Lahore: Caritas teaching Christian women to read and write

Free courses are part of a project launched in 2014. Since then, at least 175 students have completed the six-month programme, which is offered in five locations in the city’s slums. Education means helping “female leaders to think about the development of the community."

Jun 09, 2016

LAHORE: "My knees were shaking when the catechist called me to read for the first time during the Mass in the church of St Anthony. At first, I was reluctant, but then I felt more confident after talking in front of people,” said Sumera Perwaiz, a 20-year-old woman, who said about her first public speech.

The young woman took free courses at Caritas in Lahore, and learnt to read and write. The Catholic charity has been using the Bible as a literacy tool for young women since 2014 in cooperation with the Pakistan Bible Society, a Protestant organisation that translates, publishes and distributes Bibles. Since its inception, some 175 young women and girls have learnt to read and write even though they have never attended school.

About 42 per cent of Pakistan’s 184 million are illiterate, this according to the Education for All 2015 National Review Study Report: Pakistan, a report prepared by the Pakistani Ministry of Education for UNESCO.

The study shows that there are major differences in literacy between the countryside (where 62 per cent of the population lives) and Pakistan’s cities. Gender also plays a role. At the national level, two out of three women over 15 cannot read or write and 35 per cent of girls do not go to school. About 6.7 million children have no access to education, mostly girls (62 per cent).

Perwaiz knows this first hand. "My father is very strict and against women’s education,” she said. “He would tell me that it corrupts our minds.”

For this reason, she and two other sisters were not allowed to learn. By contrast, her two brothers went to school, but they quit in Grade 9 and 10. Now they are sanitation workers.

As a woman, Perwaiz was destined for housework, until she heard about the literacy classes offered by the Church of Mother Teresa in Charagh Park, a Lahore slum. At that point, she enrolled and learnt to read.

Komal Masih’s story is similar. She too owes a lot to the Catholic charity. She was forced to leave school at seven, when she was in Grade 2, after her father was injured in an accident. "We could no longer bear school costs,” she explained with regret. “However, I have always wanted to study."

Together with 35 other girls, she is now taking afternoon courses after her work as a domestic in four homes. The free two-hour lessons allowed her to learn the grammar of Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, as well as the basics of mathematics.

Caritas offers the courses in five different locations in some of the city’s slums. Local parishes provide the location, plus 30 per cent of the cost, including teachers’ salaries and educational material.

"We need to motivate poor Christians about education,” said Fr Joseph Louis, a former executive secretary at Caritas Lahore. “Many families, even in big cities like Lahore, do not educate their daughters. It is important to use the church pulpit to raise awareness."

"It is a challenge to get local Christian leaders to spend time to bring people together," the priest explained. Fortunately, “some former students help teachers with young people. Courses also help female leaders to think about the development of the community."--Asia News

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