My day begins with a few encouraging verses of Scripture, followed by a flick through on my phone of the latest news and a text to a friend to confirm plans for the weekend. It is then time to take a lateral flow test, but first we have a careful read through of the instructions to make sure we do everything correctly. Over breakfast we then chat through what to cook for tea and delve into a few of our recipe books.

Now try to imagine all that without being able to read or write.

Literacy as an adult is something that I have come to take for granted, rattling off words all day long in my communications role at WorldShare, but for the 773 million illiterate adults across the world the reality is very different. [1]

Not being able to send the odd text message, here and there, may not seem too bad, but illiteracy causes all kinds of other struggles which drive the poorest even deeper into poverty.

Health can be harmed if you are unable to read instructions on a bottle of medicine, rights can be taken away through not understanding contracts and agreements, and truths in Scripture can remain hidden.

ChrisFon Education

Struggles which ministry partner ChrisFon is helping brick kiln communities in Pakistan to free themselves from, recognising the importance of literacy for transforming communities. They share:

Adult literacy remains a big challenge and barrier to development that we need to address. When the project was conceived, literacy training was a top priority. So much of human development depends on functional literacy. People need to be able to do things like read instructions on a bottle of medicine or understand what they are signing.

The vital role literacy places in development and the right people have to learn to read and write is demonstrated too by the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4.6:

‘By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.’

A goal which has now been drastically set back by the Covid-19 pandemic, due to so many schools being closed and literacy programmes being halted. The UN estimates that 20 years of education gains have been wiped out as a result. [2]

Illiteracy in Pakistan

The brick kiln communities, who ChrisFon work with in Pakistan, have been trapped in a cycle of bonded labour for generations, being exploited and enslaved. Lack of literacy, combined with poverty, has taken away their choice to move away from this life of modern-day slavery

With no savings or other income opportunities, brick kiln workers turn to the brick kiln owners for loans. These owners often provide loans, but in return provide workers with contracts to keep them working with minimal pay in the brick kilns until the loans are paid off – an impossible task as they design loan repayments with unreasonable interest and provide a below minimum wage. Because brick kiln workers are mostly illiterate, and ignorant of their legal rights, they are easily exploited and fall into the trap of the bonded labour system.

A cycle which continues with their children as once a worker is indebted, their whole family needs to work to pay off the loan. Although it is illegal to employ someone under the age of sixteen in Pakistan, many children still end up stopping school to help their family in the brick kilns, perpetuating the problem of illiteracy. On top of this, children often ended up inheriting their parents' debt, leading to generations of exploitation.

Literacy prayer and praise

ChrisFon Education

Praise God though that through ministries like ChrisFon, communities are being given the chance to learn to read and write, and that from this, doors are opening, to a better life.

ChrisFon comes alongside communities to provide literacy classes, work through employment rights, teach alternative income generation skills so that the brick kiln workers can earn additional income to pay of their debts, and pay for vital supplies, and help encourage children to go to school.

Please pray for the ChrisFon team as they continue with this ministry and work to overcome one of the major challenges involved:

"One big thing that is still to be done at the kilns is to motivate the people to develop in themselves the desire to become literate so that they and their children can read and write. The problem we found was that there is no literate person either on the kiln or in the vicinity. We continue to pray that God will help us solve this problem and totally transform the communities of the brick kilns."

Find out more here about how you can help ChrisFon to transform lives among the brick kiln communities of Pakistan.

By Harriet Robson, WorldShare Marketing Communications Specialist