Value Beyond Words

Bolivian mothers in Compassion Survival gain life-changing literacy skills along with parenting and spiritual support.

What would it be like to be a mother who is illiterate? Even worse, a mother also living in poverty who can’t read or write? To spend a week’s wages on medication for your child, only to be unable to read the instructions on how much he should have.

To sacrifice for your child to go to school, but never to be able to help her with homework.

To have to tell your toddler as he begs you to read him a book, “I can’t.”

These scenarios play out for mothers around the world every day. But in the countryside of Bolivia, the problem is amplified by poverty and prejudice. When a poor family in Bolivia can afford to send only one child to school, it is almost certainly the boy. And girls who are taught that the only values they can offer are cooking and cleaning, they grow into women who feel powerless to escape poverty.

These are the women Alicia Alejandro ministers to every day. As the coordinator at the Alto Pagador Survival program, Alicia works hard to teach mothers how to raise children who can have bright futures. Compassion Survival helps mothers learn how to provide a healthy foundation for their children. They learn what foods to feed their children and what activities will develop their minds. A large component of the program is educating parents, and when Alicia first began teaching mothers basic skills in hygiene and nutrition, she sent them home with worksheets and homework.

But half never completed their worksheets.

It was then that Alicia learned that of the 50 mothers enrolled in Compassion Survival, 20 didn’t know how to read.

“They didn’t have any idea what to do,” says Alicia. “They asked me to help them learn to read and write so they could do their homework, and help their children with their homework too.”

Eduarda Zuniga was one of those mothers who had never learned to read or write. She was raised by an abusive stepmother who refused to send her to school. When she entered Compassion Survival with her daughter, Haiti, Eduarda was 35 and did not know how to write her name.

Soon after registering, Eduarda was approached by Alicia, asking if she wanted to join the other mothers who were taking literacy classes.

“I had always wanted to go to school as a child,” says Eduarda. “I was happy that now I could.”

 

A tutor gives literacy lessons to two mothers in Compassion's Alto Pagador Survival program in Bolivia.
Euarda Zuniga, a mother in Compassion Survival, practices writing in Spanish during a literacy class.
Eduarda is demonstrating to her daughter, Haiti, that education and perseverance are essential to breaking the cycle of poverty.

It has been three years since Alicia worked to launch literacy classes at the center. But even the name “literacy classes” barely scratches the surface of this thriving course. What began with 20 mothers in Compassion Survival has spread to mothers of older children in Compassion’s sponsorship program, women who attend the church that partners with Compassion, as well as women from the entire neighborhood.

Each mother enrolled in the literacy program attends six hours of classes a week for one year. But few want to stop there. Alicia has worked with local schools to provide mothers with free classes in social studies, science and Spanish. These women who never went to school can now earn a sixth-grade education.

That is Eduarda’s goal. She has a third-grade education and plans to keep studying as long as there are classes for her to take. She can now help her first-grade son, Ismael, with his homework. And she is demonstrating to her daughter, Haiti, that education and perseverance are essential to breaking the cycle of poverty.

A Bolivian mother gets guidance from Alicia in class.
Hands-on instruction   
Alicia helps Eduarda with her classwork at a Compassion center in Alto Sebastián Pagador, Bolivia. Eduarda learned of the adult literacy classes after she and her baby daughter joined Compassion Survival.
Because of the literacy skills she’s gaining through Compassion Survival, Eduarda can help her children with their homework.

But what brings Alicia true joy is watching a mother who once believed she had little value grow and blossom into a confident woman — one who spreads hope throughout her entire family.

Alicia continued to work with the church staff as interest in the program grew. She made connections with Bolivia’s department of education, ensuring that the mothers could take the classes for free, as well as receive textbooks at no cost. Students even receive report cards — a tangible symbol to their husbands, children and friends that they believe in the value of education.

These mothers “joined the Survival program without having any idea how to read or write,” says Alicia. “[Now they can] go home and tell their children how to do their homework.”

Alicia has a lot of dreams for the future of this program, including more classrooms, leadership training for the mothers and field trips.

But what brings Alicia true joy is watching a mother who once believed she had little value grow and blossom into a confident woman — one who spreads hope throughout her entire family. “I feel good to see that I am supporting their lives,” says Alicia. “I am happy because they are learning.”

And with each letter learned, each word read, Alicia sees a new future for Bolivia. One in which mothers can help their sons with homework, read books to their babies, and teach their daughters that education is a path out of poverty. ▪

Watch Now
Bolivia: The Love of Literacy  Hear from Alicia and see how she is helping Eduarda and other mothers in Compassion Survival.
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Value Beyond Words

Bolivian mothers in Compassion Survival gain life-changing literacy skills along with parenting and spiritual support.

Longing to Learn

When schoolteachers stop showing up for work in a hard-to-reach village, Compassion’s local church partners intervene on children’s behalf.