Teaching Women to Read the Word
A literacy project in northern Togo receives support from the LCMS.
Can you imagine being illiterate? You wouldn’t be able to decipher the instructions for your medication or read the road signs telling you which way to go.
In the remote reaches of northern Togo, this is the case for many women. Some never had the opportunity to attend school. Others learned their country’s national language, French, but can’t read or write the language they use every day.
The Lutheran Church of Togo, the Synod’s partner church in the West African country, is looking to change that through an ongoing literacy project. More than 170 women — as well as a few men, including one village chief — attend classes at 16 different project sites to learn to read and write their native language: the Mual dialect of the Moba language.
A grant from the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League initially made this work possible. The LCMS later gave grants of $2,000 in 2016 and $800 in 2017 to keep the work going. Classes are held each year during Harmattan, the dry and dusty season when there is little work done in the fields.
There are few printed resources in Mual, so LCMS missionary Valerie Sue Stonebreaker worked with local church leaders last spring to create a booklet of phonetics and short stories to use during class. Stonebreaker said that while the program provides students with useful skills and a sense of accomplishment, the ultimate goal is to teach them to read so that they can understand God’s Word in their own language.
“I would like for these village women (and men) to have the opportunity, the blessing, of being able to read God’s Word for them in the language that speaks to their hearts,” Stonebreaker wrote via email. “I would like them to be able to have access to God’s Word daily … not only on Sunday mornings.”
But learning to read and write Mual isn’t an easy task. There are many variations to the language, so students and teachers often have to work together to figure out the best way to write words and expressions. Some students also face criticism from family members who think the classes are a waste of time.
Despite the challenges, the students have greatly improved their reading, writing and counting skills. Several students are even able to read texts from the Mual New Testament during the Sunday service.
“I have been held back from attending school, and I was not even able to read or write my name,” said Kolani Koudoubik, a woman in her 40s who attended classes at one of the project sites. “Now, because I attended literacy class organized by my church, I’m able to read the signposts and … know where to go.”
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