Empowerment of Women Through Literacy

An Adult Literacy Legacy in Kenya

Magdalene Gathoni Motsi is a role model to women across Kenya. With her determination to succeed despite limited resources and family obligations, she worked towards her goals to attain literacy. 

Magdalene is the founder and executive director of ProLiteracy’s long-time partner Kenya Adult Learners Association (KALA), the only adult literacy organization in Kenya that devotes itself entirely to advocating for adult learners, especially women. KALA was named the 2017 Ann C. Michel Award recipient.

As she accepted the award for KALA at the 2017 ProLiteracy Conference on Adult Literacy, Magdalene gave an inspirational and vibrant speech highlighting various elements of her personal journey to attain literacy, and her work to empower women across Kenya.

Here is her speech:

By Magdalene Gathoni, Kenya, September 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor for me to stand in front of you at this moment, to share my personal experience on the empowerment of women through literacy.

I was born in Muiri Village, in Kiambu County. Muiri village is a poor rural village where most of its residents are peasant farmers. My parents were among the peasant farmers in the village and due to their financial situation, they were not in a position to take me to a formal school, so I grew up illiterate.

I joined an adult literacy program in 1979 as a beginner when the Kenya government launched the program. I was 30 years old, married, and had four children. My big family was a result of being illiterate. Like all other married women with children, it was not easy to concentrate since I needed time to be with my children. But I was determined. I received help from my friends and even my own children in my struggle to gain literacy. In 1986, I was among the first adult learners to sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination, which I passed. I then struggled and pursued the high school course, still on a part-time basis and sat for the examination leading to Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education in 1991, and again I passed.

It was after gaining literacy that I realized many women in the country are suffering in the darkness because they are illiterate. I was disturbed by the high dropout rate in the literacy classes in the country. Many reasons have been given for the dropout rate but the major one has been lack of motivation. It was then that I consulted the government (Department of Adult Education) and asked to help to enable me to meet other learners in other countries in order to encourage them to stay in literacy classes. In 1990, I went all around the country for about three months explaining to other adult learners, especially women, how literacy has helped me.

After this, I established the Kenya Adult Learners’ Association. KALA builds the capacity of adult learners, especially women. In many communities where KALA has programs, there are various cultural attitudes that bar women from achieving their potential, because most of these communities place less values on female education. I have watched literacy change this belief in many communities. 

KALA, as an experienced organization with a long standing in mobilization, uses its expertise in making the community aware of the problem at hand, while at the same time seeking ways of overcoming these challenges by using modern methods or improvising the traditional methods using literacy.

ProLiteracy and KALA have been partners in literacy for many years. Through this partnership, more than 65,000 adult learners have benefited from our efforts in enrolling students in adult education classes, economic empowerment programs, and peer learning and exchange programs. KALA appreciates Proliteracy’s support in all respects, which has enabled many adult learners, especially women, to fully realize all the aspects of social economic change.

The 2016 Ann Michel Award to KALA will continue to play an important role in meeting the objectives of KALA to reach more learners in rural areas in Kenya, where illiteracy rates are very high. 

Thank you.



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