Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Literacy in a Land Far From Home

Chiapas, Mexico --

Last week I was in the jungle of Mexico working with people who spoke three languages but could not read a word. I was fascinated by this concept. Reading to them out in the jungle, hours from the nearest city, was not a priority. This idea really hit home when I tried to explain to the people of the village what it was that I did for a living. How do I explain that what I do all day long is read and write--two skills that were completely foreign to this community? Eventually we came to an understanding that I told stories and promoted stories for my work. They knew of reading and writing, of course, and begged to be taught.

The hunger they possessed to learn how to communicate through the written word helped me realize how fortunate we are to live in a place where literacy is often a skill taken for granted. Everyone knows how to read and write. What a gift for us!

Looking up a few quick stats:

Georiga, USA Literacy rate: 99.5%
Chiapas, Mexico Literacy rate: 67%

Georgia, USA (kids that reach 5th grade): 98%
Chiapas, Mexico (kids that finish 1st grade): 28%

Although these villagers cannot read and write, they can speak three languages. Chiapas is FULL of dialects driven from the ancient Mayans. And, let me tell you these dialects sound NOTHING like Spanish. These languages have stops and clicks as "letters" in them. It's taken me two trips in two years to accomplish 10 words and these children were speaking basic English by the time I left for the States. It amazed me how quickly English stuck in their minds.

There is SO much I could tell you about this trip, but I just wanted to take a moment and share with you a glimpse of my experience. Big thanks to The Knight Agency for supporting me and extending their love of reading and writing across the border!


Blogger Chisem said...

Julie you experienced a great truth. It is the underprivileged that seem to take the greatest delight in education, not the privileged in America where an education is available to everyone.

Last summer I visited Thomas Jefferson's home where I learned that young blacks learned to read and write under the penalty of death, should they be discovered. Their teacher was Jefferson's daughter. The students and teacher dared discovery each night by meeting in a log hut a mile or so from the mansion where they studied by firelight.

I wish this story could be told to every American student who denies himself an education. Okay, I know some of your readers will point to bad situations for today's youth, but are they truly more persecuated than those children of slavery only a century ago?

Thanks for your wonderful, heart-warming story, and I hope you turn your accounts into a book.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007 at 2:55:00 PM EDT  

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