By, Lynda Kristowaty, A Peace Corps Volunteer leading MKMC’s Public Health Program
Most Americans are familiar with silent sustained reading or Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) programs from elementary school, although some of us may recall it more fondly than others. While literacy promotion is a staple of the U.S. education system, it is a relatively recent initiative in Uganda. According to the World Bank (2010), the national adult literacy rate is 72.1%. While this may seem like a solid literacy rate, it is important to note that there are many children and adults who do not have access to education because they cannot afford school fees, or they have to work to support their family, or they have to care for an ailing parent. This burden falls predominantly on young girls who are more likely to leave school without finishing primary school.
In an effort to raise awareness about the importance of literacy and its effect on the population of Uganda, the government set aside March 5th as its second Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) Day. On this day, Peace Corps and the Ministry of Education implement literacy activities across the country including read alouds, writing workshops, and designated school-wide silent reading time. While this day is traditionally carried out by Peace Corps education volunteers at their respective schools, Jimmy and I decided to participate using our recently created youth group. For the past few weeks, Jimmy and I have been vetting students from King’s College High School, Masindi-Kitara Christian High School, Excel Boarding School, and Masindi Secondary School. To qualify for MKMC’s youth group, these students needed to meet three criteria: aspire to become a health professional, interest in community service activities, and desire to develop leadership skills.
National DEAR Day presented an excellent opportunity to gather our neophyte group and develop a community activity. In preparation, the youth group learned about the importance of literacy and how it can lead to improved health, socioeconomic status, and self esteem. They also learned how to create children’s stories. Over the course of two days, the youth group was able to write a story about HIV and stigma as well as a story explaining how to prevent malaria. On National DEAR Day, our youth group traveled to Kabalega Primary School, Kihande Muslim Primary School, and Canaan Junior School to share their storybooks, provide additional information about health issues raised in their stories, as well as explain the importance of literacy in one’s daily life and for achieving one’s future goals. Due to all of their hard work, our youth were able to win books from Peace Corps not just for their youth group but for each of the three primary schools they read to! It is evident through these students’ dedication and infectious enthusiasm that they are well on their way to shaping the future of Uganda.
Photos from DEAR Day:
Students creating a story about malaria prevention.
Students creating a story about HIV and the stigma attached to it.
Teaching at Kabalega Primary School.
Teaching at Kihande Muslim Primary School.
Teaching at Canaan Junior School.