A few Saturdays ago there was a perfect storm for poor attendance to the health literacy class in Sumbrungu library: it was market day, there were two important funerals, and also it was the Saturday before Palm Sunday,
When class time rolled around, there was only one student present. When 10 minutes had passed, there was still only one student present. I decided to swallow my annoyance at the other students, and focus on making it the best private tutoring session for the one dedicated student Beatrice, who has never missed a class.
I grew up surrounded by books, and some of my favorite childhood memories of my father come from us reading together, despite his penchant for picking age inappropriate books (reading your seven year old The Pearl pretty much guarantees she will grow up with a stark view of human nature and greed). However, for people who didn't have that exposure to reading, books are somewhat of a foreign object no matter how much we encouraged the students to use the library to practice reading. I decided in this private lesson Beatrice and I would read a book together, since reading with someone else can be very pleasant and educational, and it can break down the distance between the new reader and the world of books.
I picked one of the books from the Reading West Africa Program, What Work Do You Do? by Brian Lance. This book was fantastic for Beatrice, who has only recently mastered her letters and sounds, and has been working on sounding out and identifying words. The sentences were formulaic so she could start seeing patterns, and the pictures were both accurate and interesting to help her identify and understand the larger words like butcher or mechanic
The first several pages I would read the sentence, explain it to her, and then she would repeat it. After several pages of correcting herself as she repeated the sentences, Beatrice correctly read a new sentence all by herself. With my help she stumbled through the rest of the book, and at the end I don't know who was more proud between the two of us. My favorite teachers have told me about the intrinsic rewards of teaching, and I have volunteered and tutored in the past, but I was still unprepared for the amount of pride and happiness I felt in my student finishing a book and being able to read sentences on her own.
Now literacy doesn't come in a day, not even during a one-on-one reading session, but that moment when Beatrice realized that she was capable of reading sentences on her own and of finishing a book will help carry her through the frustrations that come with learning to read, especially as an adult. It also reminded me, like a saccharine after school special, that even in the failure of having most of my students miss class, I could find a lot of joy and merit in my work.
Learning to read, one adult at a time...
From FAVL volunteer Brianna Osetinsky, in Ghana: