Spotlight literacy: Christopher Olur from Uganda tells his story

What does it mean to learn reading and writing as an adult? What are the challenges, and how does it change your life? We posed these questions to learners from our African partner countries.

Christopher Olur

What does it mean to learn reading and writing as an adult? What are the challenges, and how does it change your life? We posed these questions to learners from our African partner countries.

Christopher Olur is 54 years old and lives in Pabali, Uganda. He is married and has 7 children, all of whom go to school.

Why did you want to learn how to read and write?

I was motivated to join the Kwan Aye Anyim Community Empowerment Group (CEG) in 2021 to learn how to read and write. During meetings, many of my friends could read and write very well, while I had to ask for help or use my thumbprint for a signature. This made me less confident in community affairs. I needed to learn reading and writing to overcome this stigma. Additionally, I wanted to track the progress and performance of my children in school so that I could fully support their education. Illiteracy had been limiting my participation in development programmes, many of which required filling out forms. I was cheated many times because some unscrupulous friends would fill in their details pretending to be me. The same happened in business, where I was always cheated due to my illiteracy.

Why didn’t you learn to read and write when you were a child?

I am the eldest child in my family. My parents asked me to stay at home and take care of my younger brothers and sisters while they tended to the family farm. Whenever they returned from the farm, I would help scare away birds in the garden or join them in hunting. 

What was the most difficult thing about learning as an adult?

I had the privilege of learning in the same class alongside my dear wife, Christine Adong. Although some men may be apprehensive about such an experience, to me it was a blessing. We were able to assist each other in tending to assignments and would always encourage each other to get there early. As a result, I won an award for being on time. However, at the beginning, some of my friends used to look down on me for learning as an adult, especially with my wife in the same class. Learning became even more challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions, which caused us to miss many sessions. Additionally, reading and writing long words and sentences proved to be difficult, but I kept at it and finally managed to learn them. After two years and nine months, I successfully graduated. 

What does learning mean for you? How has your life changed?

I am now a highly respected and responsible man both at home and within my community. Previously, I used to take up casual work in exchange for trivial things such as alcohol. However, after acquiring literacy and business skills, I started farming as a business and saving money for my family’s wellbeing through the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA). Now, I am a very responsible husband and father, living in harmony with my family and in the community. I no longer need help with reading or writing and documents, filling out forms, or using my thumbprint for a signature. The only support I need is for documents in English because we learned in our local language, Acholi. My household was selected and received funds from the government under the Parish Development Model. We received 1,000,000 Uganda shillings [about 250 euros] to improve our agriculture and retail business. Last year, my wife and I were selected to represent all adult learners during the International Literacy Day symposium in Kampala. It was my first trip to the capital city, and I delivered my testimony before many high-profile people. 

What message would you like to give to other adults who cannot read or write?

I urge men not to be afraid of attending adult literacy classes. There is more to learn beyond just literacy, and staying illiterate only increases stigma and disadvantages as one grows older. Furthermore, I encourage men to support their wives in attending literacy classes because having a literate wife can greatly benefit the welfare of the family.


Literacy – a global challenge

To be able to read and write is not a natural matter of course for many people. There are still at least 750 million people around the world who cannot read or write, two-thirds of them are women. Due to that, their participation in social and economic life is strongly restricted.

In Africa especially, the illiteracy rate is still high. DVV International is committed to enable access to education for as many people as possible in its African partner countries. Sustainable educational structures are essential for this to happen. DVV International carries out lobby work and advises governments, reenforces educational institutions and develops concepts for innovative educational offers for adults.

The literacy courses supported by DVV International meld reading, writing and numeracy skills with, for example, areas like health, farming, business startups or civic education. This benefits women in particular and promotes their independence and participation in community life.

Our work


DVV International operates worldwide with more than 200 partners in over 30 countries.

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