Ntombi Talent Nyathi

Another World is Possible - Popular Education Lessons from Training for Transformation

(Ntombi Talent Nyathi, Director Training for Transformation)

When I asked a group of TfT participants to define Popular Education, the key words and phrases used included the following, ‘It is popular’. ‘It is for many people’. ‘It is about people taking action to change their situation for the better’. Even if these could be essential Popular Education attributes, most importantly, Paulo Freire suggested that critical conscientization awakens a new curious being whose ethical responsibility is to relate with others. In this way, the curious human being does not come into the world to live in as it is, but, s/he is historically tasked to transform the world into a better place for all.

This presentation is not scientific. It is a reflection in which I am sharing my engagement with TfT based on the key principles of Popular Education as underlined by Paulo Freire. I am also aware that TfT is a methodology that is implemented in many places around the world. The article will mirror on the effects of TfT courses hosted at The Grail Centre in South Africa, and the increasing demand for the courses especially in the past three years.

TfT Demand
During the ten years of working with TfT I witnessed continued demand consequently growth of the programme into new regions captured succinctly in the adjacent quote. The essence of the statement is ‘People’s participation’ and this is a fundamental principle of Popular Education that the world is looking out for today.
Due to this demand we were challenged to design new TfT approaches a) the Certificate Course a nine months training that is designed mainly for people in leadership positions to reflect on their programmes and explore new ways of active community participation. b) The Introduction Courses are designed to give basic community mobilization tools to more members within organizations. For instance, in South Africa, 40 000 rand used for one person to attend the Certificate Course was used to train 16 people with the Women on Farms Project in one week The Introduction Courses have become more popular with some of the institutions that are questioning their approaches towards economic and social justice, namely The Congregation of Christian Brothers African Province, the Provincial Planning Department of Western Papua and United Church of Zambia.

We cannot undermine Freire’s key arguments that resonate with struggle for social and economic justice of our times.

a) The struggle against injustice and poverty can only happen when the structures that perpetuate oppression are challenged is more relevant now than before. The structures of oppression have not changed. In fact, they have become more complex with increased aggression and repression of the people. The rise in the Arab springs, social movement organizing at global level Occupy, and World Social Forum, are all signs of the need for Popular Education. People read their reality and re-write their history.

The actions sighted demonstrate that people are not objects but subjects of their destiny.

b) Popular Education skills and tools are simplified in the TfT books. After training participants are capable of organizing communities to take action that change their situations for the better. For instance, Maria Latumahina from Western Papua organized community empowerment training workshop that was facilitated by TfT to curb deforestation on the Islands. It was during our first engagement with community leaders that one of the participants said, “Sitting arrangement was most significant for me. In my whole life I have set behind or in rows, at meetings, in the churches --- the ones with knowledge sat in front and told us all they know. When I held a meeting last night in my village, people set in a circle and that changed everything. We realised that we are the ones we were waiting for. ” After this engagement TfT is negotiating a two years community leadership training programme in Western Papua.

Awakening and Humanization
Popular Education in our times could be summarised in two words, awakening and humanization. Awakening in this discussion points out to personal journeys and experiences. What is this ‘Self’? What enables the ‘Self’ to connect with the individual? Experiences may inspire the individual to find their purpose connect with others ’collective’ and take actions that lead to humanization.

Humanization in essence refers to the individual or collective actions that honour, recognizes and respect human dignity. I propose to use an illustration from one of the TfT graduates in the following paragraph.

A female student resisted sexual and political harassment at a tertiary institution in Zimbabwe. As a result she was expelled and black listed making it impossible for her to study in that country. After attending TfT the same student launched an organization whose goal is to advocate for female students’ rights at tertiary institutions. Three years later, one of the provincial tertiary institutions had 100 per cent female Student’s Representative Council.

The student’s ability to organize herself and others demonstrated two elements of popular education, i) people are subjects not objects of their destiny they read their reality and re-write their history. Popular Education helps people become aware that they are curious beings. Curiosity in practice triggers the need to relate with others. Relationships are processes of creativity based on the value of tolerance. ‘...Seeking to understand as to be understood...’ In the process of tolerance humans discover rich possibilities that they have a historical task to transform the world into a better place.
Tertiary institutions are part of the social political and economic structures that are used to protect systems that perpetuate suffering among the poor especially women. In the illustration the organization is not only an alternative structure but space for women to be part of the decision making process. Popular Education emphasises that education is not neutral its aim is radical transformation of society. Radical means getting to the root cause of the problem. Critical conscientization is an imperative for the oppressed to actively engage in the struggle for their liberation. Freire suggested that, ‘the more the poor are on the dominant syntax, the more they articulate the struggle against injustices.

However, it is inevitable to note that transformation begins with the self, enfolds into the family, community, society and the universe.. However, liberation is not carried out for the people but with them. When people organize themselves for change they have the power to transform their reality into new world. This is the processes of humanization.

To conclude the discussion we could point out the following;
Popular Education is more relevant now because suffering and marginalization of the poor has increased and is more complex.

Liberation could never be done for the people but with the people hence the rise of global social movements (Occupy and World Social Forum) and local initiatives (The Zimbabwe Female Students Network) sighted in this discussion is evidence that another world is possible.

I am a woman of faith and service. I am most inspired by the spirit of searching summarised by one of my favourite and inspiring thinker Ken Wilber whose words I would like to leave you to ponder over their significance.

Where matter is favourable life emerges
Where life is favourable mind emerges
Where mind is favourable soul emerges
Where souls is favourable the spirit emerges ……