By Lynn Hutchinson
Florence grew up in a small village in a household headed by her mother who did not speak French, the national language, and who could not read or write. When she was old enough to go to school, she never had access to textbooks. Neither she nor anyone in her home ever owned a book. The teacher’s education and instruction methods were very limited. If Florence did not understand something, she simply fell behind.
There was no one at school or home available to help her. So, while Florence learned to recognize her letters and to count, she was unable to unlock the steps that would lead to reading. After a few short years, with no regular income in her home, she could not continue in school. Who could buy her uniform or her school supplies?
Florence is not an exception. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) statistics for Togo report literacy rates of 77.26 percent for males and 51.24 percent for females. This is understandable when we know that urban school enrollment includes only 68 percent of eligible males and 54 percent of females.
The numbers are even lower for rural school enrollment, with only 45 percent of eligible males enrolled and 33 percent of females. The majority of children who do go to school will complete only middle school, not high school. And even those who attend school can be severely under-educated. It is not unusual to have 50 children in a schoolroom. Sometimes, the number is doubled, with two classes operating in the same room.
As so many do, Florence moved to the capitol city in hopes she could learn a trade; but she did not have the necessary funds to complete the three-year apprenticeship required for seamstresses.
Life continued to be precarious even after she married and began her family. She sometimes cooked food or purchased small items to sell beside the road. With great effort and some assistance from Togo House, she and her husband began to send their first child to school. Florence’s greatest wish is to see her children well and able to succeed in life.
She also began to wish that she herself could learn to read so she could help her children. When Florence asked for help with her literacy skills, she wasn’t sure what was even possible for her as an adult, but she was determined. I quickly discovered that her determination combined with her natural abilities made for great progress.
Though Florence had never learned to read, she had a quick ear for French. She could easily replicate sounds from recordings. Her limited vocabulary began to grow very quickly. And the more she reads, the more her confidence and delight increase. How is life changing for Florence as she learns? Now she can have regular contact with far-away family by exchanging text messages with her younger sisters. Her small business has taken on more clients. Because her French skills have grown, Togolese from other regions who speak French but not the local language, come regularly to buy things from her. When she is not busy at work, she takes out her pages to read or watches literacy videos on her phone. Recently, she has begun learning to write. She is beginning to read simple bills and sign her name to documents.
She reads simple stories in a children’s Bible story book and soon she will be able to share those with her children. This week, she learned how to find a Scripture reference in the Bible. For her, there had never been any reason to open a Bible. Now she reads small verses and asks questions. Even though it takes work, the delight of reading never stops for Florence because she has seen the doors it opens, the difference it makes in her life.
Oh, if you could see her joy! But know that you can share in this joy because your support makes my presence possible. It means that Florence and I can walk together in this exciting journey!
Lynn Hutchison and her husband, Mike, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving in Lomé, Togo in West Africa through a dedication to asset-based community development and transformative community ministry. Learn more about their ministry at www.cbf.net/hutchinson. The CBF Offering for Global Missions makes possible the long-term presence of CBF field personnel like Christine. 100% of gifts to the Offering support CBF field personnel serving in the United Sates and around the world. Give online today at www.cbf.net/OGM.