Eyes That See: Giving the Light of Wisdom Through Education

In present day Pakistan, Maryam* remembers her childhood, working with her mother in other people’s homes, trying to write numbers on scavenged bits of paper. “I never wrote them correctly,” she recalls.  

At 36, Maryam is grown now, with children of her own. Yet the many obstacles between Maryam and literacy remained. “It was my desire from childhood to learn to read and write, but unfortunately my parents could not afford to send me to school. At the age of 19 my parents settled my marriage.” 

Many women in Pakistan have similar stories to Maryam, with multiple lifelong challenges in the way of achieving literacy. Justus, from the Pakistani Bible Society observes, One obstacle often encountered is gaining permission from the family patriarch — a requirement for many of these women. Another hurdle is finding time amidst their domestic duties and work commitments. Resistance also arises from landlords, brick kiln owners, and house masters, who fear the consequences of their tenants or workers becoming literate. These landlords worry that they will lose their labour force if the people gain an education. They also fear that people will start to demand fair wages. An additional concern is that these newly educated people will improve their children’s education, meaning the children will not work for the landlords in the future.” 

Yet Maryam’s obstacles to an education were overcome, very recently. “Our priest announced that ‘women’s literacy classes are starting in the Church building’. I asked my husband if I could join the class and learn to read and write. He gave me permission and I started learning.”

These classes are a part of Pakistan Bible Society’s (PBS) ‘Beacon of Light in the Darkness of Illiteracy’ project, which have run in churches across Pakistan for a decade now. Bible Society has been working to help women like Maryam. Many women who are desperately poor, uneducated — and many who are enslaved and oppressed — are given an opportunity to learn to read, write and calculate simple mathematics. “For most of these women, becoming literate is something they could only dare to dream of before,” says Belinda Faulks, Bible Society Australia’s (BSA) International Missions Project Manager. “It honestly changes their lives forever.” 

 Many women are inspired by their leaders to join literacy classes, while others recognise the importance of being able to accurately count their wages, ensuring they receive fair payment for their work. Moreover, learning to read and write aids in advancing their careers. Maryam remembers, “I could not count the money because I could not read the currency value on paper money.” Because of the literacy training, Maryam can calculate whatever money she has in hand. “Now my husband is so happy, and he is giving the money to me in the evening which he earned in a day,” Maryam relays joyfully. Maryam’s husband, a motorbike mechanic, now gives all his income to her, to count and save for the future.  He has confidence in Maryam, that she can manage the household budget. 

Classes have begun in churches across Pakistan in 2024, with PBS’ goal this year to change the lives of 3,500 women across 350 literacy groups. For the first time this year, PBS staff will address an additional obstacle for many students, by conducting eyesight checks as a part of their regular class visits in the first term of study. If students require them, glasses will be provided. Justus says, “In remote areas, many students are unaware of their own vision deficiencies, as they have little to no access to eye care. When they attempt to read, they experience eye fatigue, suggesting the need for eye tests. Therefore, we plan to organise eyesight camps within the classes. Our resident doctor will prescribe corrective glasses and medication as necessary.”  

In addition to this, Justus shares, “In the last session (August and September) we will provide the students with a medical guide which will teach them essential health precautions. The literacy course will help them to follow the medical guide. It will enhance their awareness about hygiene practices like handwashing to steer clear of germs and will underscore the importance of heeding basic health advice. We believe that this health-focused curriculum will help students to live healthier lives.” 

“These additions are so exciting,” says Belinda. “At BSA we are totally committed to making the Bible accessible to all people, yet it became obvious that many women enrolled in the literacy course, especially older women, were having difficulty with reading due to poor eyesight. This is a way we can ensure that each woman can engage fully in the program and have every opportunity to graduate as fully literate members of society,” says Belinda.

These additions to the course were inspired by literacy training provided for United Bible Society staff in 2023. “It was a wonderful time of learning and growth,” Belinda reflects. “It gave each Bible Society present the opportunity to conduct an evaluation of their project with assistance from literacy experts.” It was through this, and taking the time to explore the needs of their students, that PBS staff were inspired to add eyesight and health assistance to their literacy program. Belinda concludes, “I think it’s so important that Bible Society listens to the needs of the communities we serve and do what we can to provide whatever assistance we are able to ensure that every person has the opportunity to engage with the word of God in a meaningful way.” 

Bible Society’s literacy course in Pakistan has been opening the Bible for women for a decade, since upon completing the course, students can read the Bible. “Providing glasses to vision-impaired Bible-based literacy students is yet another way of making sure that Bible Society provide equitable access to the Bible and the message of the gospel,” says Belinda, “for all people in all their unique situations.” Not only can the women who graduate now personally engage with God’s word, but they can participate more fully in their communities and churches, manage the household budget, read utility bills, buy and sell in their local marketplace because they can now calculate prices and change, and their standing in the community is lifted.  

“I absolutely love the transformational impact that this project has on the lives of so many women!” says Belinda. “We see that women who participate in literacy classes become wonderful advocates for the program and encourage their neighbours and friends to join too. Their husbands see the value and benefit to the whole family and attitudes towards educating females begin to change with many then allowing their daughters to go to school. It truly transforms communities.” 

Maryam says, “I am so thankful for the Bible Society for giving the light of wisdom through education.” During her interview with Bible Society staff in December, Maryam was so excited by her new ability to read the Bible that she started to read from the Gospel of Matthew. “Christmas season is coming,” she said, “and I am so glad that I learnt the story of the birth of Christ.” Maryam has plans for the future, too. “I [asked] for permission for my daughter to go to school,” she explains… and her husband responded happily in the affirmative.


If you would like to learn more or prayerfully consider how you can make a financial contribution to this program, please visit biblesociety.org.au/asia today.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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