When Reading in Your Language is Not a Tradition
Lai (Hakha Chin), the language of the majority of the Chin people in Lewisville, did not become a written language until the 1890s. In contrast, the English language became “written” in approximately the 5th century. Before 1948, reading and writing in Lai was taught in the elementary schools. English was taught in middle and high schools, and the Burmese language was a required subject like math.
When the Burmese took over Chin State after 1948, Lai was outlawed for all children after the age of 7. Since many villages could only afford a primary school that goes to grade 4, most students left school at age 8 or 9. No textbooks or any other books in Lai are allowed to be printed.
In 1988, the Chin churches formed a Christian literature society to try to help the people in Chin State become literate in their own language. This group was re-organized in 1993 as the Chin Association for Christian Communication. In March of 1996 they began a program of training teachers to teach Chin at Chin Teaching Centers. This was intended to last through 1999, but had severe financial problems – no notebooks, pencils, candles or kerosene – and all teachers were volunteers.
Regrettably, we do not know the rest of the story, and there is dispute over the literacy level of the Chin people in Lewisville. They say their people are 80% literate in their own language, but we believe they are approximately 50% illiterate in their own language, a disparity for which there is much shame.
A Note from Our Director
One of Chin Refugee Ministry's Core Values is Next-Generation Awareness. We especially seek to build relationships with the next generation – both Americans and Chin – in order to reduce the risk of alienation that second generation refugees often experience. We offer guidance to younger Americans who must learn to build cross-cultural bridges in the global culture they will live in.
I asked Farhan why he had organized the reading program for the group (our lead story in the newsletter). He told me he had previously worked at a middle school event with Somalian refugees and noticed the difference in world views and status between himself and the refugees.
His goal was to help his classmates gain a deeper understanding of world events and see how they can make a difference by helping others who have experienced hardships. He was surprised by the number of children who came (about 20) and the enthusiasm they have for reading. He was complimentary of Chin Refugee Ministry’s supportive atmosphere and compassion for the children.
Jennifer Tran also worked at the event because she enjoys engaging with kids. She, too, was surprised by the number of students who showed up, as she also worked in another program which had difficulty getting students to attend. Jennifer appreciated how hard the students worked and how much they really enjoyed reading.
If you would like to help Chin students improve on this critical skill, please go to our website www.lewisvillechin.org
and ask for more information on our school buddy program.
Director, Chin Refugee Ministry