Adventist Review features editor Sandra Blackmer is currently in India with North America Division's Hope for Humanity director Maitland DiPinto, Southern Asia Division (SUD) leaders in Women's Ministries, and others to participate in graduation ceremonies for women in southern provinces who have completed church-sponsored literacy courses. Blackmer wrote a cover story [Changing Lives One Word at a Time] about the literacy initiative in the January 15, 2009, issue of the
Review. Also included was an appeal to readers to help purchase Bibles and carrying cases to present to women who completed the yearlong course. The fund-raising goal was $20,000--enough to purchase Bibles and cases for the approximately 4,000 women who would graduate from the 200 literacy classes throughout southern India the following year--but the generosity of
Review subscribers greatly surpassed all expectations. Within just a few months of printing the article, readers had sacrificially donated more than $80,000 to the program. At $5.00 for a Bible and its case, it was enough to provide this gift to graduates for several years. Blackmer now has the privilege of presenting some of these Bibles to literacy course graduates.--The editors.
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he term "mass of humanity" took on new meaning as I was almost carried up the gangplank by the hundreds of men, women, and children squeezing, shoving, and pressing in on me from every side. Some balanced large metal water jars on poles lying across their shoulders; one lugged weaved baskets filled with peeping baby chicks to sell at the market; and others had trays filled with small bags of popcorn and nuts they hoped ferry passengers would buy from them. "So many people!" I shouted to my new new friend Veena, who was grabbing my hand to prevent us being separated. I strained to look beyond those in front of me to catch a glimpse of the person leading our group of 10 individuals here in India to visit literacy centers set up by SUD Women's Ministries and NAD's Hope for Humanity (HFH). I'm glad Maitland's tall
, I thought as I glimpsed his head bobbing above the crowd, and my fear of being separated from the others subsided a little. We're almost there!
It was my third day in India. I was traveling with HFH director Maitland DiPinto; literacy projects coordinator and former SUD Women's Ministries director Hepzibah (Hepzi) Kore; recently elected SUDA Women’s Ministries director Premila Masih; and Northern India Union's Women's Ministries director Veena Gayen. A media specialist, a photographer, the pastoral regional director, and others were also part of the group. We were catching the ferry to the island of Sagardweep, just a few miles from the mainland in the Bay of Bengal where the river Ganga meets the sea. Two hundred women from 20 literacy centers on the island were graduating that day, and we were to take part in the ceremony. After attending classes two hours a day, five days a week, for up to a year and learning not only how to read and write but also to do simple arithmetic, this was indeed a special occasion.
A 30-minute ferry ride landed us on the island, where a jeep and its driver were waiting to transport us to the center. I wiped the sweat off my face as the vehicle soon bumped to a stop in front of a small, whitewashed stone building covered with a densely thatched roof. The heat and humidity were oppressive, but I tried to overlook the discomfort as I climbed out of the jeep. I finally was going to meet some of the women whom I had written about--in collaboration with Hepzibah and Maitland--in the Adventist Review
. I was now to have the opportunity to personally hear the women's stories and present them with the Bibles.
We took our shoes off at the door of the building--a traditional sign of respect--and entered the room. About 20 women varying in age and dressed in vibrant-colored saris sat cross-legged on the floor. Their teacher, or facilitator, stood next to a chalkboard set up on a wooden easel in front of the class. They greeted us with wide smiles.
Hepzi, Maitland, and South Bengal regional director Victor Sam first congratulated the group on their accomplishment, then asked class members who were willing to do so to share how learning to read and write had made a difference in their lives. Some women told of being cheated at the market because they couldn't count the money paid to them for their goods, others expressed feelings of humiliation for being unable to sign their name on documents at the bank. Several had experienced ridicule from people in the community and even members of their own families.
One young woman's story, in particular, struck me forcefully. Born without the ability to either hear or speak, Dulali's sense of loneliness and separation from others was acute--but her handicap hasn't detered her desire to improve her quality of life. When she learned about the literacy center being established in her village, she applied to attend. At first the facilitator turned down her request because she didn't believe it would be possible for her to learn anything. Dulali was relentless in her appeal, however, and finally the facilitator relented. By the use of "sign" language--the teacher simply pointing to items in the room such as the table and pieces of fruit and then writing the words for them on the chalkboard--Dulali slowly learned to read and write. During this last class of the program she confidently walked up front to the board and wrote her name and several other words in her native Bengali language. I couldn't stop my tears. Later that day I had the distinct privilege of presenting her with her Bible.
What a glorious start to my week in India!