Helping women learn to read

Transforming lives in troubled Cameroon

Literacy brings hope in conflict

The Mafa and Podoko people of northern Cameroon have faced violence and unrest over many years. The terrorist group Boko Haram is active along the border and took the lives of two Bible Society staff last year. In spite of this, Bible Society Cameroon continues its literacy and trauma healing projects, breathing hope into people’s lives. The aim this year, despite the danger, is to set up 150 literacy classes for the Mafa and Podoko. This work is essential because it’s often the only opportunity for girls and women to learn to read.

“School is not for girls.”

36-year-old Habiba is a Podoko woman and mother of seven. She had never been to school and illiteracy had led to hardship. “I missed many opportunities for a decent job because I couldn’t read or write,” she said.

She was active in church and people looked up to her, but illiteracy held her back. “Everyone in the village appreciates me but, deep down, I was nothing because I could not read. I did not even know how to write my name.”

Then one day Habiba heard about the Bible Society literacy classes. Bible Society Australia supporters fund this program which teaches literacy in the Parkwa language and helps with Scripture knowledge. Habiba was one of the first people to sign up.

“I didn’t expect to find such an opportunity, to sit down in a class and learn,” said Habiba. “My father always told us that school was not for girls and that I should instead learn to manage my future home. That is, doing housework.”

Equal opportunity for all

“I was shocked when I saw women my age going to school. Until my marriage, I could not read and [could] write even less. It had many unforgettable effects on my life.”

Literacy classes were held twice a week. Habiba initially found it hard to manage classes and taking care of her children. Five of the seven went to school, leaving two with an extra claim on her attention. Her husband also grumbled that she wasn’t running the house well because of the time spent on learning to read.

So Habiba reorganised things. Since her younger sister was also unable to go to school, she asked her to help. Her sister was happy to help with the chores while Habiba attended class.

A step up when they learn to read

After two years of learning to read and write, Habiba has reached what she calls an acceptable level. More important to her, she has acquired a greater desire to read God’s word.

“I give thanks to God and I thank the Bible Society and our teachers. Today I feel good everywhere I go. I fit in without the slightest difficulty and have a certain confidence.”

Life has opened up for Habiba. Besides her mother tongue, she is also able to read and write some French.

Her husband is pleased with her devotion to God’s word and is proud of the extra things she can do for the church. She didn’t forget her little sister and is making sure that she too learns to read and write. Habiba is keenly aware of the benefits of literacy and wants other women and girls to enjoy this wonderful opportunity. You could make the dream come true for many who have never been to school and who are waiting for the chance to learn.

Prayer from the Bible Society in Cameroon

Dear God,

We pray for the areas of conflict in the north of our country, and for villages attacked by Boko Haram.
Please bring peace to these areas, and protect both those who have fled and those who have remained.

Create a social and political climate that favours the smooth running of our Bible Society programs.
Enable us, Lord, to reach more young women in need of help and support.

We pray that the literacy classes will help many girls and women learn to read.

We pray for the Esther Program, which cares for young girls and women who have experienced sexual assault.

Father God, we pray together for the end of wars, for security, and for harmony.

In Jesus’ name,


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