At the end of the 1990s myself and another Baha’i friend travelled to the South American country Guyana to explore an innovative literacy approach called ‘On the Wings of Words’ that proved to be successful in equipping young people with basic literacy capacity and beyond. Here is the advantage of being an international community: our flight was sponsored by a Baha’i international organization and we were also hosted and trained by Baha’i families in Guyana. After a one month training we came back to Ethiopia. We, then, gathered a number of able individuals from Woisso community who can generate local stories and songs for learning, translate some materials to Oromifa language (the language spoken by Woisso community) and started developing a literacy material. We also had Baha’i artists and musicians who can make illustrations to some of the stories and concepts and develop songs for the curricular material we were set out to develop.
The literacy material used a ‘whole-word’ approach where the students start learning to read and write a whole word rather than a single alphabet. The class always started with a discussion on a ‘generative theme’; a word/theme that generates a lot of conversation among participants, say the word ‘Unity’. They deliberate on the issues of unity, decide on actions that can bring unity in the community, hear stories and play games on unity, and finally learn to read and write the whole world ‘Unity’. It combined Baha’u’llah’s concept of education as a tool to reveal the gems of inestimable value hidden in the mine of human beings and a dialogical community advocated by Paulo Freire. We named the project material ‘Conquering the Word’ as we thought it has a different approach and suits the objective and mental state of the learners. We trained some local teachers in the facilitation of the material and started the first literacy class in Woisso. Though the original intention was to offer it for adults, it happened that children had more time to attend and were more enthusiastic than the adults.
Bilisa happened to be one of the children who were the first batch to attend this literacy class. The material proved to be effective and a number of local children started to pass through it. Parents and children, once attended the literacy classes, were inspired and encouraged to go to the closest town to attend formal schools. Bilisa and his other Woisso friends succeeded passing the entrance exam and joined grade 2 of the formal school. Bilisa was a kid then and had no face that I can remember. Slowly, my focus also shifted to something else and I was away from being involved in those activities. In just about 13 years Bilisa finished his primary and secondary schooling and succeeded in being an economics student in Jimma University, one of the good universities in Ethiopia. He is planning to write his senior essay on the new type of economic justice enunciated by Baha’u’llah. Bilisa not only demonstrates how the power of education raises individuals and communities from ashes but also how;education can bring a new insight and vision to our beleaguered world that needs fresh thinkers with fresh thoughts.
The writer is the Representative on Peace Education, The Africa Office of Baha’i International Community (AO BIC) based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. CONT’D from here.