Annual Black Creek World Relief Fair does a world of good

The Mennonites on Vancouver Island are raising funds for the Malawi Literacy Project on Saturday May 28 at the Black Creek Community Hall.

The Mennonites on Vancouver Island are raising funds for the Malawi Literacy Project on Saturday May 28 at the Black Creek Community Hall.

That’s when the annual World Relief Fair runs  9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (breakfast at 8 a.m.) featuring  baking, ethnic foods, rummage sale, silent auction and live auction at noon, plants and more.

The women in Egypt need our help, read their story.

“Now we can read and write, but we want to do more. We want to open businesses so that we can support our families.”

This was the feedback that Mennonite Central Committee workers recently heard from a Global Family-sponsored literacy program for women in Egypt. These are significant words in a country where 47 per cent of rural women can not read or write and where gender inequality still plays a major role in deciding who “deserves” to receive an education. Recent world statistical evidence shows that Egypt ranks at 120 out of 128 countries for women’s access to education. In a country with free public education, how is a gap like this explained?

Even with the social changes that are sweeping the globe, traditional perspectives are not easily changed. When surveyed, 60 per cent of Egyptian males felt that it was more important that a son receive a good university education than a daughter. When asked why, the answer seemed obvious. A son needs university education to get a good job for his future, but a daughter’s education is unnecessary since her skills will only be needed at home. Unfortunately, even using this reasoning, an illiterate mother is unable to help her educated son when he brings home his schoolwork. Even if she only stays at home, a literate mother is a mother who is equipped to help her children break the cycle of poverty in their own lives. That means, all of her children.

However, the Mennonite Central Committee believes that there is even more value in educating women. More intrinsically, but equally important, is the message that education sends to these women – that they are important, contributing members of society, capable of participating in local governance and economic development. Women who are confident of their skills are women who are able to contribute to the betterment of their country – where 40 per cent of the population falls under the poverty line. Egypt is a place where recent pay raises for public employees were rendered useless by significant increases in the price of staples such as bread, sugar and oil. Even its middle class citizens have difficulty affording meat.

For the last five years, Global Family has been sponsoring this Literacy Program offered by the Diocese of Malawi. Every year more than 500 women, ranging in age from 11 to mid 60’s, benefit from classes administered by the diocese. The women who voluntarily participate show a high level of determination to learn and to improve their communities. Far from a well equipped learning environment, these women sit on the floors of churches, courtyards, or crowded homes. In their arms they hold babies and distractions abound with children coming and going. The teachers write out their lessons on pieces of plywood that have been painted black or green for lack of real black boards.

Through these literacy classes, the women learn more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. Here they are also provided with an opportunity to come together with other women and work together towards a common a goal. Friendships are formed and the women gain valuable encouragement from their teachers and peers. Truly the most inspiring outcome is the development of new perspectives and the way the women start to look ahead to the future.   Where before the women’s value was confined to their skills at home, they are now seeing a whole new world of opportunity opened up to them. They dream now of opening small business and of helping their families rise above the poverty line.

In North America, a two income family could possibly own an extra vehicle, spend more at Christmas or take a winter vacation. In Egypt, a two income family may now be able to afford the basics such as sugar, oil, bread, or even meat.

The improvements to the Standard of Living are those that can be measured by the statistics generated by such organizations such as the World Economic Forum or the Egypt Labour Market. Women, be they grandmothers, mothers or daughters, are seeing the importance and value of their roles in a way they never have before.