Many people in this world are excluded from modern life, and even become a burden on society, because they can’t read or write or use a language common in their country. We believe the basic skill of gathering and using knowledge is the key to participation in a modern society. The ability to know what one doesn’t know, and to then seek out and understand knowledge and skills can build confidence, open doors, and lead one to success.
Non-literate people are usually excluded from decision-making and even from being given information vital to development. They are often excluded from various development programs and even if they attempt to join, their participation is rarely recognized. Societies minimize uneducated people, which then limits their ability to develop themselves.
Often, non-literate people are cheated in transactions, cheated by relatives, and even cheated by their own children. They can easily be tricked into participating in illegal activities. They lack the skills to advocate for healthcare for their families, and to know and demand their rights under law.
These challenges are realized in a lack of knowledge in areas of agriculture, gender issues and policies, healthy civic engagement, health issues, and formal communication. Additionally, low levels of spiritual growth, unjust or harmful cultural beliefs and practices, low self-esteem, negative attitudes towards life and others, and inadequate knowledge of finance for entrepreneurship and business all cause people to be marginalized in a cycle of inequality and poverty.
In Uganda, many people have never had the opportunity to attend or finish school. Several factors have contributed to this situation, including the high cost of any education for poor people, cultural factors devaluing education, or devaluing women so that they are considered not worthy of the investment of education, unaddressed health issues making attending school difficult, dropouts due to pregnancy, and broken families, transforming many children into unwanted stepchildren. In the recent past, the vast majority of Ugandans (today’s adults) never finished primary school.
To help these many adults, now parents of their own children, DCI delivers universal literacy services to affected communities with our comprehensive adult literacy curriculum, which includes subject areas in Health Education, English (reading/writing, hearing/speaking), Christian Education, Gender Today, Agriculture, Arithmetic, and Entrepreneurship.
Priority is given to those who never had the opportunity to go to school at all, to women, and to other marginalized groups. We have observed extraordinary change the confidence levels in our students after they have acquired the new knowledge and skills we offer.
In Uganda, the majority of people in rural communities are not capable of writing a letter in the official language, nor can they communicate or access information delivered in English. Many people cannot appropriately express what they want to communicate. They find it impossible to run for leadership in village savings groups, women’s groups, farming business groups, and local government councils.
Many parents want to help their children in doing homework and guiding them through school, but can’t do so because all education is in English. DCI considers English important for empowering communities to read, write, interpret figures, and express ideas at national and international levels, giving them the communication skills needed for independent development.
English entails concepts of word formation (vowels, consonants, letters, plural, singular, greetings, etc), sentence formation, pronunciation, sounds, letter writing, and nouns describing common things in homes, the human body, and in the environment, among others. These are delivered in a thematic approach, integrating different concepts with other program areas. We emphasize the full meaning of communication, and the purpose of learning reading, writing, hearing, and speaking both the mother tongue and English.
Our Gender curriculum challenges students to think about their own value and the value of others in the community. We emphasize human rights, Ugandan family law (of which many people have been kept ignorant), and the fact that they are all made in the image of God. Students are challenged to think about their own culture, and learn to look at it objectively, choosing their own priorities and values.
Families are breaking up both in rural and urban centers due to inadequate knowledge of gender issues and policies. Most people (especially those in rural communities) have negative perceptions about the roles and responsibilities of men and women. They have attached different ideologies and prejudices that have created a line between the tasks to be done by either men or women. Continued cases of early marriage for girls, denial of girls’ education in favor of boys, single parenthood, child neglect, property, violence, and imbalance in the roles of family members are some of the results of illiteracy in gender issues and policies.
Attitudes about these issues are part of the root causes of poverty and injustice in rural areas. We hope that some of the community-based causes of poverty and general underdevelopment will be addressed by providing relevant yet appropriately packaged information on gender issues and policies appropriate to people’s current situations. DCI believes that the inclusion of gender issues and policies in our literacy course can address many of these cultural and institutional issues. We believe that our gender curriculum will promote communities with positive mindsets about gender issues, human rights, marriage and parenting, and civic responsibility.
The content in Gender Today is carefully packaged and localized in such a way that it is delivered without causing shock or humiliation to the culture of the people in a given community. It is designed to be taught with facilitated discussion by the students in a way that the learners are able to recognize on their own issues and cultural practices and by themselves resolve to adopt new, healthy, non-discriminatory and developmental lifestyle attitudes.
Our Gender subject is quite broad. In addition to teaching how to critically assess culture and human rights, we also teach about parenting skills, reproductive health and birth control, harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, the equal value of people with disabilities, and civics, including how all levels of government in Uganda operate and how they can actively participate in the political process. In the Gender section of our curriculum, we do not tell our students what to think or even what their values should be. But we do challenge them to think critically about their own cultures, and we give them much knowledge about their rights, how others live, and how God values them equally. Then they can lead their families and communities to keep the healthy and good parts of their culture, and maybe adjust the parts that hold people back from success and fulfillment in life.
In an underdeveloped economy (and in the least developed areas of that economy where we work), the answer for many people is not jobs, but business. Whether for starting up a company that will become large and strong, or by simply thinking about their farming or crafts or services as a business opportunity rather than just for subsistence, entrepreneurship skills and thinking can be transformative in the lives of the poor.
Most people are stymied by the idea that one must have a large pool of capital to start a business, while in fact they can start with what they have in their hands right now. Each DCI class creates a Village Savings & Loan Association (VSLA) with its own constitution and locally appropriate policies and procedures. These groups are structured in a way that they not only encourage saving, but also create capital through micro-lending techniques, owned by the members themselves.
DCI’s Entrepreneurship curriculum is intended to equip vulnerable communities with sustainable business skills and a creative, entrepreneurial mindset for socio-economic development. We understand the need for practical application of these ideas, so we require all students to create cooperative enterprise groups in their classes. Each class is registered with the local government as a community group and business, allowing them to receive grants and knowledge packages from government and other organizations.
These class groups also allow us to mentor the participants through the risky process of actual business development, which is now shared among themselves. By the time they finish our program, they will also have a pool of capital to invest in further growth or to split off into their own individual projects.
It’s hard to imagine that many people don’t understand numbers and basic arithmetic, but this is also a big part of illiteracy. The inability to work with numbers and math results in poor planning, poor business outcomes, unfair cheating, and confusion in managing farming inputs as well as medical treatment.
In order to make money from any activity, be it farming, tailoring, or even hiring oneself out as labor, a person must be able to manage numbers. Managing farming inputs to ensure that the harvest will bring in more than the cost of planting and growing requires arithmetic. Running a small business necessitates understanding costs, depreciation, profits, net returns, and inflation. But many of our students begin with no understanding of how to even count money and not be cheated in the market.
So much in life requires handling money and other supplies. Our incoming students always complain about being constantly cheated. They are cheated when they sell a simple head (bunch of clusters) of bananas, cheated in land value transactions, even cheated out of money by their own spouses and children. They desperately want to gain control over their own money and their own ability to profit and manage simple aspects of their lives.
Our arithmetic curriculum includes arithmetic from adding and subtracting, multiplying and dividing, all the way through fractions and percentages. These are all essential for economic development. The material is introduced with practical exercises relating to students’ real lives, and then on into the business they develop as a class.
Almost all rural communities in Uganda survive on agriculture for both food and income generation. But most households don’t realize the profits that are possible from farming. Because of poor planning, poor quality harvests, and poor processing, most farmers can’t get good prices for their harvests.
This is often simply because they have inadequate knowledge or awareness of what can help them to improve their products and earnings. Intervention is needed which will improve the quality of produce, and therefore the income which will come from it. It will encourage communities to adopt appropriate agricultural skills, attitudes, and practices that promote food security and a broader focus beyond subsistence farming towards farming as a profit making business.
To address many of the challenges faced by rural farmers, DCI has included content on different soils, farm tools and equipment, garden selection and preparation, nursery bed preparation and maintenance, caring for crops (pests and diseases prevention and control), poultry farming, animal husbandry (establishing an animal farm, pests and diseases, etc), environment-friendly farming practices (e.g. organic farming), marketing of farm products, and planning and record keeping, among other units in our agriculture curriculum.
The Agriculture curriculum caters for whoever is already farming or intending to practice agriculture (either crop or animal husbandry) in rural communities. More attention is given to teaching ways of continuously gathering and adopting new knowledge of advanced, more efficient agriculture techniques and practices, from government information sources, other organizations, and online from smartphones and other technology.
The content in this curriculum is developed and planned to be delivered in a detailed practical approach, including student participation in demonstration farms in order to challenge the members to move beyond their ordinary and less productive practices. We believe that learners must first own and practice what they learn in order to adopt it long-term. Thinking of agriculture as a business rather than just bare survival, and learning to become lifelong learners continuously gathering new information, is the core principle of our agriculture curriculum subject.
Each of DCI’s literacy students represents an entire family. Most of our participants have an average of seven children, and many take care of grandchildren and nieces and nephews, as well as grandparents and other dependents. When our students gain knowledge and new lifestyle habits, all members of their large families are affected.
By incorporating health as a core curriculum subject, we expect each DCI literacy student to become a health advocate in their home and to their neighbors and entire community. Over the course of our program, we help each student to create new behaviors that will help prevent disease and injury, transforming the lives of all community members.
Many diseases that are no longer regularly seen in developed countries still plague the villages where we work. Most of these diseases can be almost completely avoided with simple knowledge and change in personal hygiene practice. Diarrheal diseases including cholera and typhoid kill many children, and even adults. Malaria, in addition to killing children, keeps many adults from working productively. Pneumonia is a silent killer. Smoke from cooking fires is a primary factor in setting up the conditions for pneumonia, helping it to kill even more than malaria. Worms sap productivity and stunt growth and intellect. Skin infections cause misery and lower self-esteem. And preventable injuries can be devastating in a place with no access to health care. All of these problems can be reduced or eliminated with knowledge and good choices.
The DCI Health Education subject covers content areas including first aid, food and nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, safe water, maternal and child health, communicable and non-communicable diseases, immunization, and family planning, among others, keeping in mind that health advocacy and lifestyle change are the primary goals.
Under the ALE program, health education is provided to every community member who shows interest in learning more about health through adult education. DCI believes that by doing this, the various life challenges, including unplanned expenditure on treatment of preventable cases that result from limited awareness of health issues, are addressed.
While Uganda is primarily a Christian nation (at 84% of the population, officially), illiteracy, social pressures, poverty, cultural syncretism, and limited access all contribute to spiritual immaturity and a sometimes-weak influence on individual lives.
Cultural beliefs and fears combine to lead many Christians to seek out traditional practices that are not compatible with the Gospel, but social pressures continue to influence many. Life is often marked by heavy alcohol use, broken families, and selfish attitudes which lead to violence and crime against neighbors.
Often in our communities it is believed that messages conveyed by church leaders (or any other trusted source) are to be accepted without doubt and are vital for development. But there is no way for many people to compare what they hear to the Bible, allowing many preachers to spread false teaching, to wield total power over the lives of the community, or to convince their members to give everything they have to them. The ability to read scripture with understanding allows people to hold their leaders accountable.
Christian Education was developed for every community member irrespective of whether they are Christians or not. In fact, many of our students are Muslim or hold to other religions. But all of our students benefit from this subject. An emphasis is placed on the over-arching message from God to mankind: God’s word to us as given through the complex variety of stories, styles, and timeframes contained in the Bible. We introduce the different types of literature found in the Bible and how it is used to convey meaning. Attention is also given to the relevance and lessons learned from different biblical concepts such as the fall of mankind, God’s intended purpose for us, the essence of marriage (as companionship, not exploitation), the life lived by different biblical characters and how this is related to our day-to-day lifestyle among the many other areas of focus.
DCI believes that Christian Education will help rural people to evolve into spiritually mature individuals who strive for a stronger personal relationship with God, understand their faith, and live a godly way of life as evidenced in the way they treat those around them and the environment in which they live.
We believe that with participation in Christian Education adult literacy lessons, learners will acquire a transformed spiritual mindset, a holy approach to development, and the zeal to live a just lifestyle.