WELTHY FISHER, now 84, still is responding vitally to
the plea of her late friend, Mohandas K. Gandhi: "Go to the villages and help them.
India is the villages."
Saksharta Niketan, or Literacy House, which she founded, has become the means of
fulfilling Gandhi's commission. First established at Allahabad in 1953, its permanent
headquarters were moved four years later to Lucknow. Over the past 11 years, it has
trained nearly 7,000 literacy teachers. These men and women have taught simple reading and
writing to an estimated one and one-half million villagers and city laborers, for whom
learning to write their own names made the difference between "being nobody and
Once villagers achieve functional literacy using carefully prepared primers, they are
given simple readers on hygiene, local government, farming and other subjects of immediate
concern in day-to-day living. The 55 books especially written and published by Literacy
House for new readers circulate through mobile Tin Trunk Libraries, often carried on the
rear of bicycles. A weekly newspaper in Hindi, Ujala, keeps new literates abreast of
events. For writers encouraged to develop these constructive, popular materials, a
quarterly, Lekhak, provides a forum of intellectual exchange. Among other techniques for
mass communication now in use, the ancient art of puppetry is proving highly effective in
Located on a grassy plain near the capital of Uttar Pradesh, one of the largest states of
North India, Literacy House increasingly is called upon by national and state governments
and semi-government agencies for social education. Since 1958 some 3,000 elected village
councilmen and voluntary leaders have been instructed in the responsibilities of their new
offices. Two continuous programs teach women to become community development workers.
Adding an international dimensionother than financing from Canada, India and the
United Stateshave been teacher-trainees from Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines,
Sarawak and the Tibetan refugee community.
In keeping with its founder's concept, "in a surrounding close to nature life flows
with dignity and grace" on the campus of Literacy House. The modest red-brick
buildings, including hostels for 100, were designed for function and unostentatious
comfort. Welcoming everyone is a central House of Prayer for All Peoples, respecting
diverse beliefs and acknowledging one God.
WELTHY FISHER, who mobilized talents and resources and led in this effort, first came to
Asia in 1906. As the young American headmistress of a mission school in Nanchang, deep in
Central China, she helped educate a new type of modern Chinese woman in a time of
turbulent transition from Manchu Empire to Republic. World War I brought her to France in
service with the YWCA to do welfare work among Chinese laborers in munitions factories.
Married in 1924 to the Right Reverend Frederick Bohn Fisher, Methodist Bishop of India and
Burma, she shared joyously in his extraordinary mission and close friendship with India's
Loss of her husband in 1938 led Mrs. FISHER to fourteen years of travel, writing and
lecturing about educational systems she studied in South America, the Middle East and
Asia. She was 72 years old when memory of Gandhi's insistent plea encouraged her to work
with the Allahabad Agricultural Institute in making technical knowledge understandable in
the villages. From this beginning grew her vision of a house to help in some measure
India's 320 million illiterates. For this work she found expression in the lines of a
mystic Oriental poet: "It is better to light a candle than to curse the
In electing WELTHY HONSINGER FISHER to receive the 1964 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes her unstinting personal
commitment to the cause of literacy in India and other Asian countries whose teachers have
sought her guidance.