International Literacy Day is Sept. 8. It was started by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) and first celebrated in 1966. The observance helps raise awareness that there are millions of people worldwide who lack basic reading and writing skills. Numerous studies have shown a direct link between illiteracy and poverty, especially as more jobs require reading skills.
What do you think your life would be like if you couldn’t read?
Many mothers who are part of the Unbound program already know what it’s like. Primitiva in Bolivia is one of them.
“I felt helpless,” said Primitiva, who has two children sponsored through Unbound. “I used to cry because I could not help my younger children [with schoolwork]. My older children couldn’t help because they were in class.”
Though Bolivia has a high adult literacy rate, 94.5 percent as of 2012 according to the World Bank, there are many whose situations prevented them from learning to read and write.
For Primitiva, going to school wasn’t much of an option when she was a child. She had an abusive stepfather and left her home at 8 years old to live with her uncles in the Cochabamba area of Bolivia.
Unfortunately, her uncles didn’t see education as a priority. Primitiva acted as their maid, working without pay. When she was 18, she was finally able to move out and got a job at a restaurant where she met her husband, Felipe.
They were married for more than 20 years until Felipe’s passing in 2006. Since then, Primitiva has struggled to support their seven children, a task made more difficult by her lack of formal education and inability to read and write.
With children sponsored through Unbound, Primitiva participates in group discussions with other mothers. It was during one of these meetings that she learned about a special opportunity.
“The program coordinator Lilian Sola talked to us about literacy courses,” Primitiva said. “She was the one to teach us in the first level. With the support of the local education ministry, we received all the materials, books and notebooks we needed for the learning process. The class took five months.”
After completing the first level of the course alongside 10 other mothers, Primitiva continued on with her literacy training. Every Tuesday and Thursday she travels more than an hour to attend a class taught by an Unbound scholarship student in the area.
“I am so happy to be able to read and write; I have to learn more,” she said.
Becoming literate has been a personal success for Primitiva, boosting her confidence and self-esteem. Most importantly, she now has the tools she needs to help her children with schoolwork.
“I can help my youngest daughter do her homework,” Primitiva said. “Sometimes I correct her and this makes me so happy. Sometimes I read books with her.”
By encouraging her children to learn, Primitiva is helping ensure illiteracy doesn’t become a multi-generational issue, as is often the case. And at 52, she’s taking on the challenge of educating herself.
“It’s never too late to learn,” Primitiva said. “With effort and willingness you can learn many things.”
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