"If your God is so mighty, why doesn't He speak my language?"
A Cakchiquel (Guatemala) man to SIL founder William Cameron Townsend
Literacy and education in SIL Cameroon, as well as SIL International, distinctively focuses on developing programs in lesser-known and endangered languages and emphasizes using the mother tongue as the gateway to basic literacy. SIL's vision for language programs is to see literacy become a sustainable community value with the ownership of literacy goals and activities in the hands of the people. This is achieved by maintaining a focus on training and capacity building of local people who can participate in and lead in both adult and children's literacy efforts, in formal and informal settings.
Literacy may have become a current "buzz word," but the importance of this major global issue has long been recognized by international educators as directly impacting quality of life. Members of minority groups, without pen, paper, or literature in print in their own language, or literacy in any other language, are marginalized and certainly on the downside of the so-called digital divide. The current intensity and speed of globalization compounds the urgency of addressing the issue of literacy for all, especially among the poor and marginalized on as many fronts as possible.
Improving educational achievement is an outcome that can be realized through multilingual, mother-tongue education programmes, particularly in the rural areas of Cameroon. When children arrive at school on their first day, they don't come with empty "baskets." Rather, they come with a storehouse of cultural and linguistic knowledge based on their mother tongue and cultural heritage learned at home. This is a ready storehouse upon which a strong foundation for literacy, first in the mother tongue and then in an international language, can be built.
Adults, too, can benefit from the acquisition of literacy skills later in life. Often, adults who have not learned to read and write as children, faced insurmountable barriers such as learning to read and write in a foreign language. By tackling literacy in their mother tongue, the skill and confidence they gain can then be transfered to realizing success in learning to read and write in English, or French, while maintaining a connection to their own cultural heritage.
Literacy remains a major global challenge. September 8 each year is an occasion to give hope to the millions of women, men and children who cannot read or write even their own names. International Literacy Day is a timely reminder to the world about the importance of literacy for individuals, families, communities and whole societies.
Fulfulde mother tongue literacy classes held during the school holidays proved to be a great success. Three Fulani secondary school students taught the classes. The classes grew in size quickly. So, new classes were formed with late primary school students now teaching their younger brothers and sisters.
Young boys who help care for the cattle discovered that they, too, could read and write about their own interests and experiences. With this new sense of empowerment, they eagerly came to the classes to read their stories written while out with the cows.
Using a whole language approach that encourages creative writing, evenings were filled with the youths visiting the elders of the community to gather traditional stories that they could write down and read in the next days classes. Rediscovering their own rich traditions, they created excitement among the elders who asked to have their own literacy classes.
Who would be the helpers for these classes? The younger children are sitting with their elders in the evening, helping them learn to read.
Generations have been bridged together through the power of mother tongue literacy.
The Kande story is the story of a girl who lost both her parents because of HIV/AIDS, leaving her to care for her six siblings. This
story has been translated into 15 languages during various regional translation workshops in Cameroon. It is an excellent book for use
in functional literacy classes, as well as in other ways that help raise awareness of IV/AIDS.
An elderly lady from Kikay village in Kumbo subdivision commented, We started hearing stories about this sickness from afar. Now that the sickness is with us and is speaking our language, even the greatest fool should understand that it is not a matter to joke about."
A female Community Education and Action Centre (CEAC)
student from the post-primary school at Sop, where the Kande story is part of the curriculum, testified, Through the study of the Kande story, I have adjusted my lifestyle, turning my back to immorality. My
task now is to influence my friends to copy my example."
Abdou is another student from the CEAC post-primary school at Sop. He said, This book has not only taught me how I can keep
myself pure. I have also learned how I can teach others and help any of my relatives who are infected with HIV/AIDS."
Literacy is not merely a cognitive skill of reading, writing and arithmetic, for literacy helps in the acquisition of learning and life skills that, when strengthened by usage and application throughout peoples lives, lead to forms of individual, community and societal development that are sustainable
Koïchiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General International Literacy Day