Beyond Numerical Literacy in Kenya

Caleb Wafula | November 9, 2017

Traditional dancers entertain guests at the International Literacy Day celebration on September 8.

The procession during the International Literacy Day Celebration on September 8.

“…With the knowledge and skills  gained from the adult literacy trainings – along with the capital support – we  are slowly achieving  our dreams;  yes, dreams of  starting and managing small-scale businesses for economic independence .”

These are the words of 35-year-old Vivian Chepkemoi Yarakinei’, a mother of five (she has three sons and two daughters) and the chairperson of the Psirwo women’s group in the drought-hit pastoral county of West Pokot in Kenya.  Vivian, a chicken farmer, is one of more than 200 women participating in a CWS-supported adult learning program in the area.

September is International Literacy Month, and I talked to Vivian on the sidelines of an event celebrating International Literacy Day on September 8. The event, which was held at one of the local primarily schools, had a theme of “Literacy in a digital world.”

UNESCO reports that in today’s world at least 750 million adults and 264 million out-of-school children still lack basic literacy skills. With the fast rise of the digital revolution and access to information and communication networks, how has the CWS support positioned the Psirwo women to benefit from the digital technologies?

Working hand-in-hand with the local partner Yangat, CWS has presented unprecedented opportunities for transforming their communities.  Vivian noted that this training is particularly innovative because aside from participants learning to read and write, the women in the group have acquired a better sense of engaging in small-scale businesses that range from baking to groceries, poultry keeping and goat rearing.

With the majority of group members owning a mobile phone – and thanks to Kenya’s world-leading mobile money transfer system, M-PESA – the women are able to easily make payments, save up money and acquire loans to expand their businesses for increased income.

The majority of the group members are utilizing their income to better the living standards of their families, especially children. In Vivian’s words, “While the income may not be enough to solve all our household problems, it is increasingly enabling group members to avoid negative drought coping strategies, such as taking children out of school or selling off livestock at plummeting prices.”

Caleb Wafula is the Information Specialist, Relief, Development and Protection with CWS in Kenya.