The health literacy program is moving along well. Now in its fourth week, the basic literacy students have learned all the letters and their most common sounds, and are working to sound out new words and learn "sight words."
The students are interested in a variety of health topics, which we discussed in class during the first weeks. They are especially interested in basic children's health, including proper nutrition, sanitation, and keeping students healthy in schools. They are also interested in malaria treatment and prevention, clean and safe food practices, information about cholera and diarrhea, and how to learn about one's health status. We have now covered malaria prevention and treatment using text and illustrations, and the class is learning important words in health to be able to better navigate the available health resources. The malaria classes were particularly interesting as the classes engaged in discussions about why it is important to finish all the medicine prescribed by a doctor, and how to best locate and use bed nets to prevent malaria.
Many of the students speak no or minimal English. However, most written resources available, both in the libraries and at health centers, are in English. Thus, it is important for students to learn to understand English words too. This means they have double (or triple) duty to learn basic reading skills, health information, and also English. The students typically take a lot of initiative in learning English with the help of their family members or friends who can read or speak English, especially their children or grandchildren. CESRUD in Ghana is looking into grants for adult literacy, and we are trying to include funding to produce small picture books in Fra Fra (a local language in Ghana) to expand reading materials available in the local language.
The classes have between 10-20 students each. Most of the classes are women, with two or three men in each class. There is a wide range of ages, from young adults to elderly, but most are approximately between 30 and 45. The students' ability levels also run the gamut from completely illiterate to people who had some secondary education. Despite this wide range, the class is still able to function as a single unit. The students who came with reading skills practice reading the health text aloud and help to explain what they read to the rest of the class. This gives them fluency practice, and also works to expand their vocabulary. During the basic literacy portion of the classes they also help the other students, and also work on improving their writing and reading. In some cases, despite previous schooling, the students have not read or written anything in years (sometimes 30-40 years) so the review is very valuable.
The students who attend classes regularly are very committed to their education. The librarians have reported that they often come to the libraries to look at books, even those whose reading ability has them simply practicing identifying letters. They also check out books to read at home, and they report that they read them with their children or other family members who can read.
The students' dedication is paying off, with good progress in reading and in the health material. Within the next several weeks we intend to address more of the topics they are interested in, and increase the students confidence with basic reading through continued practice.