Orissa, India | Mark A. Kellner/ANN Staff

Participants in literacy classes.

Participants in literacy classes.

A recently completed literacy course means a new slant on life for 127 people here: they’re not only able to read and write, but they can be better consumers as well as workers who aren’t cheated on their wages.

The literacy classes, held in 10 villages, are part of an outreach by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As a result of the classes, one woman reported she was able to confront a merchant who had shortchanged her on an order of rice. “From now onward you should not cheat anybody, because they are learning [to read] through the Adult Literacy Program,” the woman, Mary Molick, told the merchant.

The Orissa region literacy classes led to small group programs in several villages, as well as economic development programs that will lead to micro-loans to help people earn more money and become self-sufficient.

According to Ardis Stenbakken, director of women’s ministries for the world church, the literacy programs are particularly aimed at women, who often suffer the highest levels of illiteracy. Men are also welcome, and five men were among recent graduates.

Stenbakken says that illiteracy rates in some countries—India, Cambodia, the Philippines—are high, with these nations in the heart of the “10/40 Window,” a term used to describe a geographical rectangle that extends from West Africa, through the Middle East, and into Asia. In this region, more than 60 percent of the world’s population live mostly in poverty.

“When women can read, they earn more, they are able to give more in tithes and offerings and they are able to send their kids to [Adventist] schools,” Stenbakken said. “If we have church members who can’t read, they can’t read the Bible or participate in leadership as well as they could,” she adds.

Stenbakken recounted the story of a woman, Tulusi Jani in the village of Patupadar, who was able to bring a dishonest employer to heel when she saw his records claiming she was paid 50 Indian Rupees per day, but handed only 30 Rupees. Instead of just offering a fingerprint, Jani astounded her employer by offering to sign for her wages.

“Sir, bring your pen and I will sign,” Jani said in an account received by the world church headquarters. “I am no more illiterate and I can read and write. I signed my name and asked for the full amount. ...Now, they cannot cheat us anymore.”

The results of the program include even more than just learning to read. The Orissa church-sponsored events that were held in 10 villages have led 65 students to be baptized, with another 62 preparing for this step.

Stenbakken says the Women’s Ministries Department can sponsor more literacy classes in areas where help is needed if funding can be raised for supplies and training of leaders.