From Fife to the Philippines... and Beyond

"Let the beauty of what you love be what you do."

- Rumi

From a very early age growing up in Fife, Scotland, SIL LEAD board member Dr. Catherine Young was headed toward a life as an educator and a lover of the natural world. While her parents weren't teachers, they were involved in Guides, Scouts, and other youth activities and were therefore focused on community involvement and community development.

Catherine spent her teenage years in a rural part of England because of her father’s work, and chose to do her undergraduate studies in the English Lake District, where she could spend her weekends enjoying the natural beauty of that world: hill-walking, caving, abseiling, and waterskiing.

It might be tempting to view this love of natural beauty as only a hobby, rather than an essential part of who Dr. Young is. But it seems to go hand in hand with her love of the beauty and wonder of human culture and language.

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After finishing University (she did her Master’s in Sheffield and her PhD in North Wales), Catherine moved into work as a teacher of the Deaf. Designing educational programs for the Deaf enabled her to think carefully and deeply about the importance of language, education, and communication. Her faith then drew her to consider the importance of wanting the best for all people in all ways, which is a big part of what led her to begin working with SIL International.

Catherine traveled from the lush, verdant beauty of the UK to the perhaps even more lush, wild beauty of the Philippines. In a remote part of the beautiful island of Palawan, she began working with a local education program doing language analysis and education. Literacy rates among adults were below five percent at the time, and there were few primary schools for children. Catherine began to work with local community leaders and local government to develop adult literacy and instructional materials and support the creation of schools in rural areas.

This work slowly bore fruit. Schools were built, and now the people in that region are gaining access to development opportunities from both government and non-governmental organizations. They’re taking ownership of their future.

While on Palawan, Catherine experienced what she calls “your normal typhoons and floods of the Philippines,” and was in the country when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in what the U.S. geological survey described at the time as “the second-largest volcanic eruption of this century.” But what she remembers most vividly is the heart-stopping beauty of the country. She had to hike long distances and cross rivers to get to where she lived, and got to explore remote beaches that had never seen a tourist. “What better preparation for that than to love hiking?” she reflects.

“Love” is perhaps the key word in that sentence. Love of beautiful places merges, in the person of Dr. Young, with love of beautiful communities and the people who comprise them. This love carried her when she moved from the Philippines to serve with SIL in Bangladesh, partnering with Save the Children and the United Nations Development Program on education and development.


Catherine’s role is more global, now.

She coordinates a wide variety of sociolinguistic and literacy activities, splitting her time between SIL leadership and her role as the Course Leader for the MA in Literacy Programme Development at Redcliffe College in Gloucester, United Kingdom. She says there’s a wonderful intersect between the two, and she loves sending her students out around the world: to Southeast Asia, Africa, and Northern Europe. She lives, now, at the hub of a great and beautiful adventure.

Catherine was involved from the very start in the conversations around the creation of SIL LEAD. Not only did she have a lot of experience working with non-SIL partners in Asia, but her ongoing role in SIL International helps maintain the link between SIL LEAD and SIL International’s global network of literacy and linguistics experts.

This allows her to fulfill her vision of working in a way that meets the needs of the whole person; and it affords her greater opportunities than ever to give back to the international community.

“SIL LEAD has tools and a voice that is respected in the international community,” she says. “We can add insight to the conversation, and it’s a fantastic way to engage with other organizations to provide responsiveness and quality primarily in education, but also health.”

From an early life surrounded by the beauty of Scotland to a life now spent with an eye on the beauty of the whole world, Catherine is a welcome asset to the SIL LEAD board.