The Seventh-day Adventist Church in El Salvador recently celebrated its decade-long literacy program by graduating more than 500 people who now know how to read and write. The students, mostly adults, smiled big as they held their certificate of completion during a special program held at the Central Adventist Church in San Salvador, on January 17.
“Today is a historic day for our Seventh-day Adventist Church because many dreams have been fulfilled towards adult literacy in our country,” said Abel Pacheco, president of the church in El Salvador.
Pacheco thanked top church leaders from the North American Division and the Inter-American Division for showing their support in the fight against illiteracy in El Salvador.
According to Pacheco, an average of 2,500 persons have graduated each year through the literacy circles taught by volunteer teachers or facilitators at Adventist churches and schools. Students include young people but more than 80 percent are older adults, he said.
Thanks to funds from the North American Division’s Hope for Humanity and the office of Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Inter-America, the literacy initiative has been in operation for more than a decade. The literacy initiative prompted El Salvador’s Ministry of Education department to jump on board to strengthen the national campaign against illiteracy.
Ministry of Education’s National Education of Adults director, Angelica de Paniagua, congratulated and thanked the Adventist Church and its volunteers for the contribution in eradicating illiteracy in El Salvador.
According to statistics by the Ministry of Education as of 2015, there is an illiteracy rate of 10.83% among those 15 years and older. With a population of about 6.29 million, that’s roughly more than 681,000 people who do not know how to read or write across its municipal districts.
The Ministry of Education provides literacy textbooks and school supplies, community centers, schools, and facilitators while the church provides meeting places like churches and schools as well as facilitators several times a week during the eight-month literacy class program.
Seeing the initiative grow in El Salvador brought a lot of satisfaction to Maitland DiPinto, Adventist Community Services director of community engagement and coordinator for Partners in Mission in NAD.
DiPinto learned of a literacy need among church members in the IAD many years ago and worked in partnership with Wally Amundson, recently retired and former ADRA Inter-America director, to set literacy programs in motion in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. Estimated figures showed that 20 to 25 percent of church members did not know how to read or write, said DiPinto.
“We as Seventh-day Adventists are a people who believe in the Word of God and reading it is important for us to grow spiritually, so providing tools for church members to be able to study the Bible, the Sabbath school lesson and sing from the hymn book was part of our goal in this initiative,” said DiPinto. In turn they could benefit by getting better jobs, help their children with homework and share the gospel in their communities.
“Our teachers or facilitators become mentors because they are connecting with people three or four times a week in the literacy circles, and as a result many end up joining the church,” explained DiPinto.
The facilitators are the unsung heroes, said DiPinto. “They work hard, they are so faithful and committed to the task of teaching others how to read and write.”
There are some 267 trained volunteers, mostly young people from Adventist Churches, who are facilitators across the country, according to Juan Pablo Ventura, director of ADRA El Salvador.
Rafael García Sánchez was among those who spoke during the graduation ceremony. He attended a literacy circle years ago and has been one of ADRA’s literacy circle facilitators.
García began volunteering without the intention of joining the church, but as he taught others to read and write, he learned about the Adventist Church. “I was searching for peace in the midst of some personal problems and soon joined a Bible study group and was later baptized,” said García. He is a professional in sociology and is happy to be part of teaching with ADRA because he feels that is part of the change that the country needs.
Being part of the change is what has church leaders excited and committed to continuing with the literacy initiative.
The North American Division has donated thousands of dollars annually to fund the literacy program in El Salvador with matching funds from the IAD and the El Salvador Union office.
“We are so thankful that with this literacy program in place it has brought us greater evangelism impact in our country as many people are learning about Jesus,” said Pacheco.
Pacheco announced that the goal is to have every one of its 757 churches as a literacy center.
DiPinto is happy to continue coordinating the literacy initiative because he said the NAD is interested in working with sister divisions around the world to promote the mission of the church.
During the upcoming Adventist world church’s executive spring meetings, NAD and IAD top leaders will sign a Memorandum of Understanding to formally continue partnering to support literacy ministry efforts for next five years.
Adventist Review and Adventist World Magazine editor and executive publisher Bill Knott attended the graduation ceremony and said that the magazines will join NAD in expanding support for literacy initiatives around the world.
The upcoming issue of April’s Adventist World Magazine will feature the El Salvador literacy program as a springboard to encourage readers around the globe to support the church’s literacy efforts, said Knott.
“Adventist World has made a commitment to invite its readership to raise $100,000 in 2017 for literacy efforts,” said Knott. “Our full commitment is to a three-year, ongoing fundraising campaign through our print editions of 1.5 million copies per month and websites, allowing readers to contribute by credit card, PayPal or postal service mail.”
Each graduate from the literacy program received a Bible as a gift.
There are more than 198,700 Seventh-day Adventists worshiping in 757 churches and 222 congregations.
For more on the Seventh-day Adventist Church in El Salvador and its programs, visit unionelsalvador.org