Marcela Hernandez

For three years, REPEM and the ICAE have been organizing Global Action Weeks in Uruguay as part of the “Global Campaign for Education”. The slogan of this year’s GAW, held at the end of April 2005, was “Educate to End Poverty” and was hence part of the anti-poverty campaign. Marcela Hernandez, REPEM/ICAE Representative for the Global Campaign and Assistant in the General Secretariat from ICAE, reports on the campaign.

The experience of the Global Action Week 2005 in Uruguay

The International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), together with REPEM (the Popular Education Network of Women from Latin America and the Caribbean), an ICAE regional member, have been working for a long time on Education for Inclusion, as an alternative proposal for active citizenship with a gender perspective. Within this framework, activities have been coordinated with the Global Campaign for Education, through the organization of campaigns and different types of advocacy actions. In this sense, for 3 consecutive years, the Global Action Week has been organized by ICAE and REPEM at national level in Uruguay. The Global Action Week is an initiative organized and coordinated every year, throughout the world, by the Global Campaign for Education, which is a coalition of NGOs, teachers’ unions and activists in over 100 countries, for the right to free, good quality education for all.

This year, a strong emphasis was placed on poverty, and its slogan was “Educate to end Poverty” . This made it possible to approach the new left-wing government that assumed power in Uruguay on March 1st, 2005, and that, at that moment, was about to implement an Emergency Plan to tackle the most urgent needs of the poor people and to promote social inclusion. This openness and political will from the new government enabled REPEM and ICAE, as civil society, to work independently but also in coordination with it (parcería), on social issues and on social policies at local and municipal level. Thus, it was the perfect framework to organize the campaign.

The Campaign consisted in making cut-out friends that symbolized people who had not finished their basic education, and the stories of these people were written on them. Then they were presented to government authorities with a demand that they sign a pledge where they committed to take action to “help send these friends to school” .

The main objectives of the Campaign were to:

  • Raise awareness about the situation of education in Uruguay and link it to the poverty suffered by around a third of the total population (Uruguay has a population of 3 million and a half), where women and girls are the most affected. Education is cause and consequence of this poverty.

  • Make government and local authorities commit to take further actions during 2005 and beyond to enable access to free and quality education for all and to achieve gender parity.

  • Sensitize at 3 levels:

    • government authorities and the political arena

    • actors closely linked to education (through teachers’ training centers, urban and rural schools and high schools, etc.)

    • civil society organizations and networks (e. g. teachers’ unions, networks of rural women, Afro-descendent groups, etc.) about the importance of education and literacy, particularly for women as a tool to break the cycle of illness, health, hunger and poverty and as a right that enables the exercise of other human rights such as social, economic, cultural, gender and sexual rights.

The Impacts of the Campaign

The success of the Global Action Week in Uruguay lay in the fact that it literally shook social and political leaders, and it particularly contributed to a process of national awareness and acknowledgement about the educational conditions and situation of a country that has always been considered as a highly literate country, with indicators of 94% that, in fact, show the access and the coverage capacity of the Uruguayan educational system but hide the problems of drop-outs and the non- compliance with the constitutional mandate of 10 years of compulsory basic education.

Although the activity was mainly carried out with children and in schools, most of them brought examples of illiterate young and adult people who had not been able to finish their studies and were thus living in poverty, unemployed, ill, and with great difficulties to assimilate into society. On the other hand, a literacy group from an NGO that has the objective to incorporate into the educational system, young people and adults who dropped out from school when children, also joined this campaign. From the stories written on the cut-out friends arose the several reasons that force children and youngsters to drop out of school:

  • early/child work
  • family problems (child-battering, turned into care givers, teenage pregnancy, death of parents, unemployed parents)
  • economic problems (no clothing, no shoes, could not afford school materials)
  • lack of transport facilities (particularly in rural areas)

60% of the stories written on the cut-out friends belonged to girls and women. This clearly shows that women and girls are still the most affected parts of the population and if we want to end poverty we have to tackle first the gender issue, because, as is widely known, increasing the educational level of girls has a favourable impact not only on economic growth but also on child mortality, nutrition, and HIV prevention.

We have to give everyone the opportunity to finish their studies (not only give them access), addressing the main causes of drop-out and promoting a quality education. That is why we advocate for the right to lifelong learning and education for inclusion for all. And, through this campaign, once more we confirm what is being discussed at conceptual level on intersectionality and multiple discrimination: that poverty is closely linked to gender, race, and all forms of discrimination. This shows that public and social policies must address several issues at the same time, if we want to end poverty and to provide public services with quality for all.

Not only did we comply with our objectives of sensitization, raising awareness and provoking, but we also managed to capitalize on this single activity, which triggered several actions organized by ICAE and REPEM and also by other organizations that got highly involved in the campaign. In figures, and considering a context of 3 million and a half, this translated into:

  • more than 1000 cut-out friends
  • around 70 pledges were signed by authorities
  • 11 out of 19 provinces/departments, participated in the campaign
  • more than 100 organizations and schools were involved

These are some of the activities that took place after the campaign and which enabled us to “keep the candle burning”

1. Exhibition: “Voices Urging Action”

With the support of the President of the Chamber of Representatives, we managed to organize, at Parliament premises, an exhibition of a selection of “Cut-out friends” and other testimonies collected throughout the Global Action Week, held during the month of June and at present this exhibition is traveling throughout the whole country.

2. Our participation in mobilizations that took place at global level

Uruguayan cut-out friends were sent off to Scotland for the G8 Meeting to demand action from these leaders and, recently, to the Millennium Summit in New York.

3. Coordination of actions with our government

It is very important to remark that among the follow-up activities, we have agreed actions in coordination with the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Education and Culture of Uruguay. The idea is to develop a project to carry out adult education actions for social inclusion. The project consists in the creation of three types of centers: for technological literacy, to train volunteers for the Emergency Plan (against poverty) and to train socio-cultural promoters.

4. Survey and contest

Inspired by the Global Action Week, a group of craftswomen from a rural area organized at school a survey among families and neighbours about adults who had not finished their studies. Information was collected and discussed in class, analyzing possible causes and solutions for them. Besides, this information was recorded at the school, as statistical data. Subsequently each class made a cut-out friend based on the people surveyed and the stories, and a contest was carried out.