USA (MNN) — September 8th is World Literacy Day, and Food for the Hungry is celebrating what is being done to transform lives through education – especially the lives of women in highly vulnerable countries.
Gary Edmonds, Food for the Hungry President, says he’s used to people asking why a ministry known for nutrition programs would be involved in literacy. “The reason why Food for the Hungry exists is actually to end all forms of hunger or all forms of poverty,” he shares, ”and so we take hunger not simply as foodstuffs. It includes the spiritual dimension, the physical dimension, the social dimension of life. And consequently, when we look at this, we’re saying going into communities that are broken, communities that are highly impoverished, that we must deal with the people in a holistic or all-encompassing kind of a manner.”
Edmonds says Food for the Hungry is seeing significant progress in several countries. “For example, we’re actively engaged in the country of Bangladesh. And there in the country of Bangladesh, you’ve got literally thousands and thousands of women who have had no education.” Culturally in that country, women are viewed as property to be used for service – with no more value than a piece of farm equipment. He continues, “The consequence of that is that these women have not been allowed to be educated in life, and so we have gone through in working in these highly broken, impoverished communities and actually taken initiative not only to work with the women in maternity health, but to work with the women on literacy.”
The benefits of literacy programs in countries like Bangladesh have been dramatic. As women learn to read and write, they are empowered to do everything from banking to helping their children with homework. “They can go into a community, read the signs, they read a newspaper, they can participate in an election because they can read now for the first time in their life, and it totally empowers them and it raises dramatically their dignity.”
The changes taking place through educational programs for women go beyond everyday activities. Edmonds says culture changes as well.
“Their health improves, their family dynamics improve, we see domestic violence going down significantly, and we see women taking initiative to develop business, create savings groups, and to coach and to train their own children in an educational process.”
Edmonds encourages others to consider literacy as a key to ending poverty and oppression around the world. “As you think about this, of Literacy Day, realize that the privileges we have in the United States are not true where we work around the globe, and so literacy literally takes a woman and transforms her in dramatic, significant ways. We have right now a significant literacy program in Bangladesh, and we have another significant literacy program in the country of Guatemala where, historically, women have not been educated. We also have a program in Rwanda where the education level has been set for girls at less than two grades. I mean, imagine that – thinking that women were not allowed to be educated beyond a second grade level.”
Prayer is a constant need for both the Food for the Hungry missionaries and the women they serve – prayer for safety, prayer for endurance, prayer for Christ to be glorified in every program and in every home. And Edmonds invites people to visit the Food for the Hungry website to learn more about the programs and then get involved through sponsorship or support of a specific project.