Nowhere are education and literacy needed than in developing nations. This year El Salvador, which endured many years of civil conflict, commenced its first annual “Literacy Brigade” as part of its National Literacy Program. For the first time in El Salvador’s history, the government is providing children with school uniforms, school materials and daily meals, while at the same time combating illiteracy among adults. It’s a daunting task, but it’s already showing results. Salvador Sanchez Cerén, the Minister of Education, notes that since 2010, illiteracy has been eliminated in 6 of the country’s municipalities and hopes to declared El Salvador’s illiteracy rate to be less than 4% within 2 years.
For three weeks this past summer, 28 university students, teachers, workers, mothers and retirees participated in this literacy brigade, bringing hundreds of donated notebooks, pencils and eyeglasses to dozens of communities. The first step in the NLP is to identify candidates with a door-to-door census conducted by NLP staff and community volunteers. The program’s paid promoters work to build local literacy circles in communities by convincing people who cannot read or write – many of whom are women over age 60 – to participate in this free literacy program, while simultaneously organizing community members and young students to share their knowledge and time as literacy teachers. Promoters often have to walk for hours to visit communities beyond the reach of public transportation or roads; often enduring harsh weather conditions, to follow the progress of the literacy circles that they helped build.
The effort obviously is starting to pay off. And, I think it’s well worth the struggle for the educators. In a tiny nation racked by so much violence, education can be a bridge towards a peaceful future. It’s necessity. People reading and writing can produce so much more than people shooting and killing.