Although neoliberal economic policies in a number of Latin American countries have stimulated rapid growth in certain industries, the development of those few sectors has not brought about any long-term improvement in the situation of Latin America's greater majorities. Instability and economic crisis remain characteristic for Latin America, and the people who suffer most from the precarious situation are the countries' indigenous peoples, their rural populations, and the people who reside in poverty belts around their larger urban centres. Our Latin American partners in adult education seek to increase the self-esteem of these members of society and to help capacitate them to take active part in social processes. Many of our partners are members of the Consejo de Educación de Adultos de America Latina (CEAAL), the most important umbrella organization in the field of adult education in Latin America.
Founded in 1982, CEAAL serves a membership of more than 200 Latin American non-government providers of adult education - organizations that fill critical gaps in the public system of education and cater to the needs of broad sectors of the population in a flexible and praxis-oriented approach to continuing education. CEAAL's members represent a wide range of interests and work under very different conditions. In response to the needs of the groups they serve, they concentrate on many different facets of adult education including literacy training, environmental education, human rights and citizenship education, collaboration with trade unions, healthcare education, or indigenous education.
The work of CEAAL is shaped by the decisions reached at regular executive meetings and above all at its general assemblies which are held every three to four years. General assemblies also elect the Council's General Secretary and decide the location of its headquarters. Panamá is the current seat of the Council. Along with the elected honorary representatives, the executive committee comprises six regional coordinators. The regions - Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, the Andean countries, Brazil and the southern countries - have been defined according to related geographic and cultural considerations to decentralize organizational structures and facilitate coordination. At recent assemblies the training of adult educators was given highest priority on the Council's agenda. The task of adult educators is to develop effective adult education praxis at the grassroots level, and to support and encourage the acquisition of the skills people need to intervene in political processes and foster socio-cultural development. Very much in line with the philosophy of Paulo Freire, the late honorary president of CEAAL, their work stresses the emancipatory function of education and a process of consciousness-raising that results in active intervention designed to produce changes in existing social conditions.
Regional and national conferences are held regularly to disseminate the results of CEAAL's efforts .The Council maintains its own internet homepage http://www.ceaal.org/ to provide the broader public with information about its membership and activities. In addition, it publishes a weekly Newsletter , "La Carta" and the journal "La Piragua", which report on developments within the association and explore a large selection of key themes and trends in the adult education sector. The positive response throughout Latin America to seminars such as "Intercultural Education" or "Democratic Forms of Government and Citizen Participation" reflects an interest in such current topics that extends far beyond regional borders.
Another important function of CEAAL, in addition to ensuring the exchange of information across national borders, is the exercise of influence to shape public policies affecting adult education in Latin America. At the national level this means that member organizations must lobby for the increase of government responsibility in the sector. They must also work to remedy the adverse tendencies that result for the population from the trend toward privatisation of adult education. On the international stage, CEAAL has come to be regarded as an important UNESCO advisor, and has assumed an important role within the "International Council for Adult Education" (ICAE). CEAAL also works closely with other Latin American education and social institutions. Especially since the Fifth UNESCO Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA) in Hamburg, CEAAL has gained leverage with Latin American governments as a respected authority in the sector. It has taken up the challenge to implement the resolutions passed at the conference and has organized several regional meetings in this connection. The task requires the Council to work toward the creation of appropriate legal and political conditions and frameworks for adult education systems that respond to the demands of the modern-day world, and, in a process of ongoing dialogue, to monitor the content and orientation of adult education programmes while keeping its own structures and strategies attuned to changing social conditions and new challenges.