It is not uncommon to hear a Zambian child express a futuristic desire to pursue a study of medicine or law. Unfortunately, the widespread problem of poor literacy renders these ambitions impossible to realize unless something significant changes.
Studies show that approximately 1.5 million Zambians are illiterate, which is to say they cannot read, write, or understand a short simple statement on their everyday life. Basic literacy is a common feature in at least 91% percent of the population but advanced literacy that defines world-class academia is not nearly as high. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are fragmented disciplines that are largely missing across child development curricula, while early reading programs are either frivolous or delayed.
It is on this backdrop that efforts to alleviate illiteracy must be celebrated and applauded. Koryssa Risteen is a Bible-school graduate who is currently spending her time and energy helping children improve their reading skills at the Tree of Life children’s village.
“I am here to help children at the Tree of Life improve their reading. I am working with the younger children by reading to them so they can hear me speak English clearly, while the older ones do the actual reading to practice saying words. The longer I’ve been here, the more children have joined in. They all want to read and do it more often.”
Literacy is the most fundamental key that unlocks a world of opportunity. Dr. Seuss famously iterated, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” The great social reformer, writer and orator, Frederick Douglas said it this way,” “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” The ability to comprehend and communicate knowledge effectively is the essence of what literacy aims to achieve.
“I think it is important because reading is needed to learn in school, for writing exams, and for other things throughout their lives. If they can grasp and understand it now, it will be useful for them as they study and work.”
Many adults fondly recall the books that aided the development of their reading skills. The children being taught to read at the Tree of Life will have similar memories.
“We have books that range from the first grade to more advanced books that all have pictures to help the children better comprehend what the words mean. We use Curious George, Amelia Bedelia, and various other children’s books. We are also labeling everything in children’s homes so they can frequently read what specific items are in English.”
Being able to give a gift that is not easily returned is certainly the greatest kind of gift. The opportunity to bless others with talent, time and knowledge is something Koryssa relishes.
“It’s been amazing. Being able to be here has blessed me possibly more than it has blessed the children. They are sweet and it’s great to be able to help and see them succeed at something many people take for granted. Some of the things that get me really excited are some of the older boys taking part in this initiative and some of the younger children being able to describe a picture in English.”
There is plenty of work to be done across Zambia but the work within the gates of the children’s village remains a colossal task that requires patience and much prayer.
“Pray that I will know which children to help and that they will be able to understand what I am teaching them. That’s all I can ask for.”
Historically, Christianity has been the world’s biggest contributor in developing literacy across the world. All image-bearers of God possess the capacity to attain, retain and explain knowledge in some form or fashion. An opportunity to truly make a lasting difference lies in teaching children the art of language, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, in hopes that their lives will become stories other children will one day read of.