As we near the end of language and culture learning, literacy work has begun in earnest. Within 24 hours of completing our third language check, Cassidy and Joey joined eight others from Mawerero and beyond to start developing books that will help teach the people here how to read and write in their own language.

The Literacy Machine: (from left to right) Joey, Cassidy, Eki, Namu, Ruben, Gie, Gie’s son Kristopa, Katrin, Florence

They worked for four to eight hours a day over the course of 7 days in order to compile 4 books that will teach people all the sounds in the Ndo language. Their diligent and creative work led us to refer to them as “the Literacy Machine.” And it really was their efforts that made this possible. Cassidy and I do not know the language well enough yet to create all the sentences and stories needed for such a project. We provided the direction and framework, but they provide almost all the literary material.

Trying to come up with coherent stories that only use the eight letters written across the top of the white board. These were fun-but-challenging puzzles.
The Literacy Machine changed a bit over time. Some had to attend to other projects and others joined us. Teri (in the blue shirt and hat) joined us from the furthest Ndo village. The dude in the checkered shirt is a Lutheran pastor visiting our area. He is from another province in PNG.

The books start very simple. In fact, the first page begins with a single letter. “O” is their word for food. After that, the sounds “i” and “n” are introduced. Along with “o,” these sounds can be combined to make simple sentences such as: o ino (give him food) and no o ini ono (I gave him food and go up).

Cassidy planned out how each page will look. These will be pages 15-18 in the first primer. Each primer will have 28 pages.

Simple words are combined with drawings to aid understanding as students begin to read their language for the first time.

By the time they got to book four, all the sounds had been introduced and so they were able to produce much longer and more complex stories.

Over the next couple of months, I am going to try to translate several stories into the Ndo language so that people can practice their new reading skills after they finish with the four primers of the literacy program. I already have a story about Matt Dodd and one entitled “What is an alphabet?” complete. One of the projects I am excited about is translating a small biography of Martin Luther. This year marks the 500-year anniversary of the protestant reformation, and the people here have had some Lutheran influence in the past so Martin Luther’s name will be familiar to them already.

This work has been bittersweet. We are so excited to reach this step, but we are saddened that it has come without Matt and Cameron Dodd being here with us. Cameron was originally going to be the one to head up the literacy program, and we sure missed her expertise and enthusiasm. The portion assigned to us in this season is certainly not what we would have planned, but we know it is good. Matt and Cameron were able to testify of God’s goodness and grace to many during Matt’s final months as he battle cancer. And Cameron continues to exude supernatural joy and faith in the midst of her sorrow. We’re sorry she cannot be here to see literacy work begin, but we look forward to see how God is going to use her in the months and years ahead.

On a lighter note, in typical Joey fashion, our director used these meetings as an opportunity to try and teach the people here something about American culture. He explained that such meetings had to have a “hashtag” for social media postings. And though the concept was too bizarre for many to comprehend, we did end up saying “hashtag boom” at the end of each major accomplishment over the course of the primer development. Thanks to Joey, hashtag lingo has made its way into the Finisterre Mountains.

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