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I haven’t even been here a month and I’m already getting lazy with this blog thing. I can tell I’m going to need prodding to keep it going.
Pokhara for New Year’s was just what it should have been – beautiful mountain views, relaxing by the lake, some mild hiking, plenty of time boating on the lake, some of it in a paddleboat that seemed ready to sink at any moment, dancing in the new year. There are photos up on fb of the highlights.
We even got a nice surprise to start the year at the office – a request from one of the first literacy classes that the NGO started, back in 2002, for help building a roof for their new building.
Part of the justification for focusing on adult literacy classes is that they can form community groups that will do their own development work in their own communities, which will be more useful and powerful than anything an NGO can do for the community. The groups formed in literacy classes might work together on income generation, create new structures that give power to previously marginalized members of the community (women, ethnic groups/linguistic minorities, lower castes), work together to make their voices heard in government and access government and NGO resources, and generally do good things in the community. Literacy classes, so the theory goes, are not just about learning to read, though being able to read and do simple math is also useful in achieving all those good things.
With projects run by I/NGOs, they always talk about long-term benefits to the community, but the organization’s involvement ends long before you can really see community empowerment or changes in gender relations or things like that. Except if you work through a local organization that doesn’t leave. Then you get to stay in touch while a group of adults learns to read, starting with the language they speak at home and transitioning to the national language; learns to use a calculator and add, subtract, multiply and divide; learns about running a group and making money through family-based business; and then strikes out on their own.
In the case of the group we heard from today, they’ve stuck together for five years after ending the initial three-year literacy/income-generation course, gotten funding from another NGO to do human rights education programs, continue to make money as a group, have registered as a cooperative with the government, and now are building their own building. They have men’s, women’s, and children’s groups that meet to talk about issues and plan activities. They are working together to improve their community (just like we say in grant applications they will!). Mother tongue-based literacy classes: they work (at least sometimes)!