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Advocacy for Mother Tongue in Papua New Guinea

“We have a few books written in our language, but why aren’t we reading them? How can I encourage our children to read and write in their own language?”

Usarufa man reads An Usarufa man reads the opening ceremony program for the beginning of the literacy project.

These questions expressed the burden that grew into a vision for James Warebu—to have daytime classes filled with children learning to read and write Usarufa and evening classes for adults.

Mr. Warebu knew about the Papua New Guinea government’s desire that children be educated first in their mother tongue before bridging into the national language. But he knew he needed help to give this opportunity to Usarufa children. He consulted with various SIL staff members and attended several SIL-led workshops. The knowledge he gained confirmed to him that one of the main hurdles facing Usarufa literacy was the need for a revised alphabet.

His enthusiasm was contagious. Family and friends joined the fight to rescue their language from extinction. Several attended an SIL-conducted alphabet design workshop followed by a trial class to test the new alphabet, and then reading primers were produced. As classes began in ernest, the adults were thrilled that the younger generation was now speaking their mother tongue more fluently. Adults eagerly began joining literacy classes.

James Warebu and SIL advocate 
		David Wake James Warebu and SIL advocate David Wake celebrate the ground-breaking for the Usarufa Literacy Resource Centre.

Through an SIL PNG program, a consultant will assist in facilitating some language development goals for the Usarufa people by working for 18 months as an advocate with national and international NGOs. Spurred on by the community’s enthusiasm and commitment, supported by SIL’s advocacy and encouraged by the ability to link to vital resources, Mr. Warebu’s dream is being fulfilled.