Teen teaches grandmas to read

Maribel Torres, top center, and her five reading students.
Maribel Torres, top center, and her five reading students. Photo: Photo by President Rune Back

WARNES, Bolivia — There's nothing unusual about a group of eager students getting together to learn to read. But a small, Church-operated literacy class in this city enjoys a unique angle: most of the students are grandmothers, and their teacher is just 17.

A large number of Bolivians are illiterate. A sizable portion of that number are older women — victims of antiquated beliefs that females do not need reading skills to perform domestic duties. But as more and more people join the Church in this South American nation, members from all backgrounds are realizing the value of literacy in scripture study and Church service. Reading is a fundamental element of self-reliance.

A group of five women from the Warnes Branch — ranging in age from 39 to 57 — have spent the past year learning reading fundamentals from a fellow branch member, 17-year-old Maribel Torres.

"The majority of our members either can't read or need to improve their reading ability," said Javir Yari, who was called to preside over the Warnes Branch after fulfilling a full-time mission about a year ago. "These five [women] are [among] the bravest and most committed."

Enlisting the slogan "Better Late Than Never," the group began meeting several times a week about a year ago. There was a special spirit from the start.

"The first time we met I did not have any sort of manual and was not really sure how to teach, so I just picked up a piece of chalk and began writing on the chalkboard," said Maribel, a college student. "It felt like someone was just moving my hand."

She has since received a manual on teaching adults how to read. The five women recently finished their first year of class and are looking forward to beginning the second-year course.

"We have a number of sisters who have learned to read using the Church materials," said Rene Quepisa, president of the Bolivia Equipetrol Stake.

The students are thrilled with their new reading skills.

"I always come to class with a great desire to learn," said Juana Serrano, a grandmother and mother of eight.

Julia Cuellar, a mother of three, added she can now help her own children with their homework. At the end of each class, Maribel Torres and her students read a chapter from the Book of Mormon together.

When asked if she has to discipline any of her students, the teen-age teacher smiled and gave a simple answer: "Not at all."

President Rune Back serves as second counselor in the presidency of the Bolivia Equipetrol Stake.

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