Impact Stories


‘Now I Have Hope.’ Literacy is Essential to Human Rights

December 10, 2023


On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly met in Paris and released the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It was a groundbreaking document that not only recognized the inalienable fundamental rights to which every human is entitled, but also protected those rights.

Today is the 75th anniversary of this pledge, and we remain dedicated to giving people everywhere dignity and equality through literacy and education, as outlined in Article 26 of the UDHR. We have seen how education is essential for one to fully realize and participate in our fundamental freedoms and for the full development of a person’s character.

Consider Rebeca Cheptum’s story from Kenya. Rebeca was denied her right to education at a young age and forced into marriage. By empowering our partner programs like Kenya Adult Learning Association (KALA) to bring literacy to underserved populations, we are creating spaces for personal growth, human rights, and social change.

Read Rebeca’s story, in her own words

I was married off at the age of 14 years, when I was about to join the literacy class. It was a challenging experience, as I was naïve. Motherhood was something new to me, although I had experienced motherhood from the way my mother raised us. It did not occur to me that I would be a mother, and a wife too, so soon.

In my community, a woman is a passive member. I could not oppose the idea of marriage since it is a cultural norm. As a young girl in marriage, I did everything wrong, earning the title of being ridiculed every time. Instead of my co-wives helping me out, they laughed at me at the very slightest mistakes I made. Marriage meant that any opportunity to continue education had to come to an end. However, that did not kill my passion to learn and be empowered, especially in something that would benefit my family—three boys and two girls.

In 2018, when Mama KALA [a reference to Magdalene, a former adult learner who founded KALA] came over, she motivated me to join the adult literacy class. Her story resonated with the problems that I experienced, and I decided that I needed to continue learning. Just as learning began, [COVID-19] struck, leading to the classes coming to an end. I was so devastated because my dreams of being educated were not promising. I had to resign back to my family duties. Deep inside, I did not wish to suffer again, either at the hands of my co-wives or even my husband. Running away was the last option in my mind.

Luckily, in 2022, I rejoined the class. Now I have hope that we will continue learning. My dream is to join a university and become a lawyer so that I can help my community members whenever they face problems.

KALA has opened doors for me, and I won’t give up until I reach my dream. Since I enrolled in Ngongosowon Adult Literacy Class, I have developed good relationships with my husband, co-wives, and my in-laws. My house is clean, unlike before, and my children’s education has improved. Thank you, KALA!

KALA’s work focuses on women and girls who are traditionally excluded from education due to cultural beliefs. Young girls are particularly at risk for cultural practices like early marriage and female circumcision. In KALA’s experience, bringing literacy into these tribal areas can significantly reduce the occurrence of these practices; the literacy classroom can create a space for dialogue between older and younger generations to advocate for social change.

Did you know?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is available in 500 languages and has become the most translated document in the world.

Learn more about our international work to build equality through literacy