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Real lives

Changing lives through literacy

© Dhaka Ahsania Mission / 2003
Literacy class given by Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), Bangladesh.
READING TODAY August/September 2003 issue

Ten years ago, Hira Akhtar and her husband, Moslem Uddin, lived in a simple hut in the village of Baniyar Kandar in Bangladesh. It was all they could afford on her husband’s income of 1,000 taka (US$17) a month from his work as a sharecropper.

Today they live in a spacious, red-brick bungalow, complete with a brand-new corrugated iron roof and a broad veranda. Inside, the sleeping mat has been replaced by a wooden-framed double bed, and they even own a television.

The difference: Hira now earns 4,000 taka a month from a sewing business she developed using skills she learned in literacy classes given by Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), a non-governmental organization and the winner of the 2003 International Reading Association Literacy Award.

Hira’s story, described in an article by Brendan O’Malley in the April 2003 issue of The New Courier by UNESCO, represents just one of an estimated 3.8 million lives that DAM has touched over the past several decades. The organization now reaches approximately 200,000 people per year.

Making a difference among millions

DAM offers literacy/education classes to all age groups, from preprimary through adults. The basic literacy course lasts 12 months, whereas the course for out-of-school children lasts five years to provide them with full cycle primary education. DAM goes out into villages such as Hira’s, bringing not only literacy but a new way of life to programme participants.

“Key to the success of the programme,” says Kazi Rafiqul Alam, executive director of DAM. “Is that DAM’s literacy programme not only imparts literacy to the target groups, who are the poorest and the disadvantaged group of population, but it provides life-oriented information matters that they encounter in their everyday lives—how to earn a living, how to act and react on legal, social, and environmental issues, how to utilize the services provided by other service providers in the government, nongovernment, and private sector, how to improve the quality of life, etc.”

“The single important contributing factor of the success of the DAM literacy programme is, however, its reading materials,” continues Alam. “Which are interesting, readable, gender sensitive, and contain information about life and living.”

DAM has over 270 materials at five levels covering various aspects of life: basic primers, health and nutrition, income generation, environment promotion, women’s development and gender, society and culture, child rights, rights and duties, child and women trafficking prevention, water and sanitation, drug prevention, and many other fields. The books are mostly in Bengali.

Learning about literacy and life

Working in a region where women in many villages are not allowed out and are not allowed to meet strangers, DAM believes that the promotion of gender equality cannot be achieved without willing cooperation of the men. DAM’s strategy involves approaching the situation through education for both males and females and providing development information, skills training, and microcredit for the women.

This strategy of DAM is implemented through the Ganokendra approach, which involves opening community learning centres in the villages where people gather to learn. The community aspect often brings a new outlook on women’s education to the men in the village.

A community leader in the Jhenidaha district sums it up this way, saying, “What is more interesting is that now the men themselves come forward to make his wife and daughter literate, and no man would like to lag behind his neighbour in this respect.”

Representatives of DAM say that the IRA Literacy Award, which carries a US$15,000 prize, will be used “for furtherance of the cause of literacy for the poor and the disadvantaged group of population.” This prize, which will be formally presented during the celebration of International Literacy Day on 8 September 2003, is the latest in a number of national and international awards that DAM has received.

Back in Banyar Kandar, Hira sums up the effect of the DAM literacy program this way: “Now attitudes have changed completely. The status of women has been raised a lot. Now if someone says your wife needs to go for training in Dhaka, the husband will gladly agree.”



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