“The Grass Won’t Grow Any More Quickly if You Pull at it” – Combating Poverty (African proverb)
The Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education As sociation (IIZ/DVV) has been providing support for adult education projects in developing countries for 30 years. The cooperative partnership between the IIZ/ DVV and governmental, non-governmental and university institutions is supported by grants from the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung, BMZ) as part of its policy of assisting the development of social institutions.
The IIZ/DVV is an integral part of German adult education. Its promotion of social institutions, and the involvement of the DVV in international professional activities, are hence a practical civil society contribution to German and European development policy.
In the light of the actual social conditions in partner countries, the IIZ/DVV em ploys a very broad concept of adult education, which embraces formal, nonformal and informal learning.
The IIZ/DVV both acknowledges and influences the very varied circumstances and requirements in its partner countries, and respects and strengthens each coun try’s uniqueness and cultural identity.
The work of the IIZ/DVV is marked by a clear social orientation and identification with the interests of the poorer, marginalized sections of the population in its partner countries. The IIZ/DVV has developed a concept of development-oriented adult education, which it uses as its leitmotiv.
The IIZ/DVV regards the aim of its cooperation as the direct fight against poverty. If the skills of poorer sections of the population are enhanced, they will have more chance of playing a part in social, economic, political and cultural development, and of being able to organize themselves.
Support is given for flexible activities which meet the needs of adults and gener ally directly involve those concerned. Participants are encouraged to take respon sibility for their own problem-solving behaviour.
In the period 1995-2000, the IIZ/DVV has both carried out country projects, involv ing cooperation with more than one partner organization, and provided individual support through special programmes.
The project countries in Africa comprise Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Guinea, Madagascar, South Africa and Uganda; in Asia: India and the Philippines; and in Latin America: Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.
Special programmes have been carried out in Argentina, Chile and Nicaragua, in Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, Ghana and Lesotho, and in Fiji, Indonesia, Nepal, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Vietnam.
The IIZ/DVV’s partners in its partner countries include both ministries and univer stiy institutions, committed non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and profes sional adult education associations.
The programmes cover initial and inservice training for professional staff, practi cal provision relating to learners’ immediate environments, promotion of self-help, nonformal basic education, community development, environmental education, education for democracy, and production-oriented training. Efforts are also made to achieve political recognition of adult education in order to guarantee the long-term viability of providers.
The promotion of self-help plays a key role in all IIZ/DVV projects since development-oriented adult education, which is aimed at the poor, always seeks to help them to develop and activate their own mental and material resources.
The purpose of the IIZ/DVV projects is the immediate and direct fight against poverty. However, it is not possible in practice to maintain a strict distinction be tween activities to combat poverty that are based on self-help and other methods of directly combating poverty.
Typical activities relate to immediate needs, and merge into or complement other associated issues. What may start as a “single issue programme” takes on other attributes and interests as a result of the active participation of the target groups. A literacy course, for example, or a course on gender or environmental matters relating to learners’ everyday experience, may lead on to questions of training for agricultural production, nutrition or family size.
Similarly, if a course starts with education about nutrition or family planning, it does not remain purely at the level of technical instruction. Nutrition education may, for instance, raise questions of access to foodstuffs, environmental produc tion methods and soil quality, the right of women (or their lack of a right) to grow and sell particular products, traditional dietary norms and prohibitions, and con sequences for health.
In environmental education or women’s participation, for example, the intended effects are not achieved merely by teaching the “right” content and slogans. If women apply their newly acquired skills in practice, this can raise questions about their social and economic roles and rights, and their culturally determined status.
In the period covered by this report, greater attention has been given to holistic and multidisciplinary approaches, and to links between development and educa tion, especially in the activities of NGOs. State institutions cannot play as great a role in these flexible, grassroots approaches as NGOs for reasons such as the nature of their remit, traditional government regulations and practices, etc.
The greatest obstacle to the women’s economic success proves to be the continu ing problem that women have no right to own real property. However, it is real ized that this superficially legal issue is highly political and cannot be successfully resolved locally by a NGO.
The following four examples from Asia, Africa and Latin America explore more deeply the practical implications of the points raised, and illustrate the varied forms that they can take in different circumstances, and the range of possibilities.
In India, the IIZ/DVV cooperates with a number of non-governmental organiza tions (NGOs) which have come together to form a network of Regional Support Organizations (RSOs) in the field of adult education. All partners have succeeded in achieving some financial stability by charging for providing services and by obtaining domestic grants.
The IIZ/DVV partners in India adopt a decidedly participatory approach in planning and implementing activities, starting with the actual needs of each grassroots group and involving the group at all stages. The overriding goal is the social, economic and political empowerment of underprivileged target groups which face discrimination (especially women, landless farmers, casteless persons and tribal people). This is achieved by the provision of support for their grassroots organizations, and improvement of their living conditions, e.g. through income-generation. All partners pay particular attention to strengthening democratic local self-government (Panchayati Raj), once again specifically with the participation of socially weaker groups, which are prepared through adult education (especially consciousness-raising and practical training) to carry out the relevant tasks. By providing ongoing activities and ensuring repeated success in the field of political representation (e.g. by influencing politicians and the media, but also by appeal ing to the courts in cases of dispute), the partners help the target groups to learn to defend their basic rights against resistance which is often fierce.
One of these RSOs, “SAHAYI – Centre for Collective Learning and Action” in Trivandrum, was founded in 1990 by a group of committed leaders of NGOs, and has been supported by the IIZ/DVV since 1993. SAHAYI was established in response to the rapid expansion in the number of development NGOs in the southern Indian state of Kerala, most of which lacked knowledge and experience of participatory approaches and management. SAHAYI was intended to help to fill this gap through adult education activities. It provides services for around 500 NGOs with a total of some 10,000 members in Kerala and some neighbouring states. The NGOs have often been set up as self-help groups, largely by women.
The main activities of the self-help groups receiving support are savings and loan associations, which aim to put an end to reliance – especially for women – on local money-lenders and to foster income-generating micro projects (e.g. small-scale trad ing, tailoring, animal husbandry, food processing and coconut fibre production). The credit facilities are also used for community initiatives such as roads, wells, meeting rooms and afforestation. Studies have shown that the socio-economic status of women has been decisively enhanced by such schemes, and that the women are better able to attain their objectives, even at political level.
In Guinea, the IIZ/DVV project has gained significant initial experience from cooperation with NGOs and self-help groups of women and farmers. The starting point for development in Guinea is particularly difficult. The NGOs are still very new and inexperienced, and have a considerable need of advice in organizational development and planning. There are as yet few self-help organizations or agencies representing the interests of specific groups, but they are expanding at a remarkable pace, as the following example will demonstrate.
In the Fouta Djalon region, the women play a particularly important role in the villages since the men are frequently away working in the mines or cities. The region is inhabited by the Fulbe, a herding people among whom agriculture has been the concern of the women since time immemorial. Cooperation between the IIZ/DVV and the Guinean NGO CENAFOD (Centre Africain de Formation pour le Dévelop pement) began in 1995. A group of 40 women had approached CENAFOD with a request for a literacy programme. This was the Guilintiko group in Gongoré, which was awarded the Self-help Prize of the Forum of African Women Teachers in 1997 for exemplary initiative.
The aims of CENAFOD are to assist the development of self-help groups, especially women, by providing training and advice, and to promote local self-government. CENAFOD’s approach to teaching is based on enabling target groups to take their own decisions and to help themselves, and the principle that groups should develop and take responsibility for their own initiatives is strictly observed. Advice is given in the following areas: organization, planning and implementation of projects, problem analysis, training of trainers, design, production and testing of teaching materials, evaluation, management and financial administration, planning methods, etc.
Having started with literacy for the Guilintiko group, the project moved on to address the women’s fundamental economic activities such as soap production, vegetable-growing and marketing, and the establishment of a self-managed sav ings and loan fund. Guilintiko inspired many other women to set up their own organizations. At the end of 1999, there were 20 women’s groups with a total of 500 members, and a Union of women’s groups. This body arranges joint purchase of production resources, seed and fertilizer, and sometimes the joint sale of the harvest, and supports the establishment of further savings and loan groups.
It is largely thanks to these projects that self-help groups are gradually being recognised by state agencies in Guinea as equal partners in the development process. Given the centralized, socialist tradition of Guinea, this demonstration that the marginalized population can help itself is particularly instructive.
In recent years, the partner organization Université Populaire (UP) in N’Djamena has developed an effective scheme to support women’s groups. The women’s desire to organize themselves rests on their common economic interests as fish-sellers, market traders and vegetable growers.
UP’s strategy for intervention assumes a support process lasting several years.
After a field study on the economic aims of each self-help group, a process of dialogue is initiated, comprising mutual learning, ongoing support and advice. New groups are given basic initial training for the purpose of strengthening group effectiveness. These address crucial organizational development issues such as group management, democracy within the group, responsibilities and rights, holding of meetings, and decision-making processes. Other fields of learning are planning and evaluation methods, and the drafting of annual plans of work. In addi tion to the structured learning units and the advisory visits made by specialists from the Université Populaire, the timing and content of which are flexible, awareness-raising visits to established groups are also arranged for new groups.
Attention is given to group organization throughout the support process since new challenges arise when joint economic activities are actually implemented. Group interests relate to the marketing of fish and vegetables, small-scale trading, and mutual aid funds based on traditional practices. Other aspects are the establishment of group savings accounts using membership subscriptions, and the planning and funding of micro projects using group savings. Initiatives already launched by more advanced groups are the purchase of a water pump for a communal garden, and of deep-freezes for the joint storage of fish.
Since only 10 % of the women are literate, literacy tuition is provided for them in addition. This proves to be important as the groups develop. This fact is ap preciated by some women, though not all, as soon as their group is sufficiently developed to set up joint funds and to keep financial records. The basic course is of a highly functional nature, and includes training in the calculation of income and expenditure, assessment of selling prices, appreciation of the cost-effectiveness of the women’s activities, and monitoring of fund management.
Health care, nutritional advice, literacy and basic education are matters of particular relevance for Indian women, who carry the main responsibility in all these areas and have experienced the greatest marginalization.
By raising awareness of the rights of the Indian population, and defining these more clearly, the project is helping to ensure sustained democratic participation in a multicultural society, in which the Indian population will take control of its own development and will no longer be subjected to decisions taken by others.
From the project work of the IIZ/DVV in recent years it has become ever more apparent that individual programme areas increasingly overlap and complement one another. For example, nonformal basic education acquires a high functional priority in the development of women’s and farmers’ self-help groups. The same can be observed in the case of programmes training elected members and staff of local government. In order to participate on one’s own terms in larger economic projects and local politics, it is necessary to have a command of the written lan guage generally used in commercial transactions and government.
From reports from partners and information received from target groups, it is evident that adult education activities do produce higher incomes among poorer sections of the population, that they achieve a high level of participation among women, and that they strengthen the organizational ability of self-help groups and cooperatives. It is not easy to devise ways of monitoring improved living condi tions qualitatively while doing justice to the interests of both the target groups, the project organizers and the external donor. The IIZ/DVV believes it is important that the development of qualitative and quantitative indicators should involve the target groups so that they can reflect on their own objectives with the aid of comprehensi ble indicators. The task of developing indicators, which has been taken up in some projects, provides new insights and learning opportunities for both those providing support and those who are seeking to organize themselves.
The theme of monitoring is used here merely as an example of what typically occurs in adult education projects. These regard learning from success and setbacks as a two-way process, which takes place in the form of a highly flexible open dialogue. It is a very positive development that the learning process involved in providing support for self-help increasingly incorporates the organized exchange of experience between national and local NGOs, and sometimes between associations of self-help groups.
Similarly, it is necessary to stand back and take a broad view in assessing the sustainability of self-help initiatives. There are already new forms of cooperation between initiatives, such as associations representing the interests of women’s groups at district level in Guinea, those of farmers’ cooperatives at regional level in Cameroon, and those of slum dwellers in Indian cities at national level. This suggests that the support which is generally provided locally for participation may have a wider impact on the development of the civil society. As the civil society is strengthened, however, new needs for initial and further training will come about if participation in the democratic process and economic affairs is to be effective.
On the basis of the reports, the cautious hope can also be expressed that training disadvantaged sections of the population to make greater input into development promotes peaceful coexistence between different ethnic and religious groups. This assumption may seem obvious, but it still needs scientific confirmation.
Source: Adult Education and Development, Number 56, 2001, pp. 225 –240
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