A literacy program coordinated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in El Salvador has reduced the country’s illiteracy rate from 17 to 13 percent, officials say, bringing new opportunities to thousands and bolstering the influence and unity of the church in Central America.
More than 2,500 students received literacy completion certificates at a recent ceremony in San Salvador, making it the largest graduation in a single event held in the church’s Inter-American Division.
Angelica Pania, National Literacy Coordinator for the Ministry of Education in the Central American country, applauded the efforts of the Adventist Church, its volunteers in El Salvador and Hope for Humanity, a humanitarian ministry run by the church’s North American Division.
“I have no words to express our gratitude on behalf of the Ministry of Education in El Salvador … because [you] are our main partner in the process of eradicating illiteracy in the country,” she said.
The Ministry of Education provides materials, training and an accreditation process for literacy program volunteers.
In a keynote address, Maitland DiPinto of Hope for Humanity thanked the hundreds of volunteers who tutor the graduates.
“I am so impressed by the commitment of volunteers who invest more than two hours every day, four times per week, eight months every year and then begin the cycle again the following year to help transform lives,” he said.
According to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in El Salvador, more than 6,000 people have received certification through some 650 literacy circles in the country. The program is staffed by 520 volunteers.
Juan Pablo Ventura, ADRA El Salvador director, said the program is a chance to partner with the Adventist Church and expand the role ADRA plays in the community.
“ADRA is not only an agency that comes to the aid when disaster comes, but one that can be seen as an organization that can enable the Adventist Church in the fulfillment of its social responsibility,” he said.
The program is expanding the influence of the Adventist Church in El Salvador, too.
“This type of service to the community has allowed us to establish ties and be known to communities, government agencies and private entities as people who care for their fellow man,” said Abel Pacheco, president of the church’s El Salvador Union Mission.
Among those who graduated from the literacy program is Fermin Requeno, mayor of the San Juan de la Reyna Municipal district in the state of San Miguel.
“Knowing how to read and write has changed my life,” Requeno said. The mayor is now a main promoter of education in his community.
Another graduate, Maria Elena Gonzalez, 70, works at a laundry service in a medical center in the Apopa municipal district and was among 22 people who attended the literacy circle there.
“My family was so poor and I wasn’t able to get an education,” she said. “I felt so bad every time I went to the bank to cash my check because I didn’t know how to write my name, so I decided to make an effort to learn how to read and write.”
Eradicating illiteracy across Inter-America is a priority of the church in the region, said Wally Amundson, ADRA director for the church in Inter-America.
Although statistics vary from country to country, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras have seen their illiteracy rates go down significantly, Amudson said.
“We want to explore all the possibilities to reach the illiterate population within the church as well as in the community,” he said.
To date, Hope for Humanity has funded literacy programs in nine countries in Inter-America. Among the 3.6 million IAD church membership, it’s estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of church members who do not know how to read or write.
“Literacy is a challenge in the Adventist Church in Inter-America and other parts of the world,” DiPinto said. “We say that we are ‘people of the Word,’ but there are millions of church members worldwide who do not know how to read their Bibles or Sabbath School lessons.”
Each graduate at the recent San Salvador event received a new Bible—a chance to practice newfound skills while learning about God.
The Inter-American Division wants to implement more literacy programs based in the church, Amundson said.
“These literacy programs which are led by the initiative and participation of church members make the program successful because there is an infrastructure available to bring together various ministries of the church to form groups of volunteers,” he said.
Pacheco, the local Adventist president, said the church in El Salvador has set a goal for 2014 to see each of the country’s 930 Adventist churches begin serving as community literacy circles.
So far, literacy circles in El Salvador have 175 facilitators, who meet with their students in homes and churches.