Building Resilience through Reading

May 7th, 2018 | Story


Isatu was illiterate when she joined the adult literacy program. She could neither read nor write her name, and she had no basic numeracy skills. She struggled to fill out bank slips and was unable to help her eight-year-old daughter with her assignments.

Isatu lived her whole life in Mabella community, a congested coastal slum settlement in Freetown with makeshift housing structures. Residents of this community suffer extreme levels of poverty, illiteracy, and other maladies including severe undernourishment.

Isatu tells her classmates at the SLAES literacy class graduation ceremony how she feels empowered and now wants to continue her education.

These conditions made Mabella particularly susceptible to the Ebola outbreak that ravaged Sierra Leone from 2014 to 2016. While almost 4,000 people across Sierra Leone–including Isatu–survived Ebola, they suffer serious social and economic problems including stigma and discrimination .

JSI’s USAID-funded Advancing Partners & Communities project, in collaboration with Partners in Health (PIH) and the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES), is offering an adult literacy program for Ebola survivors in Freetown. The program has 179 learners enrolled across Westerns Area Urban, with classes hosted at eight different centers, including one in Mabella. The program runs a 3-4 month cycle that teach basic skills including reading, writing, and numeracy.

Since starting the program, Isatu has learned to read and write simple sentences. She can also count and help her daughter with basic math assignments.

“I can still remember the first day our teacher asked me to call the class attendance. I was shaking and terrified, wondering if I could do it. But after a lot of corrections, I finally did it. Can you image that I am the one who calls class attendance on daily basis?” marvels Isatu.

For her, the class has been a life-changing experience. “With all the difficulties around me—family problems, business engagements to make ends meet, and community provocations etc., I still managed to overcome everything. Some people thought that I was wasting my time by trying to learn at my age, I thank God that I was able to do and today, I see myself as heroine.”

More than 175 survivors and their families participated in and graduated from the adult literacy class supported by Advancing Partners & Communities.

Isatu is just one of the 179 Ebola survivors and their family members in Freetown who have benefited from adult literacy classes. The impact of the program extends far beyond the classroom. “Sierra Leone has some of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, especially among women,” says Mara Kadra-Nelson, director of community-based programs for PIH. “We know that illiteracy is linked to poverty and poor health outcomes, and investments in supporting literacy can positively impact so many aspects of a person’s well-being.”

Isatu agrees, “I recommend these classes for any adult wishing to learn how to read and write. Teaching us how to read and write, and also how to be self-reliant, is the start of our journey, after surviving Ebola, toward realizing our hopes and demonstrating resilience.”

Through its partnership with PIH, Advancing Partners & Communities’ Ebola Transmission Prevention and Survivor Services Program—Strengthening Health Services Post-Ebola project supports an intensive capacity-building program with SLAES. The program focuses on key areas of capacity development that enable the organization to be self-sustaining. As one component of this initiative, SLAES leaders learned project management with guidance from the JSI team. They chose to implement the adult literacy project to build community resiliency.

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