, their inability to read or write can leave them feeling vulnerable. In effect, they have to rely on others for information.

This was how Durga lived for more than 40 years. She wasn’t able to help her daughters with homework, read directional signs on the bus, or know if she was being paid enough when selling things at the market. Eventually, she experienced what she describes as her “worst day being illiterate.”

“While my husband was away, a plumber came to our home to repair a leaking pipe. When he finished his work, he asked me to sign my name. I felt so embarrassed because I didn’t know how.”

Imagine not knowing how to sign your name or read an invoice to know if you’re being overcharged.

With the encouragement of her daughters, Durga began visiting her local READ Center and participating in their 3 month literacy class. She gradually learned how to read and write both in Nepali and English and also learned how to do basic math. This changed Durga’s whole world and gave her new hope for her future.

“When my uncle was sick and I wanted to visit him, I asked the bus station attendant if there was a bus to his village and they said no. But when I walked over to read the sign, it said that there actually was a bus to his village. The station attendant had made a mistake, but I never would have known or been able to visit my sick uncle if I hadn’t learned to read at the READ Center.”

Now, Durga is able to be self-reliant and confident – she happily reads to her grandchildren, gets around town on the bus, and uses her calculator to pay her bills. Her next goal is to take advanced computer classes at the READ Center to be able to communicate with her family via email. We are excited to see what she will do next!

A Village’s Hope Restored

Ashwini has been a force of change in her community since high school.

Growing up in the remote village of Aurangabad, India, Ashwini had always aspired to become a teacher. She began pursuing a teaching degree after receiving her high school diploma, and it wasn’t long before she decided to focus specifically on the illiterate women and girls of her village who hadn’t had the same opportunities that she did.

After earning her teaching degree, Ashwini met with the staff at her local READ Center to build a teaching plan. They strategically built the curriculum and organized educational materials around the most important skills for the women of Aurangabad, and then began to mobilize women who wanted the opportunity to be literate.

The classes had an immediate impact on the women. Several of them began earning income through agriculture using their new knowledge of seeds and crops. The mothers could now understand what their children were studying and helped them get better grades in school. Some of the women even launched their own businesses and sold their products directly to customers, instead of being forced to rely on middlemen who had taken advantage of them in the past.

“I am 48 years old and I now know how to read numbers,” says Mrs. Sumitra Pawar, one of Ashwini’s students. “Before, I wasn’t able to use a phone because I didn’t understand the numbers. But the first thing I did after completing Ms. Ashwini’s class was buy my own cell phone. Now, I can call my family or dial emergency numbers if necessary on my own, without depending on anyone else.

Creating Opportunities From Scratch

18-year-old Nima was never sent to school as a child and married very young. She took on a housewife role and spent most of her days isolated at her parents’ farm. Unfortunately, Nima’s experience is quite common for girls growing up in her rural village in eastern Bhutan.

Luckily, a relative wanted more for Nima and enrolled her in a literacy program at the Changiji READ Center. Although Nima walked through the door without having ever read a book or writing anything in her life, she now has the ability to tutor her younger cousins.

“Because of the literacy classes, I can read signs on the streets, fill out forms at the bank, and also use my mobile phone. If I could learn all of this in the matter of a year, I can’t imagine what I could learn if I keep going to the READ Center.”

In addition to her literacy classes, Nima now attends several of the other trainings at her READ Center as well, including Leadership Skills and Basic Finances. She has spread the word about the trainings in her community and frequently brings her friends along with her.

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