THE STRUGGLE TO READ AND WRITE IN NICARAGUA
Before 1980 not many people knew of a country called Nicaragua. But then the people of this small country did something special. They quickly showed the whole world how every person in their country could learn to read and write.
Nicaragua is in a part of the world called Central America. Two and a half million people live in this country of rain, forests and mountains.
The history of Nicaragua is a story of suffering and hardship. For many years a rich and cruel man ruled the country. His name was Somoza.
Under Somoza the people were poor and hungry. Most people had no toilets and no running water. Seven out of 10 people suffered from hunger. Diseases spread all over the country and thousands of babies died soon after birth.
While the people suffered, Somoza and his family got rich. He owned more than half the factories and most of the land in the country. Somoza even owned a factory that sold peoples’ blood to hospitals in America.
So more than half the people in Nicaragua could not read or write. Somoza’s government did not build many schools. He did not want the people to see things clearly. As one old man from the country said: “Somoza never taught us to read. He knew that if he taught us to read, we would want our rights.”
Somoza used his army to stay rich. People who fought or said things against his government were killed or sent to prison. Since 1956, Somoza’s army killed over 300 thousand people in Nicaragua.
The people hated Somoza. They took up guns and knives and fought a long war against Somoza and his army. In July 1979 the people won. Somoza fled the country. The FSLN – the people’s army – became the new government.
The war destroyed much of the country. Towns were bombed. Nearly 40 thousand people were killed. Now the FSLN wanted the people to work with the new government. They wanted the people to build up the country again together. So after the war a new fight began – a fight for better health, more houses, better food, more toilets and water, and more education.
But the new government first wanted people to learn to read and write. The FSLN wanted the people to read and write so that they could learn and talk about ways to build a new life.
Men and women who fought in the war against Somoza put down their guns. Now they took up books and pencils and went to live with people in the towns and in the countryside.
They went to teach people how to read and write. But they also went to learn from the people. Together they worked for a better life.
Over 100 thousand people went to the towns, villages and farms of Nicaragua to teach and work with the people. These people were called literacy workers or brigadistas.
Learning groups started all over. Everywhere people were learning. and teaching. Sometimes 13 year old boys and girls taught grandmothers and grandfathers. People met in huts, broken down buildings, factories, shops and houses. The new government’s slogan was. “Every home a class room. Every table a school desk.”
In the day the teachers worked with the people. They built toilets and schools, worked in the fields, looked after the animaIs and cooked meals. After a hard day of work they met with the people and began teaching.
The people were learning, teaching and building a new country all at the same time. In only nine months nearly one million people learnt to read and write. And the country had many new schools, toilets and water wells.
Today the new government is still hard at work. The government has stopped diseases like TB and malaria. Not so many babies die any more. And they are making sure that everybody gets enough food to live.
But they still have much to do. The government says the work of building a new country is only just beginning.
“All we want now is peace”, says a government member. ” We need peace so we can work, so we can study, so we can sing and laugh, so we can simply live.”
But peace does not come easily. The Iittle country called Nicaragua stiII has many problems. One big problem is the old Somoza army. Some of the soldiers from the army are still fighting the new government. And America is helping these soldiers to fight so they can bring back the old Somoza days.
But now the people know what they want – and they don’t want Somoza back.
They will fight for their new government. One old man learned to read and write. He wrote a letter to the friends of Somoza and said:
·’ Now I can read. Now you won’t push me around any more.”