The Kharam people, a tiny tribe of only 2,000 speakers in South East Asia, are one of the oldest tribes in the region. They are an industrious and fun-loving people, known for their festivals and craftmanship. Rich in culture and tradition, the Kharam people love their language. There is no division of work among men and women, but women focus more on home-making. Men are fond of hunting and fishing and can usually be seen carrying a spear and knife. Although small in number, they are large-hearted and incredibly proud of their language. It didn’t seem like anyone would notice them, since they are few in number. However, today they boast a writing system in their language and they are eager to implement a literacy project amongst their people. News spreads fast in a small community and the Kharam people are excited.
The Kharam language was only spoken until a few years ago, when in 2014 their language was committed to writing. Their writing system is based on the Roman alphabet. Using their newly developed orthography, a team of Kharam speakers developed literacy materials in their own language in 2016. These have recently been revised and are now ready for use in the much anticipated literacy project. The materials were uniquely constructed to teach Kharam people how to read and write their own language using their writing system. 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 is happening among the Kharam community as they see this as their work.
As of January 2020
The Kharam literacy materials were developed by the speakers of the language in conjunction with linguists and literacy consultants following a pre-designed methodology. The materials, written in the Kharam language and illustrated by their own artists include: a pre-reader, books that teach the alphabet and an accompanying story book. They also have a book of folk tales, an alphabet chart and a spelling guide. A basic mathematics course as well as teachers’ guides and teacher training manuals will soon be available for use in the project. The literacy materials were launched in September 2019 at the very auspicious occasion of their first ever ‘Literacy Day’. The next steps are the establishment and training of a literacy committee, identification of a project coordinator and training of teachers from the Kharam community. Further literature is also needed.