Literacy Snapshots
SIL on the Field

Wapishana Writer's Workshops and Literacy Tutor Training

Country: Guyana, South America
Language group: Wapishana
Population: 10,000

SIL members Bev Dawson and Chic Ruth live among the Wapishana people of Guyana. They work alongside community leaders of this Amerindian group in the southern region of the former British Guyana. The Wapishana population is scattered throughout approximately 15 savannah villages with some spillover into Brazil.

These SIL fieldworkers have collaborated closely with the newly formed Wapishana Literacy Association to conduct Writer's Workshops and Tutor Training Seminars. The association, consisting of more than 40 members, was formed when a prominent Wapishana teacher recognized the importance of promoting and developing his indigenous language and of maintaining Wapishana culture and certain indigenous rights. They named their association "Wapichan Wadauniinao Ati'o" (Wapishana for Our Descendents).

A student with a babyMost Wapishana children speak only their own language, Wapichan Paradan ('wapichan words'), in the home prior to and even after entering school. The schools they attend traditionally have been taught in English. Wapishana culture and daily life is not print-oriented in either language. The goal of the members of the language and literacy association is that their people will be able to read and write Wapishana with further transition into English.

Participants in the writer's workshops wrote and produced a variety of shell books and original literature pieces in the Wapishana language. Among those are stories such as "How the Snake Lost Its Feet", "When Humans Became Monkeys" and "When I was Bitten by a Rattlesnake".

Participants of the literacy tutor training have returned to their villages and this past year have taught some 200 adults how to read in their own language. The tutors used the literature pieces produced in the writer's workshop plus a Wapishana primer and a teacher's manual as instructional materials. The primer contains 42 lessons and teaches the reading and writing of all the sounds of the Wapishana language. The tutors expect to teach another 200+ adults during the year 2002.

The main Wapishana "Chief of Chiefs" emceed the graduation ceremony held for the nine participants representing six different villages who graduated from the literacy tutor training seminar. Mr. Newton Profitt, highly respected Executive Director of Adult Education of Guyana, traveled from the capital, Georgetown, to the interior village to present the participants with their graduation certificates. Accompanied by a national television photographer who captured his comments, Mr. Profitt proclaimed the event of Wapishana becoming reading teachers to be a "historic moment".