I was a reading tutor for adults right after I retired. My first client – Shamreen – was a 55-year old woman from Bangladesh. She spoke no English at all, even though she and her family had been in the US for over a decade.
Using first grade readers and Richard Scary picture books, we muddled through pronunciation and word rhythms and practice, practice, practice. After a couple of weeks she asked if I would teach her how to order a meal at McDonalds, a desire that she evidently had on her mind for a long time.
After a few weeks of practice she went out to dinner with her family and without hesitation (according to her husband’s retelling) she marched to the counter and said ‘I want a cheeseburger, french fries and a soda.’
It was a victory of great magnitude for this sweet woman. It took a lot for her to decide to learn, to come to weekly classes, to struggle through what her children were already doing fluently. I learned through her that humility and its partner, courage, are key components to learning.
Remembering that look of joy on Shamreen’s face, made the following story come to life as if I was sitting in their classroom.
In the village of Phangne in western India, there are 28 women, all over the age of 60, attending the aajibaichi shala, the first “school for grandmothers,” to learn to read. Every day, between 2pm and 4pm, the aajis, or grandmothers, meet in a bamboo hut, dressed in pink saris (their school uniform), carrying schoolbags.
‘Listen’ to the passion in their words [my comments inserted]…
None of us went to school. We were poor. I was never allowed to. If I went to school, who would bring water from the well, or make cow dung cakes [for fuel] or wash the family’s clothes? [Priorities of poverty.]
Who knows, if we’d been given the chance to study when we were children, we may all have become doctors. [Such belief in their own potential, if given a chance! Love.]
When I meet God, I should at least be able to sign my name. [My personal favorite!]
There are 273 million people who are illiterate in India today. Since most literacy initiatives target the young, this grassroots initiative is all the more exciting – this group of grandmothers who courageously stepped out of the status quo and are pursuing education for the first time in their lives.
In the words of one of these students…
As long as I live, I want to learn.
Hats off to these aajis for never, ever giving up on this! Go Grannies, Go!
Read more about lifelong learning here.