A year ago, Leonard Nepiyara, from Makata Village on the eastern portion of Blantyre rural, could not read and value a simple message about weather outlook.
Any message alert on his mobile phone pushed him to his friend who had become handy in writing and reading short texts for him.
“It was embarrassment after embarrassment. Imagine owning a mobile phone but failing to effectively use it because of illiteracy,” Nepiyara recalls with reprehensible nostalgia.
He reveals that there were moments he would simply ignore messages on his mobile phone because he could not be turning to his friends now and then every moment he received a text.
That, he admits, meant he could miss important messages about his farming business and several other activities in his household.
“For instance, these days, a lot of organisations send messages about health, agriculture, nutrition and the weather through mobile phones. You don’t always have to turn to someone else to understand these messages.
“It is really embarrassing to be illiterate in this day and age. You are excluded from a lot of things including development activities. You cannot even get some positions in village committees,” Nepiyara states.
Such feelings compelled the father of 10 to enrol into an adult literacy programme which Blantyre District Council is facilitating in its 364 centres.
He is among just two men and 83 women in Traditional Authority (T/A) Makata who were declared literate in Chichewa following an assessment of 10 months of classes that commenced in March and wound up in December last year.
“It feels good to be part of those who have been declared literate. My next step is to enrol into the English programme. It was not easy to make the decision of attending the adult literacy classes.
“Many men are not willing to attend such classes because they feel it is a waste of time. It is not and I am a witness. I am able to properly plan for my family even in terms of nutrition. It is working,” Nepiyara brags.
For their feat, the now-literate men and women were awarded certificates last Thursday during a ceremony that took place in T/A Makata’s area.
In the English programme, two males and 16 females were declared literate and consequently awarded certificates for their achievement.
Speaking on behalf of T/A Makata at the event, Group Village Head Ntotera waxed lyrical about the progress in adult literacy education in the area, saying education missed in the formal system must be realised in other possible ways.
“No leader finds glory in having people who cannot read, write or count. These elements are at the centre of everything. For you to meaningfully contribute to the development of your area and your country, you need to have some basic literacy.
“That is why here, we, traditional leaders are leading by example. There are adult literacy classes specifically for traditional leaders because we appreciate the importance of such knowledge,” Ntotera said.
He also holds that those who shun adult literacy classes when they are illiterate should be excluded from development initiatives.
“The government wants education to be for all. The government wants Malawians to be able to read and write. Now, there are village savings and loans groups which require that members should have these skills apart from numeracy skills.
“This reduces disagreements on sharing the money. That is why we are stressing that everyone across T/A Makata should know how to read, write and count,” Ntotera says.
The message frequently reverberates across the rural location whose leader has vowed to ensure attaining adult literacy is not optional.
As some men stay away from the classes, he also devises ways of ensuring they pay for the negligence.
“Why should someone ignore this kind of education if they are not able to read and write, yet their leaders have humbled themselves and are taking part?” queries Ntotera.
During the certificates award ceremony, Makata’s men and women displayed the knowledge they have acquired through the adult literacy lessons in various ways.
Prominent among them was the hoisting of placards bearing various messages such as those announcing that the signing of documents by fingerprinting is over.
Blantyre District Community Development Officer, Agness Napwanga, says the functional literacy approach that is being applied in the programme produces results right away.
“It is unlike formal education whose results are often seen after one graduates from secondary school or college. In adult literacy classes, they get the skills which they apply right away. For instance, if they learn how to count, they use the knowledge right away in activities such as businesses,” Napwanga says.
She is particularly elated that a programme that starts with those without prior knowledge of reading and writing wipes out all that incapacity within 10 months for those pursuing Chichewa lessons.
English lessons are conducted for two years before those who make it leap into Standard Eight if they desire.
“The skills are enough to help those who have attained them to even plan how and what to eat in their households. In this case, functional literacy can be linked to nutrition.
“It also helps in family planning. Families are able to make decisions about how many children to have after they gain the knowledge during the classes. Those who have attained the adult literacy knowledge are also able to take part in development projects,” she says.
Napwanga desires to see more and more people joining adult literacy classes which are also touted as contributing to the improvement of economic development of households.
She says her office is willing to make adjustments that can accommodate those willing to take the lessons but are being impeded by various factors.
“For instance, if there are those who would rather attend the classes in their age groups, we are ready to make special arrangements. Our desire is that no one should be left behind,” she declares.
One of the instructors, MacDonald Ngalande, explains that the literacy education that some residents of his area have acquired is improving their lives.
Ngalande admits that not long ago, despite that adult literacy education has been offered for several years, many men and women in T/A Makata were not able to read and write.
“Because of illiteracy, most parents could not properly take care of their families. Simple messages about nutrition could not be understood. That is no longer the case,” Ngalande says.
For Nepiyara, there is still more room to advance with education beyond the walls of adult literacy lessons which he still does not understand why he used to despise