Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Petrona Perez Basilio learns to read and write in Nicaragua's
literacy crusade

     This year, Petrona Perez Basilio, a twenty-six year-old Nicaraguan woman, learned to read and write by participating in a 6-month literacy campaign carried out throughout the country during the early days of the Sandinista revolution. The short but intensive campaign, based on Freirian principles and methodologies, reduced illiteracy rates from above 50% to 12.5%, and won one of UNESCO's highest international awards. That experience made a deep impact on many of the more than 80,000 volunteers and approximately half a million adult learners who participated in the process. For sure, it made a significant impact on the life of Petrona Perez Basilio.

Petrona Perez was born in Telpaneca, Madriz, and lost both her parents in infancy. She received no schooling until she married at fourteen, when her husband taught her the basic alphabet. However, it wasn't until she was twenty-six that she finally learned to read and write in the literacy crusade. This newly-acquired skill enabled her to refine her leadership capabilities and, realizing the vital role which education plays in any genuine development process, she organized her community to collect funds and materials to build a school for the local children, all of whom were illiterate.

But she didn't stop there.She went on to organize a second literacy campaign of her own, despite the dangers of the violent conflict of the 1980s. Eventually forced to leave Madriz due to threats from the Contras, she settled in an uninhabited part of the North of the country, where, together with another thirty families, she founded the community of Santa Rosa. Perez organized the community to install its own water system, instilled a strict regimen of hygiene, and, against much local opposition, she developed an effective family planning and sex education campaign.

Still committed to her original vision of education for all, her most recent project, begun in 1999 with the assistance of various non-governmental organizations, is the provision of a town library, where adults receive training in adult literacy and children can complement their school work. Petrona meets with organisations outside the village on a weekly basis in order to the search for new opportunities for her village to become self-sufficient.

It was in recognition of this lifelong commitment and her example of the essential role that women play in the formation of true community that in 2001, Petrona Perez was one of thirty women worldwide honored by the international community with the the Creativity Within the Rural Setting award. Petrona was noted for her "constant, untiring and successful efforts on behalf of the communities in and around her home village of Santa Rosa, in the northern Department of Nueva Segovia." The award is designed specifically to honour women and associations of women throughout the world who are working to develop such community necessities as food security, the protection of the environment, the providing of education, and the prevention and treatment of diseases.


The Prize for Women's creativity in rural life 200:

The Nicaragua Network webpage:

El Nuevo Diario, Nicaragua, 11 October 2001.

"Nicaraguan Literacy Campaign: Its Democratic Essence" by Russell

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Last updated on August 15, 2002.