Reading for Life

by Durvalina Vitoriano da Silva, Brazil



Durvalina Vitoriano da SilvaDurvalina (left) teaching at the literacy center

I am 67 years old, and I was born into a humble but happy family. My childhood was very hard; I had to leave school to work and take care of my brothers, so I only reached the second year of elementary school. I always dreamed of concluding at least the fourth grade—a dream I was finally able to fulfill 45 years later, when I found out about the Literacy Course for Adolescents and Adults run by SGI-Brazil (BSGI).

The literacy course was launched in 1987 and is aimed at BSGI members and their friends who wish to master reading and writing or conclude fourth grade in order to continue their studies. The main objective of the course is to eradicate illiteracy so people can enjoy their citizenship to the full.

My husband, who never had a formal education, also enrolled with me in Pirituba, one of the 45 centers throughout Brazil offering the course. Our struggle to participate was huge: we faced days of rain, sun and cold, and sometimes we would go to class so tired and with so many problems that we thought of quitting. But we persisted without missing a single day, determined that we would not give up, that we would grasp this opportunity to change our lives.

related article Tackling HIV/AIDS Tackling HIV/AIDS by  David Le Page,  South Africa Inspired by the Buddhist principle of "transforming poison into medicine," David Le Page conjectures that HIV/AIDS presents an unparalleled opportunity: that if the continent's people turn squarely to face the pandemic, it could prove a massive catalyst for building what SGI President Ikeda has called the Century of Africa. For us, school was like family: there was a volunteer teacher responsible for the class, and each student could count on a teaching assistant to help us with our specific needs and to answer our questions. The social interaction was also fun, with physical exercises to music in the schoolyard before lessons began.

We enrolled in the course in May 1998 and completed it in December 1999. After the course was over, I was evaluated at an official state school and passed, thus receiving my long-dreamed-of first diploma!

Our mentor, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, always encourages the youth: “Study, study, study.” I am immensely grateful for being part of an organization that acts for the good of society, promoting peace, culture and education. Through education, I have acquired the freedom to express what I feel. Previously, being unable to read or write, there were many occasions when I was obliged to be silent because I did not understand what was happening. Or sometimes I could understand, but was not able to comment on the subject.

I continued my journey, and in 2001 I finished elementary school. And in July 2003 I graduated from high school. My husband, who received his diploma at 70 years of age, would say: “I am the happiest person in the world being in this school, and I am proud to belong to BSGI.” He passed away in April 2004, but died with a feeling of accomplishment having learned how to read and write.

As soon as I finished high school, I returned to the literacy center—this time helping the students as a teaching assistant as an expression of my gratitude. Who would have thought that I could become a teaching assistant!

In a society like ours, not knowing how to read is like being blind.

Seven years have now gone by in this role. It is important for me to help people who are going through tough times without knowing how to read and write. In a society like ours, not knowing how to read is like being blind—and often like being unable to speak, too. Every mother should be able to imagine the anguish of wanting to help her children with schoolwork but not being able to. I feel immense satisfaction in being able to help people. Each student that graduates makes me very happy for having contributed to his or her development and helping him or her enter a new reality in a world of freedom.

I sincerely thank all my teachers and teaching assistants for their care and consideration and all my family members for the dedication and encouragement I have received.

[Courtesy, July 2011 SGI Quarterly]

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