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Spears turn to sickles by the word in PNG


Sower Autumn 2016 

Ordinarily, Papua New Guinean men won’t lower themselves to admit they need to be taught to read, but half of a recent literacy group were former combatants of the Bougainville conflict – probably killers. They were happy to be instructed by Dorothy Yogai, literacy coordinator for Bible Society of Papua New Guinea, so they could set themselves up in business growing cacao.

While a prisoner in a PNG jail, Hetty Philip trained to be a literacy teacher under Bible Society of PNG’s Prison Literacy Project. After her release in 2011, Hetty went back to her village and set up her first literacy class, graduating 12 students. She then trained volunteer teachers and extended the literacy school to two more villages. This year, a class of 12 women graduated in Chimbu Province. Her vision is now to build a training centre in her community to teach literacy.

A young woman holds a child at Talai preschool in PNG.

A young woman holds a child at Talai preschool in PNG.

These two women are inspiring illustrations of the diverse strands of a national Bible-based Literacy Project that began in PNG prisons seven years ago. Last year the project was extended to cater not only for released prisoners but also any interested communities. It began in the island province of Bougainville, where an entire generation missed out on school, but it has now spread to many of the country’s 22 provinces, including communities, prisons and Bible colleges. There are also plans to expand the project to other Pacific countries.

Half the population of Papua New Guinea are illiterate, meaning they cannot read their newly translated Bibles or read the newspaper, or the instructions on agricultural supplies.

“This figure does not take into account the concept of functional literacy,” says Milton McMahon, executive secretary of Bible Society of PNG. “Many who show as being literate are not really functionally literate. This includes some pastor trainees in the Bible Colleges, where we will be working.”

Among the 5000 to 6000 who could be reached through this project are many young to middle-aged women (“mothers”), who see learning to read as a way of opening the door to a new lifestyle, instead of being trapped by their inability to communicate other than orally.

The current three-year project is a TOT (Training the Trainer) scheme that encompasses churches/communities, prisons, Bible colleges and three translation projects nearing completion. A TOT course is being included in the curriculum of 12-15 Bible colleges so that pastors will be equipped to undertake literacy training.

All 18 jails in the country are being included and a position has been created in the Corrective Services Department to coordinate the expansion.

Will you help thousands learn to read with the Bible in Papua New Guinea? Please call 1300 BIBLES or donate below:


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