To some, the saying if you think education is expensive try ignorance is just one of those sayings, but through hard work and experience, 37-year-old Dorothy Felix can testify.
Born in the remotearea of Bzyakulima Village, in the area of Traditional Authority Chapananga in Chikwawa, Felix never had a chance to go to school in her childhood days.
Due to what she calls financial challenges; her parents could not afford to send her to school. But as she grew up, she began to feel the pinch.
Felix testifies how she lost many opportunities and her hard-earned income because of failing to read, write and count.
“I lost a lot of opportunities, including money. Any business I invested in could not grow and in no time the businesses collapsed because I was not making any profit due to either giving too much change to customers following miscalculations or giving them more than what they demanded,” she says.
“It was even difficult for me to follow medical prescriptions. Worse still, I could not even read messages on my phone; it was like I was living in the dark.”
Felix cannot forget one experience where she overheard one of her trusted friends mocking her over her ignorance.
“I overheard her backbiting ‘amanditopetsa kwambiri ndi umbuli wao uja’[her ignorance tires me] . I felt bad and this is when I made a decision to register for adult literacy education.
“At first, I used to be shy, but looking at the advantages, I swallowed my pride and registered, today I am a proud graduate. After 18 months of study, I can now read, write and count,” she recounts.
Felix now boasts of how her vegetable business is thriving, making her able to support her husband in meeting household needs, send her five children to school and effectively taking part in the development of her community.
According to the March 2016 Unesco Institute for Statistics report, an estimated 3 387 430 adults in Malawi are illiterate, representing 40 percent of the entire adult population (aged 15 years and above).
Literacy is said to be one of the main indicators of socio-economic development in a society. It is also a key tool for knowledge, skills and attitudes required for human beings to develop their capacity and to participate fully in national development.
The high illiteracy rate in Malawi makes it difficult to implement some programmes such as information and communications technologies (ICT), as people do not understand and appreciate such programmes.
In an effort to reduce the trend, the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi opened 54 adult literacy learning centres in the seven districts it operates in to benefit not only its members but the communities surrounding its churches.
Since 2004, over 10 000 people have graduated in adult literacy education.
“As a church, we want to reach out to the needs of all human aspects including mind, body and soul. Realising that a lot of our members failed to follow the scriptures in the Bible because they could not read, we introduced these schools,” says Bishop Alinafe Kalemba of the diocese.
The bishop states that as part of encouraging more people to benefit from the initiative, all churches in the diocese are not allowed to put in any position anyone who does not know how to read, write or count.
Project coordinator Joyce Chitete bemoans continued poor patronage of men for the adult literacy centres.
“I am disappointed that men are not coming forward to benefit from this initiative. I, therefore, appeal to them to put aside their ego and benefit from this project,” she advises.
Chitete also calls for more funding so that more literacy circles are introduced throughout the country.
Currently, the diocese gets funding from its sister diocese in the United States to run the schools.
One of T/A Chapananga counsellor, Frank Chafulumira, calls for more adult literacy schools in the area to reduce distance which he said was a setback to many.
He advises the project’s beneficiaries, particularly women, to keep respecting their families despite the change in status.
Aside from teaching the villagers how to read, write and count, the church also teaches good morals, issues of health including behaviour change, family planning and sexual reproductive health, sanitation and good eating habits.