I do not remember the last time my hands got sore from writing. Since computers rule the world and my hands are used to typing I gave them a real good work out last week by writing more by hand than I can remember in a long time. It was for a very good reason and a wonderful cause though. Get ready for it… it’s time for literacy school in Tigak land!
It’s seems strange to me to even be saying that because the time has come upon us far more quickly that we ever could have imagined. Because of the recent great news we received at our last language check that our partner Aimee had finished her Tigak language study, it was time for our team to make some big decisions. One of those decisions we made was to go ahead and start our preparations for Literacy school. This will be Aimee’s first focus since finishing the language and she will be heading up the preparations as the rest of us give her as much help as we can manage. Tom and I are still in full time language & culture study so it was impossible for us to take on this role. We are so excited that Aimee is wiling and eager to take on this huge task!
At this time we are not entirely sure when we will begin the literacy classes. There are a few pending decisions with timing of home assignments on our team among other things that will help determine the timing of things. We will make the decision based on what is best for the Tigak church and secondly our teams needs. So, with the timing of classes still unclear, we are plowing ahead with prep for them so when the time is clear we will be ready to go. Don’t worry, we will keep you up to date!
The driving force behind why we do a literacy program is that we want people to be able to read and understand the scriptures. It is truly impossible for a mature church to exist if those in it are unable to study the words of the very source of life they all share, the Bible! In our village we have many people who are totally illiterate but also a huge number who, although they can technically read, have a really hard time comprehending what they read. Most readers have only ever read things in the trade language, Tok Pisin, and have read very little if any at all in their own language (since the only thing currently written in their own language are the Scripture portions already translated). This of course means that literacy is a great need in our village and in many other villages around us.
When it comes to reading the Bible, reading it for comprehension has not been a great concern to most people on our island so far. Unfortunately several false religious presences in our area have propitiated a very legalistic mentality about how to view the Bible. The few people who do read the Bible (in the trade language) are more concerned with putting there time in than actually understanding what the Bible is saying. Speaking in terms of my experience with the Tigak ladies, it has been very apparent how difficult it is for them to comprehend what they read. We will read passages of scripture together and right after they finish reading it, few of them can tell us what we just read. For the believers, this is a very important area for them to learn in. How to read and understand the Bible! Literacy will be one of several steps toward this goal!
Once the decision to start up the literacy program was made, the first thing we needed was to get a Literacy Consultant our here to get us kicked off with a week of help from her to get our literacy primers written! We really praised the Lord because the only Literacy Consultant currently in the country was willing and available to come out as quickly as she could find the flights (which turned out to be a little more complicated than we originally thought :P). Either way though, Diane, our consultant, made it out to our island in only a few weeks and we were raring to go! We were also blessed to have two other missionaries who are veterans of the literacy program out along with Diane to offer invaluable help and advice! We were deeply grateful to have had these three amazing ladies out to help us get started!
For those of you who do not know the first thing about developing a literacy program and what goes into it, I will firstly say to you- I was once just like you before literacy training! 😀 And secondly I will say- I will not even attempt to make this blog into an instruction manual for the long and tedious process! 🙂 Suffice to say it is a lot of work and has many steps and it would have taken us much longer if we had not had the wonderful help of our training and consultant(s).
Our focus for the week of work with the consultants was to plan out all four literacy primers, which cover every syllable in the Tigak language. Since I will be trying to give more of my time to the literacy than Tom will, he graciously agreed to play “Mr. Mom” for the week to enable me to be a part of as much of the literacy prep as possible. (My hubby rocks ;D)
Our method to teach literacy is to use syllables. Instead of teaching individual letters, we teach the sounds represented by the different syllables. Based on the Tigak alphabet and the frequency the sounds appear in the language, slowly we build from only two sounds, like “ko” & “ki,” to all the sounds represented in the Tigak language. After each set of sounds taught there are practice reading pages and as the collection of taught sounds increases, the stories grow in length and complexity. There are many steps, many rules to the process and much thinking and strategy involved. Page by page, each primer came together through a whirl of colorful sticky post it notes, charts, Tigak dictionaries, pencils and erasers. Each person had a job to do and it was a busy, active literacy fest!
Because Aimee has finished language study, the work load on her was far more than the rest of us as she was the only one who could write the Tigak stories for the primers! Ned is the translator on our team and offered great input when he could but he was way swamped with translation checking work so wasn’t as free to help in this area as much as he would have liked. Never the less, Aimee did a great job at it! We all did the best we could to help Aimee, and I had a great time helping to determine and sketch out the teaching pages for new sounds to be taught and copying and writing out pages upon pages of Tigak stories. Though my hands ached, I know it was good for my language study and for the literacy primers as well of course!
I think one reason I really loved our week of literacy prep was because we were all working together so much of the time. Usually during the work week we are all mainly working on our own jobs/responsibilities separately, in our own homes and on our own schedules. This week was a treat because we got to huddle around the same table and work shoulder to shoulder with the co-workers we love. My biggest challenge most of the time was just keeping my mouth shut because I wanted to chat the whole time! LOL.
Another huge blessing was working alongside our Tigak brothers & sisters! We greatly desire to see the Tigak church get excited and take ownership of the literacy program along with us. We want them to see what an important step this in the life of the church and how each of them can play a part in making it a success! Two of the lady believers came and joined us shoulder-to-shoulder around the table and helped Aimee write stories for the primers! It was so encouraging watching them work together and slowly but surely put their stories on paper. Every one of the Tigak believers will benefit from the literacy classes themselves and watching them struggle to write and spell correctly at times makes us even more eager for them all to get in on the learning. By the end of the week, all but one of the believers had taken part in helping with the primers! Praise the Lord! Whether writing stories or helping to check language accuracy in the stories, they all had their hand in it somehow and we saw their excitement and joy over the project grow and grow! We were just thrilled!
One of our sweet sisters was brimming with excitement after the first day of working with us and told me, “Wow, I am just so amazed at this work! You had told me about it and tried to explain to me how it works but now I really see! This is not a little amount of work! This is a lot of work! I am so so happy to be a part of this! I will go home and pray and ask God to give me the right words to put into all my stories. When I go home my mind will still be on this work of literacy! It is good work!” 😀
So, all in all our literacy week was a smashing success! We worked hard and were able to accomplish more than we originally anticipated. Praise the Lord! There is still much more work to do with finalizing preparations, printing etc. but we are off to a great start. Now we continue to work and pray that God will bring MANY people into these classes and raise up faithful Tigak literacy teachers so that the literacy program can continue and result in every adult in our village being literate and able to confidently read the scriptures and understand them!