Writing their names with pride

Stella Msosa

We can never anticipate the ripple effects one of our reading programmes might have on a local community. What started as a Book Bus reading programme for 80 children – inspired 60 women to empower themselves to learn how to do something we all take for granted – how to sign their own names.

“The women had never learnt to read and write. In some communities this is not seen as important for women,” says local Nasenga teacher Stella Msosa.

40% illiteracy

Adult illiteracy in Mangochi, Malawi, the area where our Book Bus literacy project is based, is around 40%. It’s disproportionally women that are illiterate and this impacts on their lives in a negative way every day.

For example said Stella, “To access basic health care, forms need to be read and a signature is required. Many women never went to school, married at 14 and spent most of their lives having, and bringing up children. This meant many local women were unable to read forms or sign their own name and had to pay another member of the community to do this for them – money they could not afford to give”, explained Stella.

“We too wanted to learn how to read”

The Book Bus has been working with children in Stella’s primary school, known as Nasenga in Mangochi for almost two years, supporting teachers with our ‘I am a Reader’ literacy programme. Sharing books with inspiring stories is key to getting children engaged in books.

The children went home to the village each week, excited by stories they had heard at their Book Bus sessions. This ignited the women’s curiosity and many visited the school to hear their children read for the first time.

“I was so proud hearing my daughter read”

Women like 38 year old Josephine Simba. “I married very early and now have 10 children. My daughter was learning to read through the Book Bus programme at her school. I watched her as she picked up a book and began to read. I was so proud. I then decided that I must learn how to read myself. That’s when some of the women approached Stella at the school to see if she could help,” she explained.

Women attended classes for 12 months

Over the next 12 months Stella ran literacy classes once a week for the women. The Book Bus supported the programme with books, pens, paper and chalk. One year later, the women can now write their names and many have also started reading.

“It’s wonderful to see and be part of,” says Stella. “It’s never too late to learn how to read and I’m now hoping more women join us so they too can learn how to read and become more independent”.

The ripple effects

“We always measure the impact of our reading programmes with children, says Book Bus project worker, Marian Forkin “However it’s a real joy to hear how the ripple effects of some programmes impact on lives way beyond the classroom to empower women in some of the world’s poorest communities, We’re all very proud to have been part of this programme,“ she concludes.

Find out more about the Book Bus “I am a Reader” programme.