The Indonesian Bible Society (LAI), in collaboration with local churches, worked to give reading to several thousand adults and children in the province of Central South Timor over a nine-month period.
Since last year, people from many different backgrounds – teachers, farmers, church elders and pastors, among others – were called into service by LAI to assist with its literacy project.
“Patience and diligence were a must for the tutors,” says Budi Kadarmanto, head of LAI’s Communications Department. According to the United Bible Societies (UBS) - which LAI is a member of - those who attended the classes varied greatly in age and character, posing significant challenges for the tutors.
Another problem was that adult students had many responsibilities, one of the 200 tutors explained.
“When they were studying their attention was sometimes elsewhere, perhaps with their farms, their children or their livestock," he said, according to UBS. "To deal with this, I attracted their attention by inviting them to sing along with me, because they enjoyed singing before beginning to focus on their studies.”
UBS reported that for some students, even getting to a class involved a considerable sacrifice of time and energy.
"Many were farmers who could not leave their fields for very long. Others had chores at home," UBS reported.
One participant said they had to walk for 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) to join the study group.
“I brought my baby with me when I was studying because there was nobody at home,” the participant said.
According to UBS, the tutors’ efforts in guiding the participants towards a basic level of literacy were supported by regional coordinators, usually pastors, who were also required to have a full understanding of the type of background from which students might come. Coordinators made regular visits to see classes taking place, and on these visits often met people like 25-year-old Yusak Bin, who say they are enthusiastic about the impact of literacy on their own lives that they wants to bring these skills to others.
“I have never been to school in my life, so I never knew about alphabets or numbers," Bin said, according to UBS. "But now I can read and write. It’s so wonderful for me. I want my friends who cannot read and write to have an opportunity like this too, and I am willing to help them.”
Milka Derma Manguma, who is in charge of the literacy program, said she knows that acquiring literacy skills can also greatly improve people’s understanding of the Scriptures.
“It is important that people do not only learn to read and write,” she said. “They must also come to know the Word of God by heart. I hope that churches and local government will continue what LAI has started, so that all Christians in Central South Timor can read God’s Word for themselves and understand what the Bible means.”
Manguma says it was this vision – that, through gaining literacy skills, people will be made into “performers of God’s word” – that sustained her as she traveled long distances, often by foot, between the various study groups.
With 2,300 people having successfully achieved at least some degree of literacy through this program, LAI is now planning to provide consultancy services as churches and government organizations undertake follow-up work.