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Literacy in the 90's
The Role of SIL

This informative booklet, now published here on the Web, was originally printed in the 1990s. As a historical document, it reflects SIL's work in literacy during that decade.


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Introduction

Village housing
Village housing

In November 1988, I stood on a mountainside overlooking the ocean and admired a gorgeous and peaceful sunset—the sort of which dreams are made. The setting was a little village on the southwestern coast of the island of Minanao in the Phillipines.

As I enjoyed the beauty of the moment, I wondered, "How many people know this village even exists, or have heard of its inhabitants, the Cotabato Manobo? Does anyone really care about these people? Does it matter whether they do or they don't?" I decided the answer had to be, "Yes!"

Living within sight and sound of an active seaport, these humble yet dignified people are still living in the traditional style of a millennium past. But traditionalism is, at best, a weak defense against intrusion from without. For years, land-hungry lowland farmers have been nibbling at the edges of Manobo territory. With no education and virtually no knowledge of the outside world, these people are seemingly at the mercy of the onrushing farmers.

Tboli children in the Philippines learning to read in their own language
Tboli children in the Philippines learning to read in their own language

Ten years ago, this surely would have been the case. Today, there is hope. Through the dedicated efforts of a team of Phillipine, Canadian, and U.S. literacy workers, and with support from both Phillipine and international agencies, a program has been organized to help the Manobo people. Literacy and educational materials have been developed in the Manobo language (they speak no other language), teachers trained, and classes organized to teach the Manobos to read, write and do basic math. To meet health needs, Manobo health workers have been trained and clinics established in rural communities.

With this help, the Manobos are beginning to understand the outside world. They are organizing. They are learning to defend themselves. They are coming to appreciate once again the beauty and heritage of their language and customs.

The thoughtful Manobo realizes that literacy is not a part of they ancient traditions. Being literate makes him different from his forefathers. At the same time, however, he now has an awareness of his human and legal rights as a Phillipine citizen.

SIL intern working with a Tzeltal speaking man in southern Mexico
SIL intern working with a Tzeltal speaking man in southern Mexico

Literacy and education are, indeed, powerful tools in today's world. SIL believes in service and wishes to signal its continued commitment to bring literacy to the isolated and marginalized peoples of the world.

In the remainder of these pages we invite you to sample a taste of the worldwide work of SIL. While the work of the Institute includes linguistic research and Bible translation as well as literacy, the present publication will focus primarily on the latter.

Steve Walter
(International Literacy Coordinator, SIL)

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