By Sgt. Lizette HartDecember 30, 2011
PAKTIYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Dec. 30, 2011) -- With a bright yellow notebook in hand, a young boy sits on the floor of a bazaar shop staring at the words on the page, trying to recall what he learned in school. Looking for help, he turns to the man next to him, as they are both learning how to read by listening to an educational radio program.
In a country where the literacy rate is below 30 percent, a coalition Special Operations Forces team in Jaji district decided to assist Afghan citizens by facilitating a regular radio literacy program.
Having the local people dependent on spoken words poses a problem when Afghan and coalition forces distribute written materials containing vital information on medical treatment, educational opportunities and government activities.
"Giving out print products around here doesn't work because no one can read," said the coalition SOF team noncommissioned officer, or NCO, responsible for the literacy program. "Everything comes from the radio: news, information, government programs and education programs."
While looking for ways to improve the lives of Afghans, the coalition SOF team discovered a literacy program that could reach thousands of people simultaneously.
"The intent of the radio program is to have one teacher, teaching 5,000 people at the same time," said the coalition SOF NCO. "It's not the best scenario, but if we didn't do this program, we'd have nothing."
In late November 2011, the coalition SOF team met with district shura leaders to propose the idea of the literacy program.
"We went to the district shura to tell them we have this literacy program and explained to them what the program was and how it was supposed to work," said the coalition SOF NCO. "We took a poll to see who would be interested in the program and everyone said they were."
Upon approval from the shura, 5,000 books were ordered, which took about three weeks to arrive. In addition, notebooks, pens and radios were also given to prospective listeners.
"We gave all those materials to the shura and told them let us know when they get it distributed, so we can start running the program," said the coalition SOF NCO.
The literacy program consists of 60 prerecorded lessons. Each lesson lasts approximately 15-30 minutes and is broadcasted three times a day. Airing four days a week, the whole program takes three months to complete.
"By the time the program finishes, the people should be able to read and write at a good level to communicate in their own language," said the coalition SOF NCO. "When we get to the end of the program, the idea is to give the books to people who didn't get them this time and start the program all over again."
On days the program is held, the local radio station plays the recording, while listeners at home follow along to a "teacher" guiding them through their workbooks.
"The program is prerecorded and all the [Disc jockey] has to do is press play," said the coalition SOF NCO. "We make advertisements during the day, and the listeners are already getting used to the schedule now that we've been running it for a couple weeks."
Even with 5,000 books being used and radios distributed to most households, most listeners tend to gather at central locations with the purpose of assisting each other with more difficult lessons. Some adults already have a basic understanding of the written language and are able to coach fellow villagers during the radio lessons.
"We can make a group when the radio program is going and one person can take responsibility, and everybody can come in, and I can interpret it for them," said an Ali Kheyl village elder.
Often, people will share their books with children who are already learning how to read and write in school. The adults treat the literacy program as supplemental lessons to the education their children are already receiving.
"We didn't have enough to give every single person in the village one book, which is why the intent was to get people together at night or the afternoon to listen to the radio," said the coalition SOF NCO. "You have 10 people listening to the radio and only one book, but everyone has the chance to learn."
Even when the program isn't playing, some people will turn back to prior lessons for review, or look ahead to see what's next on the lesson plan.
"Everyone is really thankful for all the books, and people like to study on their own for self-improvement," said an Ali Kheyl village elder. "We like to have a direct link toward improvement."
The literacy program is also a way to educate adults in an area that lacks qualified teachers and with an anticipated increase in literacy among adults, there will be better dissemination of information across the villages in the district. Villagers will be more aware of the opportunities available to them and more able to take part in their community.
"There will be more information about current events and projects in the area," said the coalition SOF NCO. "I just want this program to be the best thing for them right now, and I want them to get the most out of it, and we're going to keep running it the way it is until we have suggestions or people have better ideas. It's helping each other out. That's what this thing is all about."