Sunday, September 23, 2012

Popcorn Literacy

Susan and the other Ngaing speakers trying to describe popcorn!
It was like nothing she had ever seen before. Susan reached back into the brown paper bag and pulled out another piece. What was it? She could feel oil on her fingers... and, was that salt? Her eyebrows pulled together in confusion, and she searched for the right words in her language. We were in the second week of the literacy course in Saidor, Madang, and Susan was sitting back-to-back with her fellow Ngaing speakers. They were trying to guess what she was experiencing. “Keep describing,” I urged her. “What does it look like?”

“It’s small,” she finally continued in Ngaing, “and firm, but still breakable. And there are lots of holes all over it. It’s white, with little specks of brown... and bumpy.” She put a piece in her mouth, her lips pursed in thought. “It kind of tastes like corn, but it’s not like corn at all. It’s really delicious!”

“It’s popcorn!” her teammates exclaimed, turning around to confirm their guess of the delicacy. Scattered around the hall, eight different language groups, were working toward the same delicious discovery. This was a creative writing class like they had never experienced before!

Our classroom!
For the month of August, 21 national teachers from 8 different languages scattered around the remote Rai Coast of Madang province, gathered together for an intense teacher training, led by myself and eight other expat and national staff. Our goal was to work alongside the PNG PNG Education department to help provide further training in using their own languages in children’s education, in contrast to using Tok Pisin (the trade language) or English (a foreign language). The focus of this course was on teachers who live in rural areas with minimal access to materials, funding, and support.

How does this relate to Bible translation, you might ask? Well, it goes something like this:

belief that the local language (tok ples) is not valuable = minimal opportunities for tok ples education
minimal opportunities for tok ples education = unable to read/write well in any language
unable to read/write = unable to read the Bible, whether translated or not

A group of guys from the Iyo language practicing reading Scripture
So, since we as Wycliffe believe that having the Word of God translated into your tok ples (or the heart language... the language that you have spoken since you were a baby, and thus the one that shoots straight into your heart) is critical in order to be able to vividly understand God’s love, we have as our goal to see all 830 languages of PNG have access to translated Scriptures. But, what good is it to have all these boxes of translated Scriptures if no one values their language enough to want to read, much less have the knowledge or resources to learn how to read it?

Thus, courses like this one have developed to help local teachers understand the absolute irreplaceable value of their own language and learning to read and write in it first (afterwards, children can then much more successfully make the step to English or another foreign language). In addition, it also met many practical, daily needs through such classes as principles and practices of literacy, fluency, storywriting (which included the popcorn), book production, curriculum creation, and materials development. Because many of these teachers are seen as leaders in their community, as well as have a strong influence among the next generation, we also taught classes on leadership and worldview principles, financial recordkeeping, disease prevention, raising community awareness, and personal Bible study methods. It was a busy four weeks!

Throughout the course, it was very encouraging to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the teachers build as they learned more about their craft and tools they could use in their classrooms. This course is one of four month-long modules that will be spread over the next two years, allowing the teachers to apply what they learn in their classrooms and then come back with reports, questions, and the chance to learn more skills. Who knows, maybe even the popcorn will return next year!