Using participatory education to empower communities to exercise their human and civil rights

Education for Life (ELF) uses an accelerated learning system approach with grassroots educators and leaders to contribute to grassroots community empowerment throughout the Philippines.

The Philippines have a history of dictatorship and elite oppression. Because of this, it has traditionally been the case that a very small percentage of the population controls a majority of the country’s resources (financial, physical, educational, etc.). During the period of struggling towards participatory democracy, it became important to address the role of local government, as well as grassroots community empowerment.

ELF describes its core program as GLF-GCE: “Grassroots leadership formation for grassroots community empowerment.” The organization wants grassroots communities to have more power to decide their process of development, including control of their resources. This empowerment includes the organization of people in the community and access to lifelong education. The key component is an organic grassroots leadership that can be a partner to outside institutions such as NGOs and national government agencies.

In the grassroots leadership formation program, ELF begins working with members of the community who are already exercising leadership. These people could be involved with formal or informal groups such as a cooperative or a microfinance group, a religious organization, or a community service function.

The second stage of the program is the life history workshop. This workshop is a source of learning and empowerment because it helps the leaders to become aware of their fields of engagement and responsibility, of their strengths and weaknesses, of their achievements and shortcomings, and of their aspirations for themselves as well as the community or organization that they lead.

The leadership curriculum is based on several different tenets: the guiding psychology of Sikolohiyang Pilipino regarding self-awareness and identity; non-violent resolution and conflict management; and organizational leadership and management. Using these guiding principles, ELF helps the participants to develop communication and negotiation skills, advocacy skills, and experience with networking and partnering with other organizations.

ELF emphasizes the necessity of taking advantage of different learning processes. In the program they implement face-to-face learning outside the participants’ communities, home-based individual learning, and community-based group learning. The ability to learn through different methods is essential for continuing the lifelong learning process. ELF then helps the participants to communicate their learning and experiences in various ways: through conferences, exchange visits, and publications such as Komunidad and Salinbuhay.

Carlito, a Filipino community leader, was one of the participants who benefitted from the ELF program. Orphaned at an early age, he learned how to read, count, and write in an adult literacy class. As the head of his community organization, he participated in ELF’s leadership course. After a volcano erupted in June 1991, destroying many farms, homes, and schools in its path, Carlito successfully undertook the resettlement of twelve tribes using his leadership skills. According to ELF co-founder, Marianita Villariba, “when Carlito talks to you, he warms your heart and you are drawn to his ebullience. He eagerly awaits your response and keeps you focused on common concerns…Carlito, for all his height of four feet and ten inches, stands tall as an enlivened and enlightened native leader.”

ELF has not stopped its efforts to empower communities with alternative and appropriate learning systems. While the organization focuses on lifelong learning, these learning systems can also cover early childhood care and education, primary education, technical school, and higher education. ELF has also started an international partnership with the Danish folkehojskole association and with the Association for World Education (AWE). In this way it is developing links with other initiatives on grassroots leadership and education in south-eastern Asia and with the Nordic Association of folk schools.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

Two elements of this tactic stand out as particularly useful. First, ELF has established a curriculum for its leadership education program. This clear, thought-out vision of what the organization wants to do and how they are going to do it is essential for the success of any group. Second, ELF focuses on increasing community leadership, not necessarily creating it where it does not exist. The organization seeks out already-existing community leaders and works with them to improve their leadership skills. These individuals are then able to pass their knowledge on to the community. Organizations of all types can benefit from identifying pre-existing structures in the community that they could work with to achieve greater success.