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On World Literacy Day, a success story from a remote region of Ecuador

© UNICEF Ecuador/2008/Schiermeyer
A volunteer teacher works with a child in the Esmeraldas region of Ecuador, where literacy is coming to remote areas with support from UNICEF, the Catholic Church and the government.

By Eva Lotta Schiermeyer

International Literacy Day, declared by UNESCO in 1965, is celebrated annually on 8 September to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. Here is a related story.

ESMERALDAS, Ecuador, 8 September 2008 – In a small village on the banks of the Cayapas River, in the Esmeraldas region of Ecuador, most people are unable to read and write. But that is changing.

Many of the schools in the area closed down over 10 years ago, when the teachers who were sent from the capital abandoned their classrooms because of the harsh living conditions in this remote area

Once the schools closed, an entire generation grew up illiterate. Instead of going to class, children went to work in the fields or in the tropical rainforest.

Recruitment of local teachers

In March 2002, the lives of community members took a turn for the better when the Catholic Church and UNICEF approached the Ministry of Education to help find volunteers to become teachers in their villages. The idea was to build on local capacity, rather than struggle to convince outside teachers to live and teach in the remote settlements along the Cayapas.

“I was excited, I hated to see the children and adolescents waste their lives without receiving the opportunity to be educated,” says Jeffer Basilio, a young man from the La Concordia community who received primary and secondary education before the schools closed down. “I had long hoped that a school would be re-opened in my village.”

Mr. Basilio and 33 other young men and women were recruited to teach in Esmeraldas. After receiving a crash course on pedagogy, they were ready to begin.

© UNICEF Ecuador/2008/Schiermeyer
One of the young teachers recruited locally in Esmeraldas teaches a children’s literacy class.

“I was very nervous on my first day as a teacher,” says another literacy volunteer. “But when I felt the children’s thirst for knowledge and their enthusiasm for learning new things, I soon started to enjoy my new task.”

Children return to school

With funds from the government, the Catholic Church and UNICEF, 29 schools were re-opened and educational materials were distributed to the teachers and students in the area.

These days, hundreds of canoes navigate the river each morning, filled with students in uniforms on their way to school.

María, eight, a student in Mr. Basilio’s class, used to be silent when asked about her future. Today, she says she wants to be a teacher so that all children in the village can learn how to read.

Advocating for education

In conjunction with the teacher-recruitment process, UNICEF and its partners engaged in an advocacy campaign designed to inform parents about the importance of educating their children

UNICEF still continuously evaluates the teachers’ performance and organizes teacher training sessions. It also has produced a children’s book to stimulate reading in elementary schools; the book is now used in single-teacher schools all over Ecuador.

Thanks to UNICEF’s leadership and the commitment of the Catholic Church, more than 4,200 children are now receiving a quality education in northern Esmeraldas. Re-opening schools with teachers recruited from within the community has been so successful that the model is to be replicated in the entire northern border region. 




August 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Eduardo Cure reports on efforts to promote education and literacy in remote regions of Ecuador.
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