I’ve long felt that it is difficult for Americans to relate to certain challenges people face daily in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Take, for example, illiteracy. “More than 30 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level.” That is an astounding figure, about 9% of a population of just over 330 million.
So, illiteracy is an American social challenge, but still, I’m guessing for many of us who have been blessed with an opportunity for education, who have learned to read and write, we seldom come face to face with illiteracy. It’s an abstract concept, not because we don’t care or are heartless, but because we just don’t have much direct exposure.
But in the MENA, illiteracy is nearly everywhere apparent, made worse by displacement of people from their homes, either internal to their countries or as refugees. For example, since 2012, due to on-ground conflicts or all-out civil war, more than 12.3 million Arab children have remained out of school. Around 4 million children and youth inside Syria and 1.4 million Syrian refugee children and youth have been deprived of their childhood, along with their education.
Primary school children across the MENA have the highest proportion globally – 74 percent – of students who will not achieve essential proficiency levels in numeracy and literacy. COVID-19 has made this worse.
In the MENA, “nine million people in Iran suffer from absolute illiteracy. The Arab world has similar challenges.” Illiteracy rates can run to 35% to 45% and in some rural countries exceed 50%. And whatever the illiteracy rate is for men, it is typically double for women, especially in Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. This male/female gap also plays out regarding emerging digital technologies.
Illiteracy leads to social dislocation of families, unemployment and underemployment, poverty and hunger, health issues, greater susceptibility to superstition, and vulnerability to extremism. It means persons are limited in their ability to take care of themselves or otherwise contribute to their families or society.
SAT-7 is concerned about the whole person or what the network calls a “holistic approach” to ministry. That means that SAT-7 strives to present what Scripture calls the whole counsel of God. It involves sharing the totality of God’s moral will that includes caring for individuals made in the image of God, i.e., spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical needs.
SAT-7’s key educational outreach is the Arabic language SAT-7 ACADEMY brand of programs, including My School, teaching English, Arabic, mathematics, and the sciences to primary school students at differing grade levels. On the air now for seven years, this programming reaches an entire generation of Arab children, many living in refugee camps. It is called “complementary” because these programs are not intended to replace or displace formal local education but to supplement or come alongside it.
Literacy has always been a goal of Christian missions reaching back several centuries in part because Christians are “people of the Book.” Christians want others to be able to read the Word of God for themselves. But SAT-7’s desire to help children learn goes beyond this, with a vision to provide them some foundational tools to enhance their ability to function well in their societies. SAT-7 gives them the Bread of life in the words of the Gospel but also helps them prepare to feed and care for their families.
Dr. Rex Rogers
President, SAT-7 USA