Retired and with her children now grown up, Edna decided to go back to school to make up for lost time. After two years of classes, Edna has managed to recover the important skills of reading and writing. She’s proud to be able to write her own name, which she carefully writes letter by letter with the same dedication as a child learning the alphabet for the first time. “Little by little, I re-learned what I’d forgotten. I already knew how to write the letters, but I didn’t know how to put them together into words,” says Edna.
Due to economic difficulties, she was forced to drop out of school early on. When she was nine years old, she headed to Angola to work as a maid in a rich woman’s home. “The lady who took me to Angola said she was going to put me in school, but she never did,” tells Edna.
In the meantime, in the upheaval that followed the Portuguese Revolution in 1974, Edna had to leave Angola for Portugal. “When I was 16 I came to Portugal and began working for a lady. I became a mother at 18. I’ve worked for a long time, I’ve had eight children, and I haven’t had an easy life. I stopped working quite a while ago, but what I learned in Portugal was very useful – I know how to cook, sew and, now, read.”
Edna is one of the students at the Parish of Santo António dos Cavaleiros Cultural and Social Center in Loures, Portugal, who met between 10:00 am and noon twice a week for the past two years for literacy classes. She was part of a seven-person class made up of Guinea Bissauans, Cape Verdeans, Portuguese and gypsies, all of them with different levels of education.
In Portugal, most recent data from the National Statistics Institute, from the 2011 Census, shows that 5.2% of the Portuguese population (in other words, some 550,000 people) can neither read nor write.