OM Madagascar responded to the declining literacy rate in the Androy region by starting a literacy course in Ambovombe. Last month the first class graduated, and the second class began.

“Glory be to God,” said 23 year-old Tehiezie. “I did not know how to read or write, but because of God, I now know how.”

Tehiezie is one of two students who completed OM Madagascar's first literacy program in Ambovombe in the Androy region to the south of the island.

“I testified on the radio to everyone that (learning to read and write) is possible with Jesus.” Tehiezie said. “I am very changed. I thank the Lord, and those who taught us.”

Out of the eight students who began the literacy course, Tehiezie and 19-year-old Vorihery were the only two to graduate. Other commitments, too far of a commute, and lacking a desire to learn, were among the reasons for dropping out. The program lasts five months, with three hour classes running four times a week.

It requires a great deal of commitment and hard work, but as Vorihery said, “God is able to do all things.”

Vorihery spent his childhood walking with the family's cows throughout the day and caring for them. This responsibility left him no time to attend school.

A few years ago Vorihery started going to church.

“When I started praying, I desired deeply to read the word of God, but I could not,” he said. “It pushed me to fast and ask God.”

Soon after, a member of Vorihery's church told him about OM's literacy program.

“God had a plan for me to read and write,” said Vorihery as a way of explanation. Now “I want to continue studying. One day maybe I'll be a pastor.”

To those who are illiterate Vorihery says “First, Jesus is good. Second, go to school.”

According to The World Factbook, literacy rates in Madagascar hover around 65 per cent. This figure is much lower in the South however, where poor road conditions, and natural disasters lead to isolation. OM Madagascar's Ambovombe team saw the need, and responded by setting up a literacy program. Lova, who heads the program, never expected to teach.

“I wasn't eager to do it,” she said. “When we started training (to teach), I asked if I needed to do it, and the Lord showed me the answer. I was in a bus, (at that time still in Antananarivo), and I sat with a Tandroy woman. The woman handed me her telephone, and asked me to find a name in the contacts because she could not read. That touched my heart. The Lord told me 'this is something you can do for me.'”

The Malagasy dialect is different in the South, and has been one of the struggles encountered by the team.

“It's hard, but with Jesus, we know we can do anything,” said Lova.

The second literacy program began in Ambovombe the second week of July. Fourteen people signed up, and by the third week, five had dropped out.

Every lesson begins in prayer, and after about two months, the students start reading the Bible.

Soazara, 32, a clothing seller, heard an advertisement on the radio for the program, and immediately went to sign up. Growing up in the countryside where there were no schools, Soazara never had the opportunity to learn.

Illiteracy presents two main problems for her.

“I am a traveler. I like to go from place to place, but I do not know how to read the signs, and because of this, I do not know where I should go. Secondly, I am a business woman, and when I ask for prices, I am not able to know how much this is, and how much that is.”

When Longosoa, 18, heard the advertisement on the radio, he ran to the OM base to put his name down on the list.

“I do not want to be cheated by others,” he said. “I want to be able to do everything such as signing (his name), and counting.”

When asked about the future Longosoa said he would like to be a teacher, “I want to help people learn how to read and write, as I have studied.”

Twenty year-old Miandrison said he would like to become a pastor after completing the program. “I'm here to study because I want to know what is written in books and in the Bible.”

“I want to be able to write. I want to know how to read.”

If the desire to learn is there, the Ambovombe team will help through a combination of teaching and prayer.

As Lova said, it is only “with His power that we can do the teaching successfully.”

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