"If I Were a Man, I Would Take My Full Freedom"

This January, the students in Tahaddi Education Center’s Adult Arabic Literacy program were given an interesting writing prompt: writing poetry in response to “Law kenet" or “If I were...” The class, a mix of Syrian and Lebanese women, had began Arabic literacy classes in October, and by mid-winter could read and write well enough to respond to this philosophical prompt. The results were unexpectedly honest, raw, and touching.

Adult students take Tahaddi’s literacy programs (classes in English, Arabic, and Computers are offered every year) with a variety of goals in mind. Some never had a chance to attend school, others attended only for a few years before they were married off as young as 12 years old. For those that cannot read or write in their own language, becoming literate gives them independence, a chance at a better paying job, the ability to help their children with their homework, greater self-confidence, or even the realization of a long-held childhood dream to go to school like their brothers.

Hanadi Dafer, who teaches the Arabic Literacy class, created a mobile messaging group for the women in the class through WhatsApp to push them to write more outside of the classroom. She noted that this program goes beyond knowledge of basic literacy, saying, “Not only are they learning how to read and write, they learn new ideas and concepts from what they are now able to read. Once I brought a text on the Water Cycle for them to practice reading, and they ended up getting both an Arabic lesson and a science lesson!”

Some of the poems have been translated below:

“If I were a mother, I would have been the happiest human being.

If I were a man, I would have taken my full freedom.”

“If I were young, I would live my childhood

If I were young, I would have played and learned how to read and write

If I were young, I would have studied and became a doctor

If I were young, I would have finished my studies to become a teacher.”

“If I went back in time, I would have chosen the husband I wanted.”

“If I had money, I would not have accepted to marry someone already married and I would have stayed free.”

“If I lived with my father, I would finish my studies.

If my father was with me, I would have been happy.

If my parents were as I wanted, I would have lived my life as I wanted.”

This program is funded thanks to the Embassy of Switzerland International Cooperation Division – which funds a larger three-year project to promote social cohesion of at-risk communities through improved access to education, health, and psycho-social services.

February 22, 2017

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