The Sakachep people are an ethnolinguistic minority of probably no more than 30,000 speakers in South East Asia and are categorized as a scheduled tribe. They depend on agriculture for their livelihood and subsist through the practice of Jhum (shifting) cultivation and padi fields. Their simple homes are made of bamboo and elevated on stilts. Historically nomadic, they are spread over different parts of the region. They also share borders with numerous dominant tribes which has contributed to their need to protect and establish their own unique identity. Formal education for the Sakachep people is in their second or third language. The result is that many children are unable to achieve their education goals because of the obstacles to learning in a language that they do not understand. This situation perpetuates poverty, discrimination and inequality. However, most Sakachep people remain illiterate in their mother tongue and have expressed the need for mother tongue literacy.
The Sakachep orthography (alphabet) was developed in 2014 by mother tongue speakers in conjunction with linguists. It is based on the Roman Script alphabet, but includes only the sounds that occur in their own language. Once their orthography was established, mother tongue speakers produced various materials for use in a literacy project. These were developed during workshops where locals were assisted by linguists and literacy consultants. The materials produced following a pre-designed methodology include: a pre-reader, books that teach the alphabet and an accompanying story book. A book of folk tales and an alphabet chart with spelling guide complete the set of literacy materials written in the Sakachep language. Basic Mathematics is now also available for use in the project. Teachers’ guides and training manuals for training the coordinator and community members have been translated for use by the community. The community has already started implementing the project.
As of January 2020
It is essential for a community to recognise their ‘felt need’ for literacy and for them to ‘own’ the work. This ensures sustainability and greater success of the endeavour. Without this, outsiders continually have to push and support the project. This is a wonderful thing that has happened among the Sakachep community. Their literacy committee and coordinators recently received training in how to implement the project. This has led to the first classes being initiated in a few villages. It is being driven and is owned by the people themselves, as community members have taken up the responsibility for this project. More than 100 students are now attending literacy classes and have the opportunity to read and write their own language for the first time ever! This places the Sakachep people ‘on the map’. Through this process, and because of literacy in their mother tongue, their own identity is reinforced, their language and culture preserved for generations to come, and they have a stepping stone to further education.