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Mothers' Union Transformation Literacy Programme in Gambella, Ethiopia
Mothers' Union in Ethiopia have been running literacy groups throughout the country since 2012
Ethiopia is one of largest countries in Sub Saharan Africa with a population of over 105 million people. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 173 out of 189 on the UN’s 2018 Multi-dimensional poverty index. Within Ethiopia, only 39% of adults over the age of 25 are literate and children on average receive only 2.7 years of schooling (UN, 2018 Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index, p.42). Ethiopia is also home to more than 900,000 refugees of which more than 400,000 are in the Gambella region, having fled the ongoing instability and conflict in neighbouring South Sudan.
Mothers’ Union is a key part of the Anglican Church of Ethiopia (ACE). ACE is headquartered in Gambella, and is part of the Diocese of Egypt. Nonetheless, the majority of ACE members are actually displaced from South Sudan. For refugees, there are few opportunities for either formal education, employment and economic empowerment.
The Gambella region is one of the poorest regions of Ethiopia with at least 44% of the population living under the poverty line and child mortality is a third higher than the national average. ACE estimates that only 2% of women in the Anglican Church can read and write and therefore not able to take on leadership positions or lead services. However, since 2012 and the introduction of the MU Literacy & Development Programme, 25 graduates of the programme have now completed their training and become Lay Readers and are actively leading worship services in their churches. This is greatly helping their fellow clergy of 16 who currently minister to over 150 individual congregations between them across the region.
Rebecca one of the new Lay Readers shared, “I myself can read the bible now. I can also lead the worship and liturgy in St Pauls Church. I don’t feel shy at all. I feel happy and proud to do it. Before it was just like a dream into my mind of ever being able to read the bible and hymn book. I always wished I could, so when this programme came I was very happy to join. We now really appreciate this programme. It is not only about literacy. We learn about marriage and relationships, nutrition and hygiene in the home. We also thank the MU for teaching about health it has really reduced illness and sickness of our children. We also learn about cultivation and food production and keeping our children strong.”
In this way, the Mothers' Union literacy programme has become instrumental in building the capacity of the church at grass roots. In addition the literacy circles have become important learning hubs for promoting peace and reconciliation. Peacebuilding has become a key goal of the programme as Gambella is home to a mix of ethnic groups, including Anuak, Dinka, Nuer, Mabaan, Jum-Jum and Opo and regularly suffers from violent conflict derived ethnic divisions especially between Anuak and Nuer in the past few months.
A recent meeting of Mothers' Union members in Gambella had the aim of achieving greater unity amongst its members across the different tribes and promoting peaceful co-existence and reconciliation. The Archdeacon reported that “the energising presence of the Holy Spirit enabled all members to be of one heart, mind and spirit in their love of Jesus Christ and their commitment to living out the gospel. Sharing fellowship in this way revealed the life-changing power of the gospel to a conflicting world and members became convicted to continuously pray and promote peace amongst the different tribal communities.
“After the meeting, it was so amazing to see the Nuer mothers who first served the fellowship dinner to the Anuak mothers and greeted them by singing songs of farewell until they boarded their minibus.”