Starving for Literacy


If someone holds a book written in his own language but doesn’t know how to read the words, it’s like a starving person holding a fishing net without knowing how to use it.

Although Ezekiel of the Menya people was not a prophet like his biblical namesake, he feels he has helped to open his people’s eyes to the value of literacy.  [Click on photos to enlarge.]

Ezekiel was chosen by a committee to attend a STEP (Strengthening Tokples* Education in Papua New Guinea) course. This course taught adults how to teach and establish preschools in their villages so children could learn to read and write in their own language before learning English in the government-run schools.

During the STEP program, Ezekiel realized that the SIL linguist-translator team wouldn’t be with them forever. He said, “If anything lasting is going to happen in our Menya language, we have to do it.”

After the five-module course held over 18 months, Ezekiel returned to his village and spoke with his relatives. Inspired, one of his relatives donated a plot of ground for coffee; the proceeds were allocated for literacy so their people could learn to read and write, including the Bible someday.

Five Tokples* preschools were eventually established in the area with help from the money of the coffee garden. Many of the Elementary school teachers noticed that the children who attended the Tokples preschools first before entering English-taught schools did much better in school than those who had not.

Ezekiel trained other adults as teachers of the Tokples preschools. Some of these teachers, now literate in their mother tongue, later helped check the flow and fluency of the Menya New Testament translation.

Because the government is now encouraging the use of tokples in the first years of school, Ezekiel is instrumental in teaching the elementary school teachers to read and teach in their own language. Recently fifty teachers attended a voluntary in-service course to develop their mother-tongue teaching skills.

Because one man took action to make it possible for others to learn to read and write, the Menya now have those who are literate in their own language—and no longer starve for literacy.

* Tokples - mother tongue

   Photographer: Pat Whitehead


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