Education brings equality
Communities in three African countries are being changed because of Mothers' Union's Literacy and Financial Education Programme. By the end of 2012 the programme had enabled over 130,000 people across Burundi, Malawi and Sudan to achieve an accredited qualification in literacy learning.
Started in 2000, the programme was, from the very beginning, designed to give a holistic approach to empowering some of the most marginalised peoples in the world, meeting millennium development goals of reducing poverty, increasing the participation of women and girls in education and employment, tackling HIV/AIDS and improving child health. The programme uses participatory skills to enable communities to acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills whilst discussing and planning action on issues and challenges people face on a daily basis. In this way the whole community becomes engaged in:
- Identifying problems and challenges
- Sharing local knowledge and expertise
- Planning local action and resolution of conflicts
- tackling local issues such as domestic violence, or conflict between community groups.
- Participating in local HIV/AIDS awareness initiatives
- Raising awareness of health issues, and helping meet?child immunisation targets?
- Setting up of income generating projects
- promoting knowledge of women's rights, including democratic and inheritance rights.
The programme is open to everyone, crossing the boundaries of religion, age, gender or tribe, enabling community cohesion, unity and empowerment. It has been especially effective in reaching those who are the most marginalised in society, including groups previously discriminated against such as the Twa pygmy tribe in Burundi.
As a result of the programme women are now gaining financial independence, have more autonomy to manage their lives and are participating in household decision-making as well as community politics and leadership.
The programme is one of the most cost-effective adult programmes in the world. Mothers' Union trains local facilitators who work as volunteers within the groups, thereby keeping the costs of the programme to a minimum.
Mothers' Union's work has been extensively supported not only by the fundraising of our members across the world, but through the generous partnership funding of Comic Relief (Burundi 2004 - 2009), Lakarmissionen (Burundi 2009 - 2012), Comic Relief, (Sudan 2010 - 2015), and operational partnership in the field from Five Talents across all three countries. From 2013 Comic Relief will be helping us fund an extension of the work in Burundi so that more facilitators can be trained in areas which previously were only partially covered.
Alongside literacy and numeracy skills the programme is?has now expanded the skills taught, so that accredited learners can now go on to learn financial and small business skills.??Groups form community based organisations to give strength to their savings credibility, and to promote security for group members. Each week group members come and contribute to the overall savings and group members are able to receive small loans to meet the start up costs of a small business initatives.
In one group in Bitare, Burundi, every member gives ?0.50 a month into the collective savings. Loans are made to help members establish small businesses. One member, Sylvana, was given a loan of ?10. She bought palm oil with it and then sold this on for a profit, earning herself a weeks wages in one day. She has paid back her loan to the group with interest, and the profit she made has helped her start this as a regular business. "I can feed by children" she says. "Before I joined the literacy circle I would use money any-how, but now I know how to fix prices, and how to save." Sylvana's group is now planning to use the savings to start a collective venture whereby the whole group cultivate palm oil trees as a business.
The programme has also helped not only thousands of Sudanese women and men, but some of the many refugees that seek sanctuary within Sudan. Rose, from DR Congo attends a literacy circle in Juba, South Sudan. "I was very small when I came to Juba from DR Congo," she says. "I didn't go to school and got married at a very early age. Before I joined the programme my children didn't go to school either but now they do. I also speak in public freely and can answer questions. I am now able to share ideas with my husband and we solve problems together. There are 16 of us from DR Congo in the programme. We want to return but it is not yet safe, so we are enjoying this opportunity to become literate before we go home."
?250 to train and support a volunteer MULFEP faciliator to work within their community. To contribute to Mothers' Union's Literacy & Financial Education programme click here or send a cheque to Mothers' Union, MULFEP, 24 Tufton Street, London, SW1P 3RB.