Ibrahima Barry

This paper is based largely on research into the dynamics of literacy in the Guilintico group, which was founded in the 1980s by rural women wanting to band together to confront the difficulties of everyday life. In terms of methodology, the content is straight from the grassroots. We lived in the village of Gongoré in order to observe and listen to the inhabitants, and to draw the conclusions presented in this article. The choice of subject was also determined by our involvement in the process in its early stages. Some years later, it seemed the right time to revisit the experiment. This proved to be a decisive landmark in our commitment to supporting development. – Ibrahima Barry is a social economist and agricultural trainer at CENAFOD (Centre Africain de Formation pour le Développement) in Conakry, Guinea. The IIZ/DVV Project Office in Guinea supports both the women’s practical work and the evaluation that accompanies it.

Women, Literacy and Social Change: The Case of the “Guilintico” Women’s Group in Gongoré

Background to the Establishment of the Group

In 1984, the Republic of Guinea radically turned its back on the centralist, authoritarian regime which had lasted for more than three decades. This revolutionary past meant that the people had become totally passive. For a long time they had been accustomed to an almost obligatory militancy, and were not prepared for exercising a free choice in favour of change. They nonetheless seized the opportunity presented to them when the authoritarian regime came to an end, and set up voluntary associations of a3l sorts both in urban centres and in rural areas.

However, the consequences of this past, marked by mutual suspicion, minding one’s own business, lack of information and inadequate education, imposed constraints which did little to encourage the general development and effectiveness of these organizations. It was against this background that the Guilintico group was established in 1988 in Gongoré, when 40 women set out to strengthen solidarity and to carry out income-generating activities together.

Gongoré is situated 359 km north-east of Conakry, in the region of Foutah-Djalon. Its population is estimated at roughly 8000 inhabitants, spread over 60 km2. The main occupations in the area are agriculture, animal husbandry and fruit-picking. Produce which is not consumed directly is sold on site for the large weekly market held in the centre of Gongoré every Wednesday. This market was to have a major influence on the birth of the Guilintico group. Gongoré is an outward-looking area with a mobile population that is frequently shifting. The women in the group are no exception to this rule, and move for all manner of reasons, to rejoin their husbands, to engage in small trade, and so on.

The weekly market is the place where many social links are made, and the social structure is formed. It is a major point of contact with the outside. The distant origins of the Guilintico group are to be found here, since it was at the market that the wowen began to interact. It all began with a mutual loan fund set up for small traders to promote self-financing and individual activities.

More than ten years after it was founded, the commercial strength of the Guilintico group arouses great interest in the area; this success, which is obvious to the women concerned, is sometimes incomprehensible to others, who wonder what has brought it about. As it has grown, the group has gone through a number of experiences that have been crucial to its members and to other local women.

The Five Crucial Experiences in the Development of Guilintico

These experiences have had wide social repercussions, and have been turning points in the development of the women in the Guilintico group. 

First Experience

In September 1989, the group took up poultry farming, using its own funds drawn from members’ subscriptions. But although great hopes were placed in the project, it soon came to an end. Because the women lacked the knowledge to do anything about it, Newcastle’s disease killed off the group’s entire stock, putting the women right back where they started. However, this setback drew the group closer together, as the women developed a common sense of pride in order to overcome the jibes to which they were subjected. In a village where social control is all-pervasive, an attempt to get ahead which ends in failure is a source of embarrassment, frustration and shame.

Second Experience

The women thought once more about how to raise the funds to start again. They decided to build up a stock of the stones used by builders for the foundations of buildings, and to re-sell them. At the end of this operation, they had earned the sum of 150,000 fg ($ 150). This experience, as we shall see, was critical for the women.

Third Experience

In order to build on the money earned from the sale of blocks of stone, the women set up another mutual loan fund among themselves, with a 10% rate of interest. Teams of three were given loans of 50,000 fg in order to buy and sell at the weekly market. This activity, which was to be expanded in the fifth experience, is still growing today. But the secrecy with which the group surrounds its results means that no complete and accurate figures can be given.

Fourth Experience

Since the main demand is for vegetables, the women tried in vain to gain access to a piece of agricultural land for market gardening. There are not many arable plots, and the traditional land tenure system excludes women from owning such property. This practice, which still persists, is in odd contrast to Guinean law, but the women are adept at dealing with both systems.

Fifth Experience

In July 1992, the women negotiated for and obtained a loan of 1,000,000 fg ($ 1000) from the Crédit Mutuel bank in Pita (the prefecture covering Gongoré) in order to provide backing for their internal credit system mentioned above. The exact conditions attaching to this loan are unknown since the women refuse to talk about it. We can say no more than that all seems to have gone well with repayment of the capital and the interest. This secrecy, which is often misunderstood by outsiders, is a general indication of autonomy and room for manoeuvre.

Encounters with Other Actors

Against the background of internal developments described above, in September 1992 (five years after it was established), the group met the African Centre for Development Training (CENAFOD), the NGO which was to be its chief partner in collaboration with the IIZ/DVV, the financial and strategic partner. Other local actors and small groups also played a part:

The Rural Community Development Executive (RCD)

A body elected by the people (the number of members varying from seven to thirteen according to the number of rural districts making up the RCD) is the agency responsible for the mobilization, management and control of community resources in the exclusive interest of the community. Given the group’s growing notoriety, the RCD executive tried to seize control of its decision-making procedures. However, this attempted takeover did not achieve the intended effect. Guilintico was attracting people, material resources and funding, which gave it sufficient safeguards not to yield to pressure.

The various attempts by the elected members and officers of the RCD to take control of the group soon gave way to a strategy of collaboration and facilitation. The local authority made no difficulty about granting the women the plot on which they built their centre, comprising a literacy room, an office, a shop and a soap-making workshop.

The Council of Elders

After the family, one of the oldest institutions in the village is the council of elders. It governs operations in the social and religious field. It draws its legitimacy from seniority, long experience of life and its members’ knowledge of different families. The patriarch who presides over the council is very committed to the progress of the community. He was the first to give his blessing to the group, and his blessings have great psychological importance. He has never ceased opposing some old men who accuse the women of deviance.

In short, the group has the moral backing and the recognition of the council of elders. This provides an inestimable fund of legitimacy for the women in a rural society which is still governed by all kinds of cultural considerations: such approbation is very important in the village context.

The Husbands

The village is becoming more and more open to the outside world. The women are at the heart of a movement that is taking off. This success encourages their husbands to use their positive influence since the dominant sociocultural regime makes the women heavily dependent on the men. The women are closely tied to their homes, which provide them with a respectable identity. A divorced, single or repudiated woman is covered in shame.

This continuing cultural situation increases the pressure on the men. They are therefore full partners, capable of working out their own strategies and influencing the group through each woman. Although their husbands at first regarded the group with suspicion and as a potential source of risky encounters for the women, it eventually became a part of everyday life and was seen in a more positive light. The new perceptions among the husbands speak volumes, since the image of his wife matters to a man, who wishes to be proud of her, as she is of him. The women were therefore pushed to perform as well as possible in what they were learning in order to rise to positions of responsibility. Competitive thinking developed between the husbands who underwent this process of change. The following old saying, which was quoted to us, well illustrates this state of mind:

"If your friend has more money than you, it doesn’t matter. If he is better educated than you, that doesn’t matter either. But if his wife is better than yours, then your friend is surely better than you.”

We have also learnt that the husbands gradually gained access to the group’s credit system, with their wives’ backing. For the women, this was the beginning of the notion of a savings and loan institution for the whole community. Social and economic factors are intertwined, and the women, who are aware of this, told us that relationships and values were becoming attuned to the new situation.

Absent Husbands

They were in cities either in the country or outside it, and because they were a long way away and absent from the society, their knowledge of the group was subject to interference. They heard about the changes from a distance through reports that often distorted reality. They generally adopted an attitude of doubt and mistrust, therefore. This led them to wish to restrict their wives’ freedom. In 1996, two young women were quite simply ordered to leave the group. The intervention of the elders brought about a peaceful resolution, but in terms of relationships, this was one of the most worrying problems faced by the women in their development.

The Various Strategies of the Group

The Guilintico group is built on the principle of collective action to respond to the very varied challenges faced by the women individually. Let us remind ourselves that the group has undertaken and pursued a range of activities since its early experiences: strengthening of the credit system, literacy, soap-making, market gardening, and collection and sale of produce gathered from the wild (especially néré seeds).

Before it became as celebrated as it is today, the group had to become literate and to adopt a range of strategies which we have tried to establish from what some of the women in the group have said and told us:

“We did what no one else had thought of: we introduced literacy, we introduced and mastered the technique of making soap, and we built the best building in the locality. Everyone has seen us carrying blocks of stone, gravel and sand on our heads. We brought CENAFOD and the Whites into the locality, and they are really helping. We are proud of seeing all the other women trying to do the same as us. The group is a second family to me, it enables us to have money and knowledge. We have just won the Agathe prize, worth 6,000 American dollars (the first literacy competition organized in the region by the Federation of African Women Teachers).”

“Through the group, the women are gaining freedom and power; we are no longer frustrated and stressed like we were for many years. Our minds are open thanks to literacy.”

“We manage to solve our problems among ourselves as, when all is said and done, there are sensitive issues living as a group, especially where there are resources. Solving things internally makes the group more stable.”

If the ideas that emerge from what has been said by the members of the group and those around them are examined, the main principles underlying the group’s activities can be identified. For the women of Guilintico these are:

  • acquiring a certain amount of knowledge by becoming literate
  • being truly in control of the rules governing the way a voluntary association operates

The collective commitment seen in their statements and actions shows that the women of Guilintico were prepared to work together in solidarity to make their group viable. They therefore developed a number of strategies:

Strengthening Collective Identity

In addition to their very real existence as individuals, the women have a collective identity based on a common will to act. In our interviews with the women, they generally remarked on the security and freedom which the group gave them. They said that they felt vulnerable when they were on their own, but recovered their self-confidence when they were together. Suddenly, they acquired symbols which strengthened their cohesion and sense of belonging to the group. The 150,000 fg generated by the sale of blocks of stone referred to above is a symbol used by the women to indicate their financial situation. They always insist that their assets are 150,000 fg, despite the considerable growth experienced by their affairs. They have composed a sort of anthem fÞr themselves, which is in fact a hymn praising both God (through fidelity to Islam) and the merits of togetherness and hard work. They have also equipped themselves with white dresses, which they wear for every ceremony.

Contributing to Social Expenditure

The flexible way in which the group is managed allows it to contribute to the social expenditure of the entire community. This embraces expenses occasioned by baptisms, weddings, funerals, care of strangers, religious ceremonies, etc. The women maintain that spending money gives them satisfaction and that they are happy to be able to contribute to social expenditure. They do not see it as a waste of money. It is in fact a contribution to social security akin to the systems that are widespread in a more elaborate form in other societies. In return, the group gains greater popular social recognition and legitimacy, which are of considerable value in the village context.

Knowledge of each other and social interdependence are the pillars supporting the dynamic links between social and economic factors. What is original about the group is that it is able to make clear links with these social networks.

Limiting the Number of Members

The women see Guilintico as a successful alliance that has patiently been created at a particular time and place. Since the first faltering beginnings, the number of women forming Guilintico has remained at 40. This even number has no particular significance in itself. But in local popular belief, odd numbers do not encourage lasting harmonious relationships. It is therefore understandable that the women of the Guilintico group have never wanted to add a 41st woman. As far as they are concerned, just one more woman would bring with her the danger of cracks appearing in the structure of their alliance. They are, however, willing to mobilize their expertise to help those who want to organize themselves as entrepreneurs. This protection of their internal arrangements, and the secrecy which derives from it, are a way of safeguarding their independence.

Building up Durable Resources

In order to take care of the medium and long term, the women of Guilintico have set out to acquire durable assets and to train themselves. In 1994, they succeeded in obtaining from the local authorities a plot of land on which to build their headquarters. In 1998, they succeeded, despite difficulties, in acquiring an agricultural plot of 2 ha from a private owner. The price for the plot, a total of 6,000,000 fg, will be paid off in instalments up to 2004.

In a country in which possession of such property by women, even when they form a group, is not always permitted, these acquisitions demonstrate that the women of Guilintico know how to take advantage of the opposition between firmly entrenched customs and the still half-hearted positive provisions of the law. Even though there are official legislative provisions which do not discriminate against women in the possession of land, the customary practices which exclude them still have a strong influence.

In terms of the development process, the women are now surprisingly successful at making soap by a cold method, and they are perhaps the best example of success in functional literacy. In 1997, they won the Agathe Uwilingiyima prize in this field organiz§d in Dakar by the Federation of African Women Teachers (FAWE). This prize, worth $ 6000 or 7,200,000 fg, greatly strengthened the group’s enthusiasm and development.

Choosing Activities and Adapting Ideas

Partnership presupposes that the bodies concerned influence one another. This means that each has to lay down limits according to principles which may not be understood by the others. Guilintico has committed itself to a wide range of activities with itsýmain partner, CENAFOD. Against this background, it has adopted innovations, particularly in its approach to solving problems, training and analysis. These innovations will be examined in the pages that follow. These strategies are linked by a coordinated planning process, which is the approach favoured by the women of Guilintico. They use it to work out their action programmes.

The group has succeeded in overcoming one of the greatest burdens on Guinean society. To begin with, the women rejected the practice of charging interest, likening it to usury, which is not permitted by Islam. Then, as time went on, they took a different attitude towards this religious belief, saying that it was not really usury because the loans were essentially internal to the group, which retains ownership of the money and group responsibility for it. But the problem arose once again as soon as their husbands, who were outside the group, starting taking advantage of group loans on which interest was charged.

Offering Guidance to Other Groups

In the wake of Guilintico, appreciable numbers of other groups have started up. At the time when we researching on site in summer 1998, there were 19 of these, most of them women’s groups. The vast majority of the population has without doubt seen the level of its awareness raised by the success of Guilintico.

All these groups eventually formed a union, with a governing board elected by universal suffrage and chaired by the President of Guilintico. In order to achieve this, Guilintico had to bear the costs of a vigorous election campaign, distributing packages of 9 or 10 cola nuts of a certain value to female personalities and heads of households. According to local custom, these gifts symbolize humility and respect for the intended recipient. They are made in all social dealings: to propose marriage, to inform in-laws of a birth, to plead for mercy, to seal a reconciliation, and so on. If the colas are accepted by the intended recipient, they become the mark of a contract of honour between the two parties.

The determination with which their predecessors had tried to control the process, and which has spread to the entire community, is a sign of a hegemonic tendency that is gradually infiltrating the Guilintico group. This development threatens to dissipate the women’s creative energy, endangering the clear pursuit of the group’s internal dynamics.

Diversifying Activities and Reducing Risks

The group has resolutely set out to diversify its activities. The women state that this plural approach to their activities enables them to make the best choices. In 1997, the prices of the basic commodities (caustic soda, palm oil, scents, etc.) used in soap-making rose considerably. Guilintico responded to this development in the market by placing the emphasis on credit, increasing the loans made. This readjustment reduced the risk. Diversification also allowed the group to find work for its 40 women which meets their own preferences. In this way, Guilintico has been able to develop the training and skills to increase its overall potential. And in addition to these strategies, the women have pursued the other approaches examined below.

Summary of Activities

Diagnosis or Methodological Introduction

This refers to the first system of communications established between the support agency CENAFOD and Guilintico. A broad, well-instrumented system of diagnosis used to analyse situations was to be crucial to the approach of both institutions. It was the first opportunity for each institution to learn about the features of the other: aims, strategies, means and methods, etc. This activity took a long time, and proved exhausting for the women. But it was necessary so that each partner could work out what to expect, and it helped to avert the phenomena of dependency and paternalism that are familiar in the realm of development support. Two CENAFOD workers and several of the women spent three weeks drafting the conclusions that could already be drawn from the group’s activities. These were essentially the five past experiences of the group, which were taken as the starting point here.

However, needs analysis is only relevant if it leads to a strategy to meet those needs either directly or indirectly, the ability to put forward one’s point of view being a prerequisite for the making of suitable choices. The points of view arising from previous difficulties were not yet explicit. It was not easy to define them since the two bodies were playing very different roles: CENAFOD channelling support to the participants, while the women provided the ideas. This way of working, which is still practised by the two bodies when they meet, ensures that the group has appreciable autonomy in decision-making.

Overall, the women felt that the difficulties and setbacks that they had experienced were due to the fact that they did not have sufficient knowledge to carry through the activities that they had begun. For that reason, CENAFOD very quickly suggested that it should provide a literacy project, with funding from the IIZ/DVV in Germany, which had already indicated its willingness. All the elements were thus in place for CENAFOD, the DVV and Guilintico to start working as partners: the project, the funding and the beneficiaries.

The diagnosis which gave rise to this initiative had the merit of implying an approach based on situational analysis, which was to be a tool used almost dogmatically by the group on every occasion. The tool consists of the identification of a problem, analysis of the problem, selection of the best solution, implementation of the solution, and finally evaluation. The literacy work carried out with the group will now be discussed.

Literacy

Rather than examining literacy techniques in themselves, we shall only look at the approaches and the nature of the subject-matter developed because the study was essentially concerned with the effects produced on the Guilintico group by this key activity. The literacy work had a twofold aim: 

Education and Learning

The goal was general social education. To this end, all the literacy sessions started with topics suggested by the immediate environment.

The first of these was the “problem-solving approach”. It arose during the diagnosis in September 1992 referred to above. In the course of discussions facilitated by the CENAFOD workers, the women eventually more or less arrived at the stages already mentioned in the section dealing with diagnosis (identification of a problem, analysis, selection of a solution, implementation and evaluation). This was not really a revelation since the stages were already familiar in the field of research and development support. They merely reflected the logic of any human activity. In this respect, what mattered was the women’s ability to learn, which developed through research. The literacy was hence a sort of action research focusing on the practices of the women – research with the aim of spelling out systematically to the women what was implicit in the human experience.

Another topic developed was “awareness”, “Ghandal” in the Pular language (the literacy language of Guilintico). This concept was a critical return to the women’s need to produce knowledge and CENAFOD’s need to support the approaches and processes of production. There were in total many different topics since they covered all aspects of the life of the group and its members: the environment, hygiene, management, collaboration, communication, studies of the viability of an action, etc. The predominant purpose was education and lifelong learning.

Methodological Tools

This aim was the acquisition of the ability to read, write and calculate as a corollary to the aim of education and learning discussed above. Mastery of these techniques was one of the most important things for the women, firstly between themselves, and secondly with women in other localities. Anyone thoroughly mastering these tools would be able to communicate and to carry out management tasks. Two events gave a boost to this process:

  • the celebration of International Literacy Day in Gongoré on 8 September 1995. Many national and regional figures were present at this day.
  • the award of the Agathe Uwinlingiyimana international literacy prize to Guilintico in 1997 in Senegal.

From the methodological point of view, the women questioned certain practices, notably in the decision-making process. They developed their own principles for planning and drawing up contracts. Writing gradually infiltrated into the customary orality of Guilintico through reports, technical data, documentation of loans, etc. Moreover, the process of becoming literate as adults raised questions about the underlying concepts which surrounded it: lifelong learning, adult education, education for young people, etc. These concepts are not rigidly defined, and the meanings and interpretations given to them vary according to the interests and profiles of those using them.

In the Guilintico literacy programme it is possible to identify two closely interconnected operational dimensions, namely education and learning. These dimensions are part of a quest for progress through social change. The education and learning through action that have developed since 1994 have made it easier to work out systematically the knowledge and identity of the group. But this is a long-term process since it must take into account the basic skills which assist each individual woman’s development.

In looking at the starting point for literacy in Guilintico, and the constancy and perseverance of the women in their enthusiasm for innovation both in their usual practices and in new initiatives, it is to be expected that the outside observer will not yet notice any profound social change. However, the best illustration of faith in the future is the establishment of the literacy centre.

The Building of the Literacy Centre

The literacy centre is in fact the result of collaboration between the DVV, Guilintico and CENAFOD, roughly in the following proportions: DVV 55%, Guilintico 35% and CENAFOD 10%. The group contributed to the building of the centre in various ways:

  • providing and transporting all the aggregates (sand, gravel, blocks of stone and water)
  • providing accommodation and food for four craftspeople and labourers for the two months taken by the work, plus minor daily expenses and services

The other two agencies involved funded the purchase and transportation of materials (cement, corrugated iron, timber and bricks) and the building costs. The Centre comprises a fitted out literacy room, a workshop, a shop, an office, and an outhouse for lavatories. It is a permanent structure, and is among the finest in the rural development community. It symbolizes the group and embodies its togetherness in the view of villagers who have given us their opinions on the matter.

The building is situated in the centre of the village, not far from the headquarters of the sub-prefecture, the residence of the sub-prefect, the health centre and two schools (primary and lower secondary). It thus forms part of the complex symbolizing power and prominence in the village. In addition to being used by the owners, it is open to all other groups in the locality, which hold their meetings and literacy sessions there. It also serves as a place to welcome important visitors to the village.

Introduction of Soap-making

In 1995, Guilintico planned cold soap-making as one of its activities, and this took off after the building of the literacy centre. The group was thereby responding to a heavy demand in the community. In order to be successful, the women had to learn the relevant techniques. They asked for support in this from their partners (CENAFOD and the DVV).

The three partners thus split the roles between them. The DVV and CENAFOD saw this as an opportunity to reinforce literacy by supporting income-generating activities. They paid for the initial raw materials (palm oil, caustic soda, colouring and scents) and technical material (cutting tables, gloves, trough and other containers), and the costs of training. Guilintico provided accommodation and food for a woman refugee from Sierra Leone who satisfied the requirements set out in the advertisement for the post of trainer. She was therefore selected to teach the women of Guilintico for a period of 30 days.

The training passed off satisfactorily overall, and all the women learnt how to make soap to a more or less equal standard. An evaluation was carried out before the end of the training period, each of the four training groups producing soap that was then sold. Previously, the group had not experienced such good working conditions. The motivation and the stakes were higher because it was a woman from outside who was instructing them, and because nothing of the kind had been tried before in Gongoré. This twofold innovation strengthened the women’s feeling of being of use to the community. At the end of the training, the trainer was overwhelmed with presents of all sorts from the women. She even received some from people who were not members of the group.

Once production started, Guilintico caused the retail price of soap to fall to such an extent that the local traders placed wholesale orders in order to benefit from the relatively competitive price charged by the group. The orders were accepted subject to the proviso that the traders and the women were to agree on the profit margin which the latter might earn on the soap.

Communication

Communication has played a significant role in internal and external collaboration. It has been the key to all initiatives and all forms of negotiation, both forging relationships and guiding them towards precise goals. Every proposal has arisen out of a particular situation as perceived by the women and the villagers in general. We have noted some features of this plethora of words.

Despite the spread of schooling and literacy endeavours, orality is the dominant form of communication. It is the vector of values and underlies all the social contracts entered into by the members of the community. An abundant literature sustains and enriches it every day. This literature covers all aspects of living in a society: morals, social justice, transparency, etc., ranging from proverbs to stories and including accounts of factual events. The weight of the spoken word is of prime importance. In the course of our investigations, we listed the expressions, tales and stories used by the women to explain an issue or to state general principles. We shall present a breakdown of them by topic of communication:

Inviolability of Collective Assets

Story:

“Three friends decide to go and seek their fortune. After walking for three days they find three huge gold bricks, each exactly like the other. Since it is glaringly obvious how to divide them, the youngest is sent off at once to find something to eat in the nearby village. When he comes back, the other two attack and kill him so that ‘what was to have been shared between three could be shared between two’. Having done the deed, they fall to. But immediately afterwards they drop dead on the spot because the one they have killed has poisoned the food so that ‘what was to have been shared between three should belong to one alone’.

This story was told when the women started making soap in order to make them aware that large quantities of soap were disappearing. They were reminded that collective assets must be protected from human weaknesses since no gesture, deed or statement can escape justice. The exaltation of blind justice, “God”, recurs throughout what they say.

Prudence

“When digging the hole of betrayal, it should never be dug too deep since one never knows who will fall in.” This proverb was quoted by the women in reply to people who wished them ill or tried to obstruct their efforts.

Transparency
“If two women try to pound seeds without showing their armpits, the seeds will never be well pounded.” In other words, nothing can be done properly, and communal progress cannot be achieved, if one gives oneself half-heartedly to the task.

Acknowledgement and togetherness
“Your little dispute can only come from somewhere where the cola you sent was too small.”  This notion is the justification for making gifts. In this case, it is security which is stressed, a kind of anticipated alliance.

Prejudices
“If someone offers to give you an item of clothing, look at the person wearing it to have an idea of what to expect.” This saying is often used in relation to promises: the villagers can see through outsiders.

Strangers’ Misunderstanding of the Social Context
“When a strangers enters a hut, it’s no good his looking around, he won’t see where it leaks when it rains.”

Punishment
The punishment song: this means devising an insulting song in bad taste to be sung by the members of a group in the yard of someone who has not paid her debts or carried out some other obligation to the group. It is the means of stating a claim and exerting pressure most feared by rural women, and for good reason: as soon as such a song is sung, it attracts people and spreads the message. And no one wants to be the laughing stock of the village. This fear is all the more justified since it may be quoted in other circumstances and other contexts. This model is being formalized by groups of girls. If it is to institutionalised, however, it has to be accepted by all those who may be its victims.

Besides circulating information, communication as a whole is a tool which enables society to be regulated. The practical instances cited above demonstrate that it is a cultural reality reproduced through socialization and education. If people’s worries are looked at on a wider scale, it is clear that the topics addressed in the examples drawn from the village are contemporary issues which our societies always face.

The arrival on the scene of effective communication for development has promoted cooperation between the various voluntary associations in the rural community of Gongoré. It makes it possible to:

  • resolve problems between individuals or groups by reducing disharmony
  • recognise the worth of individuals and groups by enabling them to demonstrate their existence and personalities
  • carry out collective tasks as a group and in unison

In the light of the foregoing, it is evident that the beginnings of change in the locality of Gongoré have necessarily meant a sharing and questioning of problems of community life.

By Way of Conclusion

The Guilintico group was already motivated and committed before there was any outside intervention. The first activities that it undertook were sometimes failures, which the women overcame by themselves. These experiences were psychologically crucial to their development. Subsequently, CENAFOD approached Guilintico, offering support with training and literacy. Through this partnership, the women were able to develop and strengthen their management, planning and analysis skills.

Given the innovative nature of the group, it has launched all manner of initiatives, both on its own behalf and for other local actors. These achievements are all the greater since the group is not necessarily egalitarian even though it operates on a basis of consensus. The various parties involved have therefore worked out strategies that they have applied to the interplay of interests and power relationships.

The group itself has devised its own collective strategies, but these have not at all stood in the way of individual and sub-group strategies. Conflicts are generally so well hidden from strangers that an unobservant outsider might imagine that the group was a homogeneous community free of conflicts. Sometimes, rural communities present themselves as exaggeratedly peaceful village societies working towards common goals, in the hope of persuading outsiders to provide assistance. But this is a myth that is now quite familiar. If a rural society, like most human societies, is peaceful, it is because it succeeds in resolving its major conflicts peacefully, not because it does not generate any.

Many groups have been set up in the wake of Guilintico. With the latter as the central player, all of these have formed a union. With its governing board composed of democratically elected members, this union will, together with the RCD, be at the heart of the Local Development Programme (LDP). This programme reflects a local determination to make progress and change, demonstrating the awareness which the Guilintico movement has created. New categories of actors are appearing at the grassroots, owing their position either to their technical knowledge, or to their status as elders or as local elected representatives charged with promoting development and democracy.

The trend which best illustrates the endogenous spirit of development underlying the LDP is the endeavour to mobilize and channel local financial resources (individual and collective). Furthermore, the groups, the union and the RCD executive intend to systematize this practice by building a village savings and loan bank. The refusal of the village to join the official savings and loan bank networks is an enlightening indicator of this desire on the part of the groups.

This courage, like the rest of the overall development, has been made possible by the introduction of active coordination and communication. The latter have nothing whatever to do with the caricature of merely ceremonial debate beneath the meeting tree. Both in form and content, internal communication is very full, and the issues addressed are always topical: transparency, public relations and the constraints of community life.

The fact that such skills should be developed largely by women means that the issue of gender has to be addressed. The women are indeed playing an important part in the emergence of an active civil society, and are capable of responding in innovative ways to huge economic and social challenges.

Such are the factors that can be identified in the history of the group’s development. This Guilintico group was set up without the direct intervention of any kind of project or programme. It may of course have been influenced by radio programmes about the voluntary movement, or simply by what some of its members had brought back from their journeys. But it is undeniable that Guilintico is the outcome of an endogenous urge. This character does indeed explain some of its attitudes and decisions, especially in the selection of activities and strategies to be implemented.

From the outset, and up to the present day, the women’s fundamental principle has been “togetherness”, in the sense of an alliance wholly committed to making changes, to improving the quality of life, and to altering social power relations. Some of those concerned, who regarded the group at the beginning as an obstacle to the ideological and social reproduction of the village, tried to take over and control the movement. In the face of these attempts, the women always reacted by appealing to social cohesion, while having their essential goals constantly in view. They succeeded without serious confrontation in bringing most of those who opposed them at the beginning round to their fundamental beliefs.

The dynamic created and maintained by the continual acquisition of knowledge through literacy and social work continues. It is therefore apposite to express the hope that this dynamic will continue in the future.