Adult Literacy


Northern Uganda is home to the country’s lowest literacy rates. Most adults are illiterate due to schooling disrupted by conflict, putting both them and their children at a disadvantage. While there are ostensibly a few government-run adult education centers that are supposed to cater to their needs, they mostly rely on volunteers or highly underpaid facilitators and are often barely functional. Many in rural Acholi also have poor vision or eye diseases that have gone undiagnosed and uncorrected, making it even harder to learn.


AWR is the largest provider of adult literacy in Northern Uganda. We operate over 50 centers in remote areas designed to help people acquire functional adult literacy (FAL): a basic level of reading, writing and calculation skills that enables them to meet daily challenges. 

Our centers are far more than just places to learn to read, however. Utilizing a teaching methodology that develops literacy through the discussion of real-life local problems, AWR centers have become strong community hubs where women come together to identify the social issues facing their villages and the steps they can take to solve them. 

AWR also runs mobile eye clinics at our centers that serve students and other local residents alike.

Program Model

Our adult literacy program is based on REFLECT (Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques), a low-cost, innovative approach to adult learning and social change that combines the theories of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire with participatory methodologies. 

In this approach, there are no textbooks. Instead, students create their own learning materials, generating a mix of graphics and phrases related to a local issue they wish to discuss. Classes thus embed the habit of reading within a practical context, developing literacy at the same time as fostering an active dialogue about a particular problem. 

Women are often inspired by these discussions to take action themselves to resolve them. As a result of their coursework, AWR literacy center students have come together to repair local boreholes, open new roads, and even start new marketplaces or community schools in areas so remote they were previously without, among other initiatives. 

During local election season, students tend to discuss voter’s rights and election processes. Upon discovering that there are few trustworthy candidates, dozens have historically decided to run for office themselves – a tangible measure of how classes have helped increase their sense of self-esteem and self-empowerment. In the most recent 2021 election cycle, 57 of our students were inspired to run for local office, and 26 of them won.

More information about the REFLECT method can be found in this training manual here.


AWR facilitators lead adult learners in a curriculum that originates from the students’ own lived experience, teaching women to read and write based on the discussion of problems such as food production, health, domestic violence, or education.

Civic Engagement

Students are inspired by their coursework to solve local problems in their villages, either by running for local office or through community development projects. Environmental management is a core topic, and FAL centers have also become tree planting hubs across Northern Uganda.

Mobile Eye Clinic

AWR hires doctors from an eye clinic in Gulu to regularly visit each FAL center and provide eye exams to all members of the local community. Free glasses are distributed to those who need them.


Program participants
Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) Centers currently in operation
Program participants ran for office; 26 women won
Participating women pass literacy assessments
Free eyeglasses distributed
Patients with eye-related diseases treated

Stories of Impact

Rose, 49, first year student at AWR’s adult literacy center
“I want to learn so that my children can see that I think education is important, no matter how old you are. I want to encourage them to stay in school just like me. AWR gave me the glasses. Now it’s easy to see the blackboard.”
Adulina, 66, taking care of four grandchildren from her daughter who passed away
“I am the babysitter at the adult literacy center. I make sure all the learners with young children can focus on learning and not having to worry about their children during their time at the center. I started to sell small things at the market, spices, cooking oil, salt – I bought them from the money I earned. I’m a widow and this has helped me live better.”
Paska, 34, refugee
“There was always fighting and war when I was growing up and I could never go to school. It wasn’t safe. So, I never learnt how to read or write. Not knowing always made me feel useless. Whenever I had to sign something I had to use the purple ink and my thumb print. Do you understand how that makes you feel? Like you are not good enough. People look at you and think you are stupid. They don’t listen to you and your opinion doesn’t matter because you are a nobody. AWR taught me how to read and write. I can sign my name now. I’m never going to have to use my thumb print again. No more purple ink. It makes me feel like a better person, like I can do anything. I’m proud of myself.“
Prossy, 34, mother of seven
“I joined the FAL (Functional Adult Literacy) center because I wanted to learn how to write my name. When I was growing up, there was no money for me to go to school, so I stayed at home. We've done a lot at the FAL center. The community has come together and built a market so we can sell our produce nearby. We built protection around the well so animals can’t get to it and our water is clean now. I feel I can do anything, because I don't have to rely on outsiders to get things done.”
Lilly, 47
“My name is Lilly. I only finished second grade. The conflict made it impossible for us to go to school. I have learnt to read and write at AWR’s adult literacy center. It makes me feel proud and more confident. These skills also help in my business. I sell brooms at the market.”
Lucy, 49
“I take care of two grandchildren. I joined the FAL (Functional Adult Literacy) center to learn how to sign my own name. It has truly changed my life. I am so proud to be able to sign on my own and not have someone else do it for me. It makes me feel like I am someone. The FAL center has also helped me become better at my business. I sell tomatoes and other vegetables at the market and I can count the money very well.”
Paula, 73
“I take care of six of my grandchildren. I struggle to provide for them. I am a student at the Adult Literacy center AWR is running. All of us students are building a new market that is close to me. Having this market will make it easier. I sell grain and vegetables. Now I don't have to walk as far. I like to sit with the children at the end of the day when all the work is done and tell them stories.”
Stella, 27
“I’m a student at the FAL (Functional Adult Literacy) center. I had to stop school in 5th grade. I’m not very good at reading or writing. I stopped because my mother was sick and there was no one but me to care for her. It feels good to be back in school. It’s like a light that has started shining in my life. I sell papaya. It’s a business I started with the help of AWR. I bought seedlings and now I have many trees. This helps support my family.”
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African Women Rising serves as a catalyst for thousands of women and girls in Northern Uganda, giving them the support they need to live their lives with dignity.