By Katie Kuykendall
Kéraba Wallou, a young boy in the Sototo village of Senegal, stood humiliated in front of his classmates.
He’d been playing a game with his friends in the schoolyard when a boy asked him if his father had returned yet from a recent trip. Kéraba responded without thinking.
“A bándi tákal,” he said in his language, Manjak. Yes, he came back yesterday.
Kéraba had committed a grave mistake by speaking his first language during school hours.
Laughing, the other boy ran off to tell the teacher what Kéraba had done. Kéraba was then forced to wear a symbol of shame—a bull skull and horns—while the other students laughed and teased him. He’d have to keep it on until the end of the day, or until another child spoke in their own language.
Photo by Katie Kuykendall
If you had to wear the bull bones, chances are at the end of the day you’d be further harassed while students threw stones at you.
Historically throughout Senegal, the classroom has been no place for minority languages. Children are taught in the official national language of French, and are expected to speak, understand, read, and write it—or be punished.
Even today there are stories about teachers and schools still employing these humiliation tactics, but many other schools are embracing multilingual education, allowing students to be taught in their first language as well as the national language. Arfang Goudiaby, head teacher of one such primary school, said he pushed for Manjak literacy classes to be in his school because he saw the positive impact it had.
“When the children would come in contact with these [Manjak] texts, the smile on their faces, the change in their behavior… frankly they were struck by the book. The book wasn’t something foreign to them,” he said. “The children began to get more confident. The fact that they had the book, they could read the book, and they could understand what the book said…gives you greater self-confidence. The book becomes your friend.”
Because of literacy classes in their language, Manjak speaking students are learning new skills, gaining more confidence, and improving their ability to learn French and other subjects, Arfang said. They don’t have to be ashamed of their language, like Kéraba was once made to be. Instead they can be proud to read and write in Manjak because it’s helping them succeed in other aspects of life.
Now an adult, Kéraba is a project supervisor for the Wycliffe funded Manjak literacy program* in southern Senegal. He has taken the class himself, and taught the class for several years before becoming supervisor. He’s also proud to be teaching his four kids to read and write Manjak.
“There has been an important impact on my children,” Kéraba said. “Even today their teacher says to me, ‘Really your children don’t have any problems at school,’ and I’m really pleased to hear that.”
“Some people thought being a Manjak teacher is a waste of time. Then they realized that it’s important because learning Manjak literacy is part of their development,” he said. “Reading and writing—there’s nothing more important than that.”
Photo by Rachel Wolverton
*The literacy project is being coordinated by SIL International, Wycliffe’s primary strategic partner. Wycliffe funds projects like this because we want to see God’s Word accessible to all people in the language of their heart, and literacy is foundational to understanding translated Scripture. The Seed Company, another ministry partner, is currently translating the New Testament for the Manjak people.
Read Full Post »