A different perspective: ‘Literacy Without Borders’ features photos of AfricaVisitors at the Arts Center’s latest exhibit will get to see what life is like in Third World African countries through the lens of an educator who worked to improve literacy in them.
By: By Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Visitors at the Arts Center’s latest exhibit will get to see what life is like in Third World African countries through the lens of an educator who worked to improve literacy in them.
“Literacy Without Borders,” a photography exhibit by Pam Rettig, will be at the Arts Center for the next month.
Rettig visited Nigeria and Tanzania twice each to start a teacher in-service, among other educational reasons, all to improve and promote literacy.
The exhibit features 37 color photographs with captions that depict everyday life in the countries, from schools to food and economics.
“We are not so different, our challenges are different, our day-to-day challenges are different, but we’re all people with similar wants and needs,” Rettig said. “They want their children to have a better life and I think that’s pretty much true for everyone.”
She has taught for 27 years and for the last 20 years has been working full time with the Bismarck Public School District. Rettig currently is a reading and math specialist at Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch in Bismarck.
In 2004 Rettig and Dr. Obiajulu A. Emejulu co-wrote the Constance McCullough Grant. Emejulu is the former president of the Reading Association of Nigeria and a literacy partner in Nigeria.
Once there, the two trained a group of teachers that would in turn train more teachers, or a teacher in-service, to promote literacy.
Three weeks after Rettig returned from her first month-long trip she received a call from the World Bank. Once she landed again on Nigerian soil, she found out the purpose of that trip would be to help restructure national education assessments.
She found crude true-or-false tests used to certify people in jobs like math or agriculture teachers, or professions like electricians.
She introduced the multiple choice test on the assessments, and later more rigorous testing standards.
“There were just a lot of roads to pave before we got to the idea of a possible essay portion, or a verbal interview,” Rettig said.
In 2006 and 2008 Rettig returned to Africa, this time to Tanzania, to again help more educators better teach literacy skills.
“If you don’t have literacy, you don’t have access to other people’s thoughts or other ways of thinking,” she said.
While in Africa, Rettig kept shooting photos of daily life and the people around her.
Eventually back on U.S. soil in 2008, she teamed up with the Bismarck Arts & Galleries Association to create the exhibit currently in Jamestown. After Jamestown the exhibit will travel North Dakota.
“I think the intention when they wrote the grant was to try to give people a realistic picture of what it’s like there without having to travel and endure the heat and the insects,” Rettig said.
That’s what she wants people who view the exhibit to take away from it: What life is like in Africa and how different the living, learning and working conditions are there.
One example she gave was how meat for the poor is scavenged in Nigeria.
“There are people that watch for where buzzards are circling in the sky, then they go on these mini-bikes and they cut off whatever good meat is there and they sell it,” Rettig said.
Rettig has many other stories about her travels that people can hear at a gallery talk with her at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3, at the Arts Center. There is no admission charge.
“If anybody has some sort of fear of the visual arts, the ‘Literacy Without Borders’ is a great bridging exhibit,” said Sally Jeppson, Arts Center gallery manager. “It takes the work of an amateur photographer and pairs it with stories that are a fascinating look into another culture, and also a humanitarian effort that was made by a local organization to bring literacy to a part of the world that didn’t previously have it.”
“Literacy Without Borders” is on display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Arts Center until Feb. 23. There is no admission charge.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at email@example.com