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The Power of Literacy in Woman

I was taking a stroll around my neighborhood and I saw Amuge (about 40 years old) reading a piece of paper torn from a local newspaper under a mango tree in her compound. I passed by her to exchange some words as this is good neighborliness in the Iteso community. I was impressed because as a rural woman, rarely can one expect a woman to seriously be engaged in reading. This piece of paper seemed to have been used for wrapping something from the shop.

Amuge had soaked her clothes for laundry but seemed not in a hurry to wash as reading this piece of newspaper seemed to have pre-occupied her and of great importance at that particular moment. I had a brief chat with Amuge where I learned a lot about her and her family. I was keen to know what was so interesting in that paper that had diverted her attention from her planned laundry wash. Amuge said that reading is something she misses because she had to drop out from school at sixteen years of age to get married. She narrated to me that she had always wanted to become a nurse as a child but her dreams where shattered when her parents married her off to settle a family debt. Her elder sister had divorced and her parents had to refund the dowry to the sister’s husband since it was alleged that she could not bear children in their marriage (this is the Iteso culture). Amuge is a peasant farmer and a fulltime house wife, she cannot access or afford newspapers or books to read. To her any literature should be read because it can change one’s life. “We need information to develop” she says.

Amuge is proud to say that she has enrolled for the Functional Adult Literacy classes in her village and can now read vernacular (Ateso) and reading information from any write up is something she treasures. So whenever she goes to buy anything from the shop or market she is happy when a newspaper is used to wrap her buy. Amuge lamented that, the day she was married off was the day she ‘died’ but the day she joined the FAL classes was the day she ‘resurrected’ and now has a cause to smile because she can now know what is happening in other parts of the country but also use this information to improve on her life. Amuge has 6 children and has vowed to ensure that her children have an education so that they do not miss out like her. Although she tries so hard, she still finds educating her children a huge burden and challenge.

Amuge also told me her husband is illiterate and does not want to accept this. I asked her why she thinks so. "Yes, he would rather go to his friend to read for him a letter other than consult me". This is in line with study conducted by IFAD, 2000 in Uganda that found that when husbands were themselves illiterate, they tended to discourage their wives from attending literacy classes. The wives said that illiterate husbands were threatened by the idea of their wives’ learning to read and write when they themselves could not. Men are willing to allow attendance as long as their wives’ skills do not exceed their own. Alternately, they are afraid that they will lose control at the family level. So why do these men not sign up for classes themselves? According to the study, men who are illiterate sometimes pretend to be literate out of shame and the fear of losing status in the eyes of other villagers. However, some women suggested that if functional adult literacy classes were presented as business training, they would attract more unashamed men.

Amuge is one of the women who are determined to change their lives through literacy. She also has the ambition of becoming a community leader (village councilor for Local council 1) in the next elections now that she is able to read and write basic Ateso language . She says she has gained more confidence now. She also states that being illiterate makes you feel inadequate in society but now I feel I have a great potential. Most women now come to her for advice and even to read for them some of their communications.


Phinnie's picture


What a profound story of your neighbor and her determination as well as an explanation of the societal norms and challenges...In the United States, I'm afraid that we take going to school for granted and then we have a high drop-out rate...Education provides opportunities and knowledge...Thank-you for sharing...Wishing you and Amuge much success!

With admiration and support,

ikirimat's picture


Thanks Phinnie
You are right. we need every effort to keep the girls at school given the benefits associated with it. I was just thinking aloud how best to continue encouraging Amuge to read. Probably support her once every week to convene an informal meeting (ETOP women Club) with about 5-6 women friends, where they can read the local newspaper (ETOP) for 2-3 hours. I could offer to buy the paper every week. (published once a week)/ Whereby they can then discuss with each other. including support each other with empowering ideas.

NB: ETOP in Ateso is the brightest star

Trying to put ideas together

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

Phinnie's picture


Isn't that always the challenge--trying to sustain positive change? Your idea sounds like a good one...anything to get the new readers excited!

Take care!


afrikangoddess's picture


This story is one that touches on a very important issue. Thanks Ikirimat for reminding us of the invaluable benefits of education and the intrinsic desire that many women have to learn if given the opportunity. I sent you a private message, and I hope that you'd give it some thought. Thanks for stopping to have a conversation with Amuge and encouraging her. This is what sisterhood should be all about.

ikirimat's picture


Thanks afrikangoddess for the encouragement, together we can achieve

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

Kadidia's picture


Amuge is what a woman should be about.
Forced to stop her education she never got discouraged to go back to school and she even has ambitions. All that with an uneducated husband, but she will be fighting for what she needs to do for herself.
This is a wonderful story and a story of hope.
I love it.

Kadidia Doumbia

Potter's picture

Grace and Amuge

This is a bveautiful piece! Congratulations to both you and Amuge! done such a stellar job of taking the story of one woman reading one scrap of paper to make eloquent points about the power of literacy. I love your idea of a reading group, supplying the weekly paper. Here is another idea: has Amuge seen the article you wrote? Has she seen the comments written back to you? I think she would be SO excited to see her name in print and to see what others have to say about her. Wow! I will make a promise to you: if you post anything about the reading group, anything about an individual in the group, or (even better) anything a member writes, I will respond here and you can share it with the group. For right now, would you please let Amuge know that I am waiting to hear from her? My happy best wishes to both of you!

AchiengNas's picture

Great story!

Grace, thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us. Thank you for valuing the smallest stories always ignored. I am so happy to hear this. Also there is a 57 year old man in my neighborhood who sat for his S.6 and completed his exams today and next year he is joining the university. My mother is one of the Amuges who went for adult education lately and can now read and write in our local language. Please go ahead and encourage Amuge to support and encourage other women to go for adult education. Nothing is as important as education in the developing world. This is why I kindly request anyone around the world to support the young Amuges so that they are able to support and improve our generation, their generation and the generations to come. Again thank you for sharing this story. Yalama noi!

I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the Opportunity, Education and Motivation ANYONE can become someone admirable. Nobody is a NOBODY, everybody is SOMEBODY.

amiesissoho's picture

Hi Grace. At the end of the

Hi Grace.

At the end of the day, literacy allows participation in a informed manner. There is grace in literacy. Thanks for sharing the article.


Hi all,
Just to let you know that my piece was published in the Afrikan goddess online magazine. Follow the link

I have managed to send Amuge some local news papers and she is excited.

Thanks to WP and VOF and to yo all

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

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