International Literacy Day underscores how, in helping people learn to read, GFA brings practical help and spiritual hope to many on the fringes of society
WILLS POINT, Texas — In many parts of the world, being unable to read isn’t just an inconvenience—it’s a potentially deadly handicap that GFA (Gospel for Asia, www.gfa.org) is working hard to help eradicate.
Though the organization’s life-changing literacy efforts go on quietly year-round, they are being brought into the spotlight as the United Nations’ International Literacy Day (Sept. 8) prompts action to bridge the reading gap for the world’s estimated 750 million illiterate young people and adults. This year’s theme is “Literacy and Skills Development.”
Without family or friends they can turn to for help, those who haven’t learned to read often don’t take advantage of what could be life-saving medicines. But not only their health is endangered. Illiteracy leaves people open to being deceived financially, sometimes ending up in bonded labor because of an accumulated debt, and limits their opportunities to find meaningful work.
Learning to read doesn’t just improve people’s quality of life physically, important as that is. It can also help them find spiritual hope and growth, as they are able to study the Bible for themselves.
Literacy helps more the individual who is taught to read and write, notes GFA founder Dr. K.P. Yohannan in his recent blog post “Enter into Their World.” “For one mother who learns to read, the impact is not only in her own life, but also in her children’s and her whole family’s lives,” he says. And “that woman will be an example to the other village women, who then may also have the courage to seek to learn to read, and the same thing will happen for them and their families.”
From some of the red light districts in urban centers to rural communities, GFA-supported workers run literacy programs that open new doors across Asia for participants, who are predominantly women. One in three women in Asia is unable to read, with illiteracy rates highest among the poorest in society.
Almost 51,000 women learned to read and write—and were taught basic math skills—through GFA-supported programs last year. Many of the 70,000 children assisted through GFA-supported Bridge of Hope centers also received help with their reading skills, with the aim of breaking the cycle of poverty that illiteracy helps perpetuate.
Among those who have benefited from the GFA-supported literacy program is Ahiliya, a mother of three in a small rural community. Not being able to read prevented her from learning about health and hygiene for herself and her family, and even made it difficult for her to travel because she could not read the bus route signs.
After five months of hard study she graduated, signing her name for the first time instead of using a thumb print as her identification. “I thank God for helping me to read and write,” she said. “Even though I worked hard, it was God who helped me to learn.”
Rena, a tea plantation worker, told how taking part in the program had “really opened my eyes” to the importance of education for her children, whom she used to take to work with her instead of sending them to school. “I will not allow them to work in the tea garden any more,” she said. “Rather, I will encourage them to study hard and become a good citizens of our nation”.
About Gospel for Asia
GFA (Gospel for Asia, www.gfa.org) and its worldwide affiliates have—for almost 40 years—provided humanitarian assistance and spiritual hope to millions across Asia, especially among those who have yet to hear the Good News. Last year, this included more than 70,000 children, free medical services in over 1,200 villages and remote communities, 4,000 wells drilled, 11,000 water filters installed, Christmas gifts for more than 200,000 needy families, and spiritual teaching available in 110 languages in 14 nations through radio ministry.