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The Greatest Gift of All
By Chloë Fox
Published on: October 13, 2000 in UNESCO Sources

UNESCO sources, Page 20

A non-governmental organisation that has taught some two million Zimbabweans to read and write wins one of UNESCO’s five top literacy awards.

At the age of 53 most people would be thinking about retirement. Not Regina Dzingiso, from Harare (Zimbabwe). Her life is just beginning, thanks to the Adult Literacy Organisation of Zimbabwe (ALOZ). Being finally able to read is a miracle to the mother of nine, and 15 other members of her study group who up until this year had never been to school.

“I feel proud of myself, I now have confidence in myself and I can move freely in town and do my shopping without assistance from anyone!” exclaims Regina. “I wish I could have been able to do all these things at an earlier age.”

Like thousands of other Zimbabwean women, she had never stepped foot inside a classroom, because her parents thought it was a waste of time and money to send girls to school. For the teachers, nothing is as satisfying as seeing elderly people making achievements like this

Regina is just one of the many reasons the Adult Literacy Organisation of Zimbabwe is the winner of this year’s International Reading Association Lite-racy Award, a $15,000 prize awarded annually by UNESCO on International Literacy Day (September 8). Despite the efforts made and the success achieved during the 1990s in the name of literacy, there are still one billion adult illiterates in the world, two thirds of whom are women.

ALOZ, a non-governmental organisation, was launched in the 1960s and conducts adult literacy classes for more than two million people countrywide. During the late 1970s, ALOZ teachers also taught some 200,000 refugees from Mozambique to read and write. UNESCO’s jury commended the programme for: “mobilising a large number of people and organisations to work on a volunteer basis to meet the learning needs of illiterate and semi-illiterate adults, particularly those living in the rural and commercial farming areas of Zimbabwe.”

“KEEPING LITERACY RELEVANT”

ALOZ’s methodology is based on linking literacy and daily life. Literacy classes are always conducted in local languages, and try to involve local public sector officials and education experts. Certain groups are also trained by ALOZ in project management. “Our main principle is to keep the classes relevant to people’s daily lives,” said Acting ALOZ Director, Grace Kumbawa.

The lessons are conducted in schools, homes, farms and work places.

ALOZ also produces teaching material for adult literacy classes being conducted by the Zimbabwean Government’s Ministry of Education. The literacy classes have been so popular and successful that companies such as the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company, Dairyboard Zim-babwe and Sable Chemicals have asked the organisation to conduct lessons for their illiterate employees.

Kumbawa says the organisation can’t assist everyone because of a shortage of teachers. “While a number of our students go on to be teachers, there are never enough teachers to meet demand,” she says.

Many of the students from rural areas start income generating projects in their own villages, instead of looking for jobs in towns.

For example, one group of villagers from Chihota communal area some 68 kilometres out of Harare have started a coffin-making project. This simple idea has dramatically changed what is already a stressful time in local families’ lives. When a death occurred in the village before, families would be forced to make the long journey into town to buy a coffin. Now they turn to the local business. The group that runs the business balances its own books and can run its operations efficiently because they took part in the ALOZ programme.

A WELCOME WINDFALL

ALOZ also carries out a number of outreach programmes, teaching people about AIDS awareness, gender issues, women and the land, and environmental issues.

The ALOZ staff are delighted with their award. “It was so exciting, we are all so thrilled,” said Kumbawa. “It came as a real surprise. I had forgotten about our application, basically be-cause we had so much work, and becase I never thought it would come to us!”

Kumbawa says the prize money will be used to train more teachers and pay the public transport fare to send them into rural areas. “It is very expensive to send people all over the place, but now we will be able to buy their fares without any problems.”

AND THE WINNERS ARE...

The four other UNESCO literacy prizes go to the following recipients: the $15,000 Noma Literacy Prize to the Bureau of Non-Formal Education: Accreditation and Equivalency System, in the Philippines. The two King Sejong Literacy Prizes ($15,000 each) were awarded to the Juvenile Education Programme, Iraq, and the National Literacy and Basic Education Di-rectorate of the Republic of Senegal. The $15,000 Malcolm Adiseshiah Literacy Prize was awarded to the Quechua-Castellano Bilingual Literacy Project from the Republic of Bolivia. The prizes were presented at headquarters on September 8, International Literacy Day.

 

Extract from UNESCO Sources, February 2000

 

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