The Literacy Ladies of The Central African Republic

This International Women's Day we're celebrating the amazing women in the Central African Republic. Written off by their society and in the midst of civil war, Ken Dachi discovers how they've been empowered by Scripture in their spiritual lives – and beyond. 

School wasn't in session but you could hear voices from one of the classrooms. It sounded like women singing.

The country’s tense, and so, getting to this little town on the outskirts of the capital was, logistically, very hard. A journey that should have taken 10 minutes, took about an hour. But our staff team in the Central African Republic wanted me to see it.  

We entered the classroom and saw that it was full of women. When the singing finished, each got up, walked to front of the classroom and wrote something on the chalk board, in their local language, Sango. I don't speak Sango, so I was relying on sign language until there was a break for some translation. 

It transpired they were writing words that meant something to them from Bible. They wrote about topics like hope and love, using Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation as reference texts. I discovered most women couldn't read and write before they’d started meeting in this classroom.

These women are part of a literacy programme that uses Scriptures as reference texts. In Central African Republic, approximately 80% of the population consider themselves Christian, but many don't, or can't, read the Bible for themselves - especially not these women. But here they learn to read and write, spell, construct sentences.

The programme specifically targets marginalised women. These were women who’d been affected by war. They'd lost family members. Most of their husbands had either died in war or were out fending for the family and, because of how harsh the environment is, they might be away for weeks or months at a time. In a patriarchal society like this one, women are very much forgotten. 

I thought of the journey we'd taken to get there. Roads are potholed, public transport is dysfunctional. Most women get there by motorbike, bicycle or on foot. To see them gathered isn't a simple feat: it's a great sacrifice that gets them into one classroom. These women were committed.

And they’re reaping the benefits. I asked one of the ladies what this class, this learning, has meant to her. 'Respect,' she says. 'My husband said, "I have noticed there's something different about you... does it have anything to do with this place you go to twice a week? You are doing most of the things yourself - engaging with shop keepers." I told him, "Yes, I attend literacy classes."'

What really moved me was watching four of these women get up and read the Scriptures out loud. It was fascinating because you can tell they've only just broken into learning. You could read the joy on their faces.

Another lady had stood to read Psalm 128. 'Well now I know what it means,' she said. 'I can read for myself and know what it means; I can know God cares for me. It's one thing hearing from my church leader but it's different when I can see it myself.'

There is so much joy

She now considers herself a productive member of society. When you are marginalised, you are a forgotten entity, no one sees any value in you. She can now understand her value as an individual. The environment of learning has been a life-changing, transforming place. 

A third lady told me she had never ever been inside a classroom before joining the programme. She knew schools existed but had never had the privilege or opportunity to attend. She has not missed one single session. 

To be there and to see all this redefined my understanding of hope. Looking at the news coming from the Central African Republic, you will not hear stories likes this; only news about the war. You need to dig deeper and find pockets of hope. God still ministers to his people. 

There is so much joy. 

Find out about funding this project.

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