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Update on my Women's Adult Literacy sessions

I have not written here for a while. The last time I wrote, I mentioned my new adult literacy class in Bwaise, a slum in Uganda’s capital Kampala. I have been spending 3-4 hours a week with them since I started. This is my third week and I am beginning to get the hang of things. I don’t feel as overwhelmed as I did, starting out. Questions like “Am I enough for them?”, “Will I give them what they need?” have been replaced with a resolve to give them the best that I can and know that that is good enough, that it created enough change in their lives. So much happens in every session so instead of trying to recap all of them, I will write about the last two.

They are an amazing group and they break and mend my heart every day. Yesterday Halima asked me to show her how to write her name. I had noticed that on the sheet that went around on the first day, she wrote it as “HALIA” and because she is in my section of those that never went to school at all, I was having her learn the alphabet first. She is a mother of three (a 4 year-old. 2 year-old and a 3 month-old). On Mondays, she goes to a meeting with a savings and credit group she is a part of so I usually wait for her because I don’t want her to miss either the meeting or the learning session. We conversationally talked about her 3 month-old baby who I asked after and she got comfortable enough to show me the name she had written in the palm of her hand on the way to the meeting. She asked if she had got the spelling right. Halima has been writing her name (she writes just one because she can’t write the other) in her hand so when the time comes to register, she copies what she has in her palm. I thought of the number of times I had written my own name, without thinking how I even ever learned to do that and how I knew that “Rebecca” was not different from “REBECCA”. In the moment that I showed her how to write her name and explained the difference between capital and small letters, she taught me to remember that little things, the ones we did not think about, are the ingredients of the bigger things.

Paskazia, 27, is perhaps one of my favourites. She insists on kneeling while she greets me and when she says bye after the sessions. She is very soft-spoken, is from a family of 8 and says she did not get a chance to go to school because there was no money. She won my heart- again- when on Thursday, she offered her book (she always carries an extra one) to a new member of the session. I heard a small voice say, in Luganda, “I can give her mine to use now and when she comes for the next class, she will have bought her own.” The support!

The new member then was Saniya. She is 47 years-old and sells produce in the market. She joined us rather dramatically. She peeped into the room we use and asked, in Luganda, “Is this where they are teaching women to speak English?” I looked up from Allen’s exercise that I was looking over. She continued addressing Olivia, another of the women in the group, about how she wanted to join too. She completely ignored me and I realised that it must have been that I looked young, that I looked more like student than teacher. As she waited for me to finish what I was doing, she kept going on and on to the other women about how she was done with not being able to write out money in words. I had gone to the bank earlier last month and I had sat at an extra chair in the Customer Service corner and helped some women fill out their withdrawal slips. I had not thought about the frustration they might have felt. I had just instinctively gone to their aid because the lines were long and it seemed easy to help since I was not exactly rushing out of the bank to go anywhere important. I had been visiting my family in Mubende and I was taking all the rest I could get. It was when Saniya talked about it that I remembered and realised what it must have felt like to wait in line for someone to help them fill out the withdrawal slips.

It has not been completely easy. The children get sick. There have been a couple of funerals to attend and several other family emergencies. But the dedication! My oh my! Allen yesterday came without her homework done. She said she had just come back from burying her grandmother. She comes with her son Amon sometimes because she has nowhere else to put him for that one hour.

There are hardly quick results but I celebrate every victory. They are writing less in vernacular in their compositions, Paskazia remembers some words when we read them and the spelling exercises are going much, much better. Every word they get right is a reward. Sometimes result is writing out a name, other times it is helping with letter writing when they need to make a claim and need reassurance on the letter they have written.

So yes, I might not be able to give them everything they need but I can give them some of what I have. It is not enough to write for them, even when that is good. It is much better to teach them to write it so that they will not need any more help. These women have an agency that hits me so hard sometimes, I stumble from the power they wield. They know exactly what they want and they are setting aside time in their busy schedules to let a young girl help them get it. These women are kind of my she-roes.


jacollura's picture

Love this!

Thank you for this touching post and for your empowering work! I know exactly what you mean when you say the women break and mend your heart everyday.
Please keep writing.

Wendyiscalm's picture


Hi Rebecca,

Your article has so many touching heartstring moments. I work in Zambia but live in Chicago (Obama-land) and as you tell us about some of the students I can see and feel the innocence that so many of us often miss. Your humbleness is amazing. You give them so much. But it is so apparent that those who have the least to give, give you SO-O-O much of what really matters and what life is all about. "You have touched me, I have grown." Often we forget that in our busy, rush to the top mentality.

Thank you for sharing. I am still smiling with joy as I write this because of what you wrote.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),


Wendy Stebbins
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Susan K.A.'s picture

Wonderful Work!

Dear Rebecca,

Just wanted to thank you for doing the work that you do--you are making a huge difference in these women's lives and the lives of their children. Sometimes we can't appreciate the impact our acts of kindness and care has on others, but know that your work is hugely important in giving these women hope. We're all connected...Thank you for being a force for good.

With love and gratitude,



"I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being."

Tash's picture

Great work Rebecca! This is

Great work Rebecca! This is really good!x

Kind Regards,

Deqa's picture


Dear Rebecca

You are doing an amazing job and I love your positive attitude towards this. Your efforts are similar to what my friend is doing. She works as a female security officer, and she inspects the females who coming into the office( in Somalia its necessary because of the security problem here.) so she spends a lot of time being idle unless a female comes in she has to inspect. She is herself an undergraduate student learning Bachelors of Education. So I noticed she spends her free time teaching the maintenance staff and the drivers. She teaches the illiterate ones how to read and write. She is already practicing her teaching skills and she is helping the cleaners and drivers to learn how to actually write in Somalia and Arabic.
Its amazing to teach somebody and I love teachers. I commend you for your amazing work my dear and I am sure your whole community is proud of you. You are giving these people freedom. Freedom to express themselves in writing. Honey I salute you for your great work.

ikirimat's picture

Rebbeca, This is great. Im

This is great. Im pleased to know that you are begining to appreciate your work and especially the enthusiam the group is showing. There is nothin so fulfilling than when you can see the other person happier than when you found him/her.
I would love you visit this group one day just to meet these girls and thank them for their courage. inbox me and we shall set up a date.

Keep up the spirit.

Grace Ikirimat

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

Kristina M's picture

Thank you for your hard work


Thank you for your hard work and dedication to help these women. By helping them take these first steps, they are building a solid foundation that can open doors to improve not only their future but their family's and community as well.



libudsuroy's picture

Dear Rebecca, It has been a

Dear Rebecca, It has been a while. I am so happy to see how you have nurtured your literacy group. I feel inspired by your deeds and your thoughts. I believe so much more is in store for you and your work, sister.

libudsuroy/Lina Sagaral Reyes
Mindanao, The Philippines

''Every Day is a Journey and the Journey itself is Home.'' (Matsuo Basho)

ikirimat's picture


Rebecca, congratulations on being selected for the 2013 VOF correspondents. I am confident that this is the time you have been waiting for. You now have the opportunity to sharpen your skills and make the voices of the unprivileged louder.

I look forward to reading more from you

Grace Ikirimat

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

Lee Mwaita's picture

This is amazing

this is an amazing thing you are doing! I am so touched. How is it going these days?

I am for truth no matter who tells it. I am for Justice no matter who it is for or against.
I say I.

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