Youtube is full oflife hack” videos that show simple, unexpected solutions to problems you didn’t know you had. Need to speed-cool a beverage? Wrap a wet paper towel around it and put it in the freezer. Not particularly coordinated? Use a clothespin to hold the nail while you hammer it. The list goes on and on, but the principle is always the same: sometimes all it takes to solve complicated problems is to look at them in a different way.

One of the problems authors and publishers have when creating books in local languages is being able to represent a language’s “special characters.”


Not only that, but the similarity of certain letter forms in the Roman alphabet can make it very challenging for the beginning readers these books are intended to serve.

It’s a complicated problem: How do we create effective, easily legible reading materials in languages that are very different from our own?


On SIL LEAD executive director Paul Frank’s trip to a conference in Abidjan last month, he shared about one of SIL International’s free resources for local languages, the Andika Unicode font. Andika is designed especially to facilitate learning to read, with a focus on clear, easy-to-perceive letter forms that will not be readily confused with one another. When letters are visually distinct, beginner readers can more easily distinguish them. This simplifies their learning process. Andika also includes wide range of letter forms, which makes it extremely helpful when writing books in languages that use more than just the basic Roman alphabet.   

At the Abidjan conference, Lawrence, a Kenyan book publisher, told Paul he immediately relayed the information about Andika from Paul’s PowerPoint to his team back home. They downloaded the font and it met their needs. By the end of the afternoon, Lawrence was able to tell Paul that "We downloaded the Andika font. It solved all our problems!"

Lawrence and his team in Kenya are uniquely positioned to deal with the complicated challenges of writing their own stories in their own language. And with the right tools at their disposal, they are able to simplify the problem for a more powerful, lasting impact.

Click HERE learn more about how the Andika font helps beginner readers, people with dyslexia, and anyone searching for a simple solution to one of the more complex problems of communication.

Download Andika for free, today!

AuthorJosh Barkey

On the day you were born, you were forced out of a beautiful warm bath into the cold, harsh world. Your lungs burned from the air you now had to learn to breathe. This was unpleasant, and you most likely yelled long and loud to let everyone know exactly how you felt about the situation.

Soon, though, you were tightly bundled up and given a tasty new kind of food. You began to pack on the pounds. Over time, more delicious foods were added to your diet. You didn’t have to think about this—food just appeared and you ate it, focusing instead on exploring this fascinating new world. Your mind grew as the world expanded. Everything was amazing and you, too, were amazing.

But what if it wasn’t this way?

What if your parents or caretakers lived in a community where food was harder to come by, and where they had perhaps never been made fully aware of the importance of regular, balanced nutrition to your early physical and mental development?

The latest UNICEF data shows that over twenty percent of children worldwide suffer from malnutrition. For children who survive this deprivation, stunting often occurs, with serious consequences. From the WHO website:

“Some of those consequences include poor cognition and educational performance, low adult wages, lost productivity and, when accompanied by excessive weight gain later in childhood, an increased risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases in adult life.”

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has said that “Children who are stunted have up to 40 percent less brain volume by the time they get past their first 1,000 days.”

How well do you think you would have done with forty percent less brain volume?

Again, malnutrition affects over twenty percent of children in the world today. That’s roughly the equivalent of the entire population of the United States—a huge problem.

One of the barriers to addressing this problem is language, as a high percentage of the children affected by malnutrition live in indigenous communities where the primary language is different than the that of the culture at large. How do you educate parents about the vital importance of early nutrition in their children’s development if they’re not proficient in the language in which that sort of information is available?

Problems this big can seem insurmountable. But there is hope.

The country of Peru has led the way—in less than a decade, it has more than halved its high rates of stunting among children under the age of five.

The Ethnologue reports that Peru has ninety-three living languages, and many of these are spoken by minority communities in rural areas. In Peru, as with many other countries, the problem of stunting is much more prevalent in indigenous communities, so Peru needed a tailored approach that focused on communicating the information to people in a language they could understand.

A recent World Bank Report on Peru’s progress says that “Speaking Quechua, Aymara, Awajun or Ashaninka during birth registering campaigns, or during early affiliation drives and using indigenous languages in educational or promotional radio spots and in soap operas has become part of the way regional health networks, Juntos, SIS officials, and civil-registry officials work.”


Over a decade ago, the World Bank helped by making an educational video called “My Future in My First Centimeters” that played regularly on television and as an audio broadcast over the radio. Recorded in Quechua (a minority language in the country of Peru), the video helped spark a national debate and conversation. Peruvians have risen to the challenge, maintaining a sustained political will to address the problem. They have continued to seek ways to expand the message to the roughly 400,000 people living in indigenous Amazonian communities.

Stunting is not yet a thing of the past in Peru (or in any country), but because of the work Peruvians have done so far, hundreds of thousands of boys and girls have been given a basic level of opportunity that most of us grow up taking for granted.

Parents everywhere want to do well by their children. Peru has shown us that presenting parents with good information in the language they best understand has an enormous impact on the health and vitality of their children, communities, and country.

SIL LEAD is proud to be a part of this ongoing work around the world.

AuthorJosh Barkey

When asked what she appreciates most about SIL LEAD, new board member Carletta Lahn said that “SIL LEAD thinks outside the box. They are looking for innovative ways to bring the question of language into the larger conversation of education and development.  I really appreciate that as a faith-based organization, they seek to position themselves in the broader social context and have a voice there.”

Carletta Lahn had a fairly typical, all-American childhood.

She spent her formative years in the same house in the same Minnesota town, where her life revolved around school, church, and home. In high school she competed in a Bible quizzing program, performed in the marching band at Anoka High School, and was involved with 4-H. For vacation in the summers, her family would make the half day drive up to the Boundary Waters for a wilderness canoeing and camping experience on the border of Canada. They were a tight-knit, musical family.

But after high school when Lahn was attending Crown College a little over an hour’s drive from her home, the tug of another, more out-of-the-ordinary world grew stronger by the day. The textbook for a linguistics class from a less-than-enthusiastic adjunct professor nonetheless turned her on to the world of linguistics, and she began to circle an organization called SIL, which operates around the world working (in part) in education and linguistics—two areas that interested her immensely.

Fast forward several years, and this young woman from one of the northernmost parts of the continental United States was flying into the mountain city of Cuzco, in the midst of the Andes mountains of Peru, South America. For more than fifteen years she lived in Peru, with work that at one point took her on a truck ride thousands of feet down a precarious dirt road, into a valley and up a cow path to a remote village on the other side.


Lahn recalls sitting in the smoky kitchen of an adobe home with a freshly-killed goat strung up overhead, eating a bowl of cancha (large, roasted corn kernels), and feeling immensely grateful for what she calls another one of her “National Geographic Moments.”

More inspiring than even the breathtaking scenery of the Andes or the surreal cultural experiences so far removed from her childhood was her work with indigenous Peruvian organizations. Lahn’s educational background had only somewhat prepared her for the challenge of working with native-born Quechuas to prepare written materials that would support literacy, meeting these descendants of the Incas right where they were, in their own language. She learned as she went, though, and had the pleasure of helping to train and enable her indigenous partners as they expanded the scope of their project far beyond what she and they had initially imagined. Pamphlets became radio broadcasts and then two short films, performed in the Quechua language by local, Quechua actors.

Lahn was no longer just an American from Northern Minnesota. She was part of a team that was developing community-based tools that the people could use to make their lives better. She became a “trainer of indigenous trainers,” and her world expanded even further.

Carletta small.jpg

In 2015, Lahn’s marriage brought her back to live in her home state of Minnesota, where her husband Jim is a land conservationist and she continues to work as a Scripture Access Team Leader in the Americas Area of SIL. Her work on an SIL International initiative related to language development brought her into closer contact with SIL LEAD, and in 2017 she signed on as one of SIL LEAD’s newest board members.

From a town in northern United States to a mountain home in southern Peru and back again, Lahn has lived an extraordinary life, and we’re excited for what she contributes to the SIL LEAD board.

AuthorJosh Barkey
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Here in the United States we’re fond of our efficiency and our punctuality, with days so scheduled it can feel as though we haven’t a minute to spare. We get a lot done, but often pay the price in stress and lost opportunities to connect.

SIL LEAD executive director Paul Frank observed a different approach at a four-day workshop in Abidjan. Abidjan is a mix of traditional and modern, a fast-developing city in the country of Ivory Coast (known officially as the République de Côte d'Ivoire). Located on the country’s southern Atlantic coast, Abidjan is exactly the sort of place you might expect to find an antidote to our overscheduled, stress-filled lives.


After a day or so at the workshop, Paul observed  that “every presenter who asked a question or made a comment after a presentation started with a compliment to the presenter. This was always some variation on, ‘I want to thank the speaker for a very good presentation.’ It didn’t matter if their comment turned out to be supportive or critical of some point or another. They always started out with something positive.”

This is, as are many of our own Western social niceties, an inefficient use of time. But in contrast to some professional meetings Paul has attended here in the United States, the practice took the time to first acknowledge and appreciate the effort the other person had made in presenting their point of view.


Perhaps even more striking at the workshop was the effort the Chair made to ensure that every single person was heard. As Paul put it, “even if the session was running overtime (sometimes way over), the Chair would always make sure everyone who wanted to speak had the opportunity. Put simply, the session wasn’t over until everyone had had an opportunity to speak. My American time orientation chafed at this, but another part of me applauded the inclusive spirit this showed. There's a lot we can learn from our African sisters and brothers.”

Beyond demonstrating a perhaps more human touch, this approach offers a valuable insight into the very reason SIL LEAD exists—to help create a world in which every person, regardless of context, has the opportunity for their voice to be heard.

Too often in our efforts to adhere to efficiency and a predetermined agenda, the microphone goes only to the loudest and most powerful voices. In our rush to get things done, we often give little regard to the needs of the few, the small, the quiet.

But there is strength and wisdom in those marginalized minorities. When their voices are heard—when we take the time to ensure they have a chance to speak—the world becomes a fuller, richer place.


AuthorJosh Barkey
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