As I removed my shoes, I could feel the burning sun beating down on my back, and I could hear the call to prayer coming from the building next door. I turned around and greeted a mid-70’s Zanzibarian woman who held a stack of books in her hand and had one of the most infectious smiles on her face. She introduced herself as Asha, and with a pat on her chest as a sign of respect, ushered me to sit down. She was joined by more than 20 others – men and women, of all ages and faiths, dressed in different clothes – all with one thing that held them together: their desire to change the lives of their children.
I sat and we began to discuss what life in their community was like. I heard about the distance between homes and schools being a fear for young girls, the lack of teachers causing children to drop out, the missing books, the poverty.
The poverty – the lack of money, lack of food, lack of clothes, and lack of “life.”
But as I listened, as I often do on these visits, I took a moment to reflect – that last lack wasn’t true. Life was here, life was present, life was moving, life was being lived. These parents, and their children, have no choice – but their stories weren’t full of tears or anger or righteous indignation. These stories, yes, while full of pain, were also full of plans. Parents spoke of wanting to understand what more they could do. Parents asked if we could partner together more. Parents wondered how best these issues could be solved.
Studies in global literacy programming show significant gains in children’s reading, comprehension, and fluency when their parents are involved. Education and understanding increases, self-esteem improves, relationships strengthen, and children benefit. Within the early grade reading program we are running, in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Research Triangle Institute (RTI), Plan is working to empower parents to change their children’s lives. Plan’s goal is to work alongside a parent who might have never stepped in a classroom, to open a book and read, to discuss with a teacher about their child, to engage with their children in learning. Plan desires to show parents that playing with words, letters, and pictures is powerful, that telling folklore tales and engaging in education is life-changing, and that protecting the future of their children is ensuring they don’t have to be relegated to the past. Plan’s goal is to equip, empower, and educate parents to know they truly are the greatest influencers in their children’s lives.
I have always been astounded by the strength that a parent in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, or Mozambique shows in the face of so much potential fear. Having lived 12 years in Sub-Saharan Africa myself, I never tire of seeing resilience in the face of reality, faith in the face of fear, hope in the face of hopelessness. At Plan International USA, we strive to help others help themselves, and, in our education programming we work with parents to let them see their true potential – that they truly are powerful agents of change for their children. I have always thought that you have never truly seen the power of a person until you have seen the power of a loving parent. That truth is never more evident than in the moment a parent, one who may seem “lacking” in her own learning, realizes she can still have an enormous positive impact on her children.