By Moonyeen King
President of the Board for Tepehua
It is virtually impossible to visualize what it is like to be illiterate. How terrifying and incomprehensible the world must seem. Non-comprehension means not understanding the need for school. Nor the importance of hygiene or nutrition. The power of thinking is limited, not because of stupidity but because of lack of training to ‘think’. The knowledge of reasoning has to be taught.
So Religion, myth and superstition will guide the thought process and will identify with that rather than logic. Dealing with personal trauma will also be affected by the lack of thought process, domestic and sexual abuse becomes the deciding factor. A woman, not knowing she has rights, opens her world to abuse and low self esteem, and will hold low status in her community.
Lack of comprehension is happening in Tepehua. A classic example, a girl called Joanna. Joanna’s world is limited. Because of the illiteracy she was born into, she has never been to school. The whole family tree has apples with no seeds of knowledge to implant into their children, of which they have many because of natural conception.
Everything in their world is a natural process. Hungry? Eat. Thirsty? Drink. Instant gratification because it is ‘now’ they want it. No thought of scheduling for tomorrows needs. It is placating the pleasure/need of ‘now.’ Poverty may not give them the chance tomorrow.
Joanna, at 27, has four children and no husband. Eight-year-old girl from her first encounter, then three boys by another bad choice. She has been on the street basically since the writer met her four years ago. To watch her try to work her way to reasoning is an education in itself for the viewer, the humiliation of not having the ability to process thought.
The Tepehua Community Center has been trying to help, first to dry her out from crack cocaine. The reader will say...Stop right there, she deserves this. No, she doesn’t. What Joanna deserves is her legal right to an education. The right to put her children into the school system, whether they have shoes or not. All any child should take to school is their brain. If you are illiterate, how can you understand you have to register your children at birth? How can you fill out the forms they need because you cannot read or write? Why are children turned away from school because they have no birth certificate? The proof of life is standing there, and why should the fact he/she has no shoes matter? These laws are creating a generation of illiteracy over and over.
It is said that one of the deadly sins, is pride. This the writer does not believe, because pride is a virtue that keeps women going. Joanna has a fierce pride, she has courage to keep her little family together against all odds. Why does she have these babies? In these barrios of poverty and illiteracy, they are not taught family planning. They cannot go to the corner 7-11 for condoms, they cannot afford birth control pills...then there is the Church that tells them to virtually replenish the earth. Superstition controls thought.
Tepehua Community Center put out a call for help. The need to build Joanna a brick house, one the wolf at the door could not break down. To do that, the tent was dismantled to put in a foundation of Hope...and as donations come in, brick by brick it is being built. DIF was called in by someone who claims to care, and Joanna’s children may be put into an institution, if we cannot finish this home in a very short time.
Joanna is turning her life around. For help from the Center, it is mandatory for Joanna take her children to the Center’s bathing program. (She may be illiterate and not know how to care for her children, but in this little dirty group there is a lot of love, and institutions cannot replace that.) Joanna must then work as volunteer to help clean up. This is a program that teaches those with no running water the need for hygiene which brings well-being. In doing so, in spite of ignorance, they will learn.
Joanna will not leave this area of the barrio, all her family are there, they are their own support system, and worst enemy. They understand each other. Ignorance and dire poverty has a language of its own. Joanna’s four meter by four meter home will be finished before Christmas with a little luck and generosity of others. It is being built on her father’s little patch of ejido property. It does not belong to her, it belongs to her four children. If she ever makes another bad choice...they are safe. The eight-year-old girl is in school now. In time, so will the three younger boys, the youngest two years. Perhaps we can keep the wolf and DIF from her door until she makes it.
Do not shun the illiterate, teach them. In turn they will teach you the power of pride. Walk a mile in their shoes one day...see what they cannot see. Names of streets, what’s in a package of food for sale...price of beans...what house is a doctor’s office, hotel, DIF office or even a police station. Where to call for help. How to write their name. It would not take a mile for you to understand what it means to be illiterate.