4.6.3 Collective action
As well as studying participation in community organisations the evaluators in Uganda and El Salvador were keen to know whether the discussion and analysis of local problems within the literacy circles had directly led to concrete actions to contribute to local development (even in the limited timeframe of the pilot projects).
In order to ensure that the actions identified by participants were organically linked to the REFLECT circle (rather than being the product of other community development initiatives) the evaluators took the different Units from the manual as the starting point. Learners were asked to explain the maps and matrices they produced, identifying what problems they had discussed, the solutions they had found and whether they had agreed concrete actions. Where they had identified actions the evaluators asked whether the actions had been carried out, what they were and who had participated. Four communities were taken as a detailed sample: La Pita, Quesera, Las Conchas and Joya de Pilar. This information is consolidated below:
Some Units generated more than one action. The actions actually undertaken included: repairing local roads, constructing grain stores, tree and medicinal plant nurseries, organic fertilisers, terracing and other soil conservation methods, planting of fruit trees etc. Most of the actions did not require external help.
Many actions have also been initiated by the other circles, for example:
The same type of table could not be constructed with control groups (structured around graphics). However, eighteen learners interviewed from control groups were asked whether there were any local actions generated by their literacy circles and only two responded positively, mentioning only "clean up of rubbish". CIAZO advisers commented that this kind of mobilisation is very rare in their other literacy circles - the discussion in their circles simply does not reach a point where local actions are considered let alone undertaken.
This level of mobilisation may in part relate to the work of other COMUS personnel promoting sectoral development programmes in the communities though it is significant that the table above involved learners relating the origin of actions to specific maps or calendars they had constructed. Although the presence of a wider development programme may have facilitated local actions it is certainly a two way process and COMUS personnel themselves pay testimony to the receptiveness and enthusiasm of literacy learners in contrast to other members of the community.
Most actions noted above have not involved other community members and have tended to be on a fairly small scale. The reasons given for this normally related to either a lack of financial resources for larger actions or problems in coordination with the community councils. Existing community leaders were not always active in supporting the literacy circles. Although two-thirds of leaders said they had visited the literacy circles in their community, most had only visited once or twice and there was not a close or regular contact. Proposals for local actions discussed within literacy circles were not often taken on by the people who could give them a "status" or authority and thereby mobilise people behind them. Addressing this in future could lead to an even more significant impact (eg if regular monthly meetings between learners and community leaders were instigated -or if learners were more prepared to present their ideas to community assemblies). It is interesting to speculate that maybe the frustration felt by some learners with the local leaders was a factor in pushing them to stand for elected positions themselves.
"We are the wahanuli" (the expert discussers)
The table below consolidates information collected in Uganda in a similar way to El Salvador. It represents information from the sample of 20 REFLECT circles showing what percentage of circles had undertaken a local development action as a result of each Unit and giving examples of those actions.
All the groups in the sample had undertaken at least one joint action (in addition to numerous individual initiatives), most commonly starting a tree nursery, organising meetings on family planning or starting a school for younger children. Most groups have undertaken three or more actions. The fact that each Unit has generated so much local change may explain the fact that some circles have covered just ten units in one year (and may indeed be the basis for recommending that facilitators go slowly with units).
Some REFLECT circles have played a leading role in mobilising the whole community around a village project. This has always been in cases where the Resistance Council has been very much in sympathy with the literacy class; (especially where the facilitator is on the RC1). Such village projects have included digging ditches for the laying of water pipes (in conjunction with the NGO, World Harvest); re-grading of roads; starting a small market to attract trade; planting trees; building a health unit, and building a primary school.
The most overwhelming evidence of the growth in capacity for united action has been in the plethora of activities which learners have started in small groups. These include income-generating activities such as pig rearing, rabbit rearing and growing chillis for sale, as well as working together in agriculture. In the latter area, for example, women in some literacy groups have formed labour teams so that they rotate around members' shambas for greater efficiency. This can help with tasks such as weeding and harvesting.
As well as economic activities, there have been social changes which have depended on collective agreement. For example, in many circles learners made joint decisions not to distribute too much of their harvest to relatives and friends; a practice respected by tradition, but one which contributes to the length of the Hungry Season. This is clearly not a change which an individual could make, because they would face damaging criticism.
The REFLECT process seems to fit very easily with the forums for decision making already existing, and with "traditional" ways of pooling knowledge and expertise in Bundibugyo. For whatever reason, these traditional forms seem to have lost their key role in helping the community (particularly the youth) to adapt to current challenges and problems. REFLECT has proved successful as a channel of communication between different types of people and between generations. The view of learners was that they were learning from each other, and also reactivating useful knowledge within themselves. Thus they could solve many problems independently of external help, and in a sustainable way.
Learners themselves emphasised that all these complex processes were brought together through the medium of literacy. Drawing maps and calendars, and writing about the same subject crystallised decisions made and provided a permanent record of shared information. This systematised knowledge was the essential factor for collective action; it is accessible and understood by all.
All of the collective actions outlined above could be classified as internal empowerment within the literacy class, because to a large extent they do not involve loss of power or privilege by any other group. Learners have certainly not reached the stage where their increased income or organising power is a perceivable threat to the better off. The question of external empowerment in relation to those social and economic forces within the Ugandan context that help create and enforce poverty, remains for future evaluations to determine. It was observed, however, that learners were trying to demand their rights as citizens by making requests for services from central government representatives; thus strengthening the process of democracy even when not meeting with much response. This has applied to Health, Forestry, and Water Departments. The negative side of this is that frustration may result, and learners become depressed about the possibility of fundamental change taking place.
In the Ugandan Control Group there were also some examples of local actions mentioned by learners covering agricultural work (spacing of banana trees, mulching of the ground) and health (home hygiene measures, child growth monitoring, balanced diets). However, these actions were also being promoted by other ACTIONAID initiatives locally (training programmes/ extension workers etc) and it was difficult to determine how directly they were linked to the literacy programme. It appeared to the evaluation team (which included the coordinator of the Control Group literacy programme) that there was not an organic link and that the actions were more likely the result of other well planned, appropriate ACTIONAID inputs. ACTIONAID has been working in Mityana for eight years and has many other programmes (whereas in Bundibugyo the REFLECT circles were the entry point activity).
The learners in the control groups did not seem to have developed tools for generating independent actions. This was emphasised by the practice of making home visits to "check up" on the learners.
Had they done what they had been told in class? Again this was a contrast to the REFLECT circles where the learners decided on the actions and were thus self-motivated.
As with the issue of community participation, the objectives of the literacy programme in Bangladesh were not to empower women for taking community level actions. Nevertheless there was one striking example of a shomiti (Centre J1203) where the women collected together to build a new tube well. They did not link this decision to a specific Unit but to the general level of awareness that they had developed through a number of discussions in their centre (see health section).
The women wrote to ACTIONAID requesting a tube well and had to raise 1, 000 Taka between them to contribute to the cost of digging it. In Bhola such a well takes 3 days and nights of continual digging and involves going 900 feet down (to reach below the salt water). When the evaluators visited the Centre the tube well was on its second day of construction and there was a great feeling of imminent achievement.
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