I cannot remember a time when I could not read. I am sure it was well before Kindergarten because I have many early school reports that say, “Amy has a hard time sitting still. She is always up, trying to teach the other children their letters and sounds.”
I was just one of those rebellious girls who read, I guess! But I knew it was okay to be in trouble for reading, because my mother often told the story… with a smile. She would beam and say, “My daughter has always been a teacher. And quite talkative.”
And even though I cannot tell you when my love of words began, I can tell you where it began. It was in the stained glass light of my church, then it naturally seeped into my home. As I stood next to my mother – who often led the choir and collected old church hymnals – I would harmonize my melody with her loud soprano voice that floated the words off the page and into heaven. This was my first step toward literacy, and she was my first teacher. Mom noticed I was scanning both text and notes and brought several early readers home for me the next day.
As we sat on the couch at the foot of her bed – the book between us and my mother’s arm around my shoulders – we shared more than a story about a little girl named Jane. We shared touch and imagination and possibility. I began to know more than words. I began to know relationships – relationships with the characters, with the power of reading, and with my own mother.
And this is where my new job comes into play. I recently began working for Mission India, a church planting, literacy leading, justice-seeking organization that faces an enormous mountain of both work and possibility. With a new campaign running right now called “She Counts”, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for my past, and driven by love to provide literacy for all women now. Because the truth is, the story of my literacy was contingent on a world full of opportunities – opportunities that are not available to millions of women halfway around the world.
Over the past few weeks, I have heard some staggering statistics. I now know that 47% of the women in the state of Bihar, India are illiterate. That comes out to 20 million women who can neither read nor write. These are Mothers. Daughters. Sisters. Aunts. Grandmothers. 20 million women who will not be able to read by anyone’s side. 20 million missed opportunities.
But illiteracy in India goes farther than just storytelling and shared moments. In India, the cost of illiteracy runs deep. Just last week, I heard a story about a woman and her daughter who lived only 3 miles apart. Because of illiteracy, they did not see each other for 10 years. Because they were both illiterate, they did not see each other for 10 years. Ten years! They could not read bus schedules or understand distance measurements. They could not differentiate currency or how to utilize public transportation. They couldn’t even write letters to one another! They did not realize they lived so close because – when they were separated – no one assumed they would need the tools to travel. Illiteracy even stole from them something as simple as a hug between mother and daughter.
And the stakes go higher still. In many instances, the uneducated experience more abuse than the educated. Some women who have no ability to understand numbers are beaten by their husbands or in-laws for mismanaging money or looking ignorant among other villagers. In some cases, a woman may be cheated at the marketplace or in a government office. Nearly all employment options will involve hard labor and very poor pay. Poverty, illiteracy, and abuse are intertwined like gnarled roots of a dying tree.
And the list goes on…
Until this week, illiteracy seemed very distant from me. My experiences are those of a woman who lives in freedom, opportunity, and a wealth of relationships that encouraged my pursuit of knowledge. But now, more than ever, I believe in the push for literacy – the literacy that brings loving touch, the literacy that passes on knowledge and empowerment, and the literacy that creates a relationship that cannot be taken away. Not only a relationship to the text, but to the people, stories, truths, and hopes therein.
So I ask you – with your rebellious desire to get up and teach others – please share in my hopes for the mothers, the daughters, the sisters, the aunts, the grandmothers, and all the women of Bihar. Through programs like “She Counts” we can offer great possibility for 20 million lives that matter.
Now through March 9, 2015 we are raising funds and awareness for Bible-based literacy in India, to provide practical skills and eternal hope.
Support the She Counts campaign and your gift will be matched! $30 = TWO people educated.