Usa Duongsaa

AIDS, hunger, poverty, illiteracy, a ruined environment, war and oppression of women. What have we adult educators achieved? Have we done enough? What more should we have done? Usa Duongsaa, President of the Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE), poses some critical questions.

Questions for Adult Educators

This year we mark 20 years of HIV/AIDS,
Facing the stark fact that 22 million people already lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses,
That 36 million more are living with HIV/AIDS, and
15,000 people become ‘new cases’ every day,
While hundreds of millions are still not even aware that they too are vulnerable,

And while hundreds of thousands of

adult educators and development workers still do not realize that
this pandemic is undermining the development progress
we have spent decades working to achieve in many countries.

What does this fact tell us?
What have these years taught us?
What have we learned

about adult education,
about our roles, our successes and failures, as adult educators?

After working for many years,
Reading many books,
Writing many papers and articles,
Giving many lectures and presentations,
Attending many meetings, workshops, and conferences,
Drafting many declarations,
What have we achieved?
How much difference have we really made?

This year millions of people still have no access to education.
This year millions of people still have no access to skills training.
This year millions of people still have no access to proper shelter.
This year millions of people still have no access to nutritious food and clean water.
This year millions of people still have no access to healthcare, disease prevention, and treatment.
This year millions of people still have no access to farming land.
This year millions of people still have no access to decent work with decent pay.
This year millions of people still have no access to peace and secu­­rity.
This year millions of people still have no access to human rights, dignity, and self-fulfillment.

How did we allow all this to happen?
What have we done?
What have we NOT done to stop all this from continuing?
What MORE could we have done?

This year millions of people still live in poverty.
This year hundreds of thousands of children are still abused and exploited as child workers, child soldiers, and child prostitutes by adults.
This year millions of women remain victims of violence, exploitation, and discrimination.
This year millions of workers still suffer occupational health hazards for which compensation is not very likely.
This year the voices of many indigenous people are still unheard, and thousands of indigenous languages are becoming extinct.
This year tons of drugs are produced and millions of people are addicted.
This year countless families are broken and communities are weakened.
This year millions of people are still displaced, either by war, in the name of development, or in search of a steadier income.
This year millions of people are still stigmatized and discriminated against because of their race, sex, religious belief, political orientation, sexual preference, or health status.
This year a huge amount of money is still spent on procurement of arms, instead of purchase of medicines for the sick, occupational skills development for the differently able, or provision of credit and welfare for the poor.
This year many forests are still being cut down, and the earth, the air and the rivers are being polluted.

How did we allow all this to continue?
What have we done?
What have we NOT done to stop all this from happening?
What MORE could we have done?

Could we have made more efforts to promote education for all?
Could we have made more efforts to advance the empowerment of women and promote gender sensitivity and equality?
Could we have made more efforts to provide relevant education for workers, migrants, refugees, the differently able, indigenous ­people?
Could we have made more efforts to provide vocational education for those in their productive years?
Could we have made more efforts to provide HIV/AIDS education to all those who might be at risk?
Could we have made more efforts to provide health education for all?
Could we have made more efforts to provide drugs education and life skills training to the vulnerable?
Could we have made more efforts to provide environmental education for both urban and rural populations?
Could we have made more efforts to advocate peace education in all societies?
Could we have made more efforts to provide citizenship and human rights education in all communities, societies, and countries?

Would we not have made more difference if we had done so?
What could we have done?
Could we have worked differently?
Could we have made more alliances, collaborating more closely at local, national, regional, and global levels?
Could we have more effectively utilized communications and information technologies as tools to promote more learning and more sharing?
Could we have advocated more with the ‘big people’ like policy makers, decision makers, and donors to develop more enabling policies and environments?
Could we have worked more closely with the ‘little people’ who are vulnerable and marginalized, listening to them, supporting them, linking them with others, enabling them to learn from each other, empowering them so they can advocate their own agenda?

Would we not have made more difference if we had done so?
What can we do now?

Can we humbly learn from the experiences and the lessons of
Many people living with HIV/AIDS who, like the phoenix rising from its ashes,
Have braved the pain, the fright, the guilt, the stigma, the despair
And the trap of the individual
To reach out to others, to form groups and networks and coalitions,

to demand equal access to treatment, care and support,
to confirm their rights to dignity and respect,
to reclaim their place in society,
and to reaffirm their worth and contribution to society as educators and catalysts for change?

Their relative successes and their ongoing struggles remind us
just how much they have done all by themselves,
how much more needs to be done,
how much technical support is still needed,
and just how little we have done so far to advance their cause,
as adult educators.

This year, as we celebrate another year of adult education and adult learning,
As we look around at our communities, our societies, and the world,
We should ask ourselves seriously, and honestly…

Have we succeeded as adult educators?
What can we be proud of as our achievements and our contributions?
Have we done enough?
Have we made a real difference?
Can we do more NOW?
What can we do?

Let us try harder.

Let us break down barriers that have enclosed us in the tower of adult education.
Let us build bridges that will connect us with the world,
with the communities.
Let us be educated about the needs and the problems of the people and be guided by their questions, wisdom, and potentials.
Let us rethink our goals and our priorities.
Let us re-work our strategies.
Let us renew our commitment.
Let us rebuild our networks and our alliances

to rebuild the world
together.

Before it becomes too late,
Before it becomes useless to even ask:

what have we NOT done?
what MORE could we have done?

What if we had done more?