The many positive experiences with the application of the Reflect-method in social learning projects that had been accumulated in West African projects gave rise to the idea to invite West African experts to share their experience with their colleagues in Morocco, a country with very different social and cultural characteristics. Sue Upton, who is the coordinator of the West African network of civil society organizations Pamoja, describes how they proceeded. Her report is complemented by Moroccan feedback that summarises the strengths and weaknesses of this attempt to introduce a method that was developed and tested in other countries, into the Moroccan context.
Reflect is an approach to community development and social change that enables marginalised groups to understand and influence the power dynamics that affect their lives, building on what they know and developing literacy and communication skills. Reflect draws on ideas that combine Paolo Freire’s concepts of Adult Education, PRA tools and gender analysis.
Reflect (www.reflect-action.org) was introduced in West Africa by Action Aid in the late 1990s and its dissemination was originally supported by one coordinator for anglophone countries based in Ghana and another for francophone countries based in Mali. Guinea Bissau, the sub region’s only lusophone country, has drawn support from both Senegal and the Gambia. West African Reflect practitioners have been networking and meeting regularly since the year 2000 and in 2006 the Malian NGO Jeunesse et Développment took on the coordination of these activi-ties. The network began as an informal organization of national Reflect practitioner networks but in 2009 it was officially registered in Mali as Pamoja West Africa (www.pamoja-west-africa.org). It enables national member networks to share experience, innovations and resources and, more recently, advocacy initiatives.
Pamoja1 West Africa is currently made up of 12 national Reflect practitioner networks (National Pamojas) from Benin, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo. It is part of Pamoja, the Africa Reflect network, which brings together Reflect practitioners from across the region.
Development workers and communities have welcomed the Reflect approach because it provides marginalized people with a framework to analyse relevant issues and implement and influence changes to improve their lives. It enables participants to develop literacy based on their discussions and analyses of issues that are relevant to them and through using new skill s to bring about change. It ensures that development initiatives are owned by and based on the needs of those directly concerned, thus empowering individuals and groups to achieve their objectives.
Literacy is understood to be the continuing process of acquiring and using reading, writing and numeracy skills together with the critical understanding of the political, social, economic and cultural environment which contributes to personal, collective and community development.
Most state Non Formal Education (NFE) services in West Africa invest their resources in more traditional literacy methodologies and, even when the responsible ministries are convinced of the need for innovation, participatory approaches and a broad understanding of literacy, it tends to take some time for national policies and practice to reflect this. However the involvement and commitment of state services are essential if Reflect and similar participatory approaches are to become widely available. Government agencies need to be able to provide appropriate training, monitoring and evaluation so that Reflect circles (learning and action groups) can function effectively and their achievements can be meaningfully integrated into national data.
Pamoja West Africa’s mission is to promote and facilitate access to quality Lifelong Learning for adults and young people in order to contribute to equitable and sustainable development in West Africa. One of its five objectives is to encourage the use of Reflect and shared learning from good practices. As part of meeting this objective the network offers technical resources such as contacts for trainers, training course outlines and other introductory materials to support new Reflect initiatives.
In the early days of Reflect in West Africa a Training of Trainers (TOT) workshop was usually the initial activity in a new country, but experience has showed that providing national and agency decision-makers with information about the approach before training practitioners renders the investment more effective. Thus a one or two day orientation workshop was introduced for ministry and local authority personnel, NGO directors and other decision-makers in order to establish a propitious environment for new Reflect initiatives.
Pamoja West Africa has facilitated South-South cooperation to support the dissemination of Reflect across West Africa and provided Reflect training to more distant francophone countries such as Haiti. The network provides a framework for civil society input to national and international NFE consultation processes and opportunities to share innovation and experience within and between countries. In 2011 member countries identified their Reflect Best Practices which were discussed and analysed at a workshop in Sierra Leone. This revealed a range of exciting innovations and inspired the development of a publication to make the achievements more visible and more widely available. A further example of South-South Cooperation is the 2009 Language Summer School where Pamoja Gambia provided an English language course for Reflect practitioners from francophone countries. Participants stayed with local families and, using the familiar Reflect methodology, the course was conducted in English, with grammar and vocabulary being introduced as required.
Cooperation between national networks offers support and solidarity and the possibility of stronger advocacy to address common issues. Organised by Pamoja West Africa and facilitated by National Pamojas, NFE policy analyses have brought together government, civil society and academic specialists in member countries and the findings are being used to inform advocacy initiatives.
This background of coordinating national Reflect practitioner networks and facilitating cooperation between West African countries to promote literacy and NFE placed Pamoja West Africa in a good position to respond to a request to support the introduction of Reflect in Morocco. This request came from DVV International’s Moroccan office, as a result of DVV International’s experience of supporting Reflect in West Africa since 2003.
Since the start, the dissemination of Reflect information and training in Morocco has targeted the full range of government and civil society actors involved in literacy development, namely the Ministry of Education (Direction de la Lutte Contre l’Analphabétisme), regional education and training academies, provincial offices and appropriate Associations. Literacy in Morocco is coordinated and largely funded by the government and implemented by local associations. To introduce Reflect, DVV International required the agreement and support of the Ministry of Education so an orientation workshop was organised to explain the key aspects of the approach to high-level decision-makers. This took place in 2008, facilitated by Mahamadou Cheick Diarra, a Reflect trainer from Mali with many years of experience.
Reflect circle in Morocco, Source: DVV International
The orientation workshop aroused the interest of those who attended, and in 2009 the first Reflect Training of Trainers workshop (TOT) in Morocco took place in Rabat, and 5 Moroccans also travelled to Cotonou, Benin to participate in a sub-regional TOT, both of which were facilitated by M. C. Diarra from Mali. The same year, two further TOTs took place in Marrakesh and Tangiers, facilitated respectively by Sue Upton, the Pamoja West Africa Coordinator and Mamadou Tiori Diarra, another experienced Reflect practitioner from Mali. After each TOT DVV International signed an agreement with selected associations to enable them to support pilot Reflect circles, so that by the end of 2009 these were operating in three of Morocco’s administrative regions. In line with the strategy of piloting Reflect in different regions of the country, Sue Upton facilitated a further TOT in Oujda in 2010 and M. C. Diarra followed suit in Errachidia in 2011.
Training, coupled with financial and technical support from DVV International, has enabled pilot Reflect circles to be established in five administrative regions of Morocco, implemented by local associations and supported by local and national education authorities. It has also enabled the emergence of indigenous Reflect trainers who have provided a number of follow up workshops for both new and existing practitioners.
In 2011, Moroccan Reflect practitioners from all 5 regions participated in a workshop facilitated by Sue Upton in Oujda that was designed to introduce the Reflect Evaluation framework “Counting Seeds for Change”. The framework was developed in 2009 through a participatory process involving Reflect practitioners from around the world and provides over eighty tools that can be adapted for monitoring and evaluating Reflect and similar participatory approaches. The Oujda workshop also provided an opportunity for participants to establish a process for setting up a Moroccan Reflect practitioners’ network. After discussion they decided to put in place five regional networks which will then work together to set up a national network and this is being implemented in 2012.
A summary of the Morocco Reflect workshops facilitated by Reflect trainers from Mali and Moroccan participation in Pamoja West Africa events.
Moroccans Take Part in West Africa Reflect Activities
Since 2008, Moroccan Reflect practitioners have been invited to take part in a number of Pamoja West Africa activities and funding from DVV International has enabled them to do so.
In 2009, Noura Talebi took part in Pamoja West Africa’s programme of workshops, visits and discussions with Reflect communities, local education authorities and NGOs in Guinea, Mali and Senegal. Reflect practitioners from Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Morocco, Senegal and Togo joined others from Mali in Bamako for a 2-day workshop to establish common aims and objectives and then split into 2 groups. Travelling by minibus and hosted by National Pamojas, one group visited communities using Reflect in Mali and Guinea and the other group visited communities in Mali and Senegal. The two groups returned to Bamako to share what they had seen and learned.
In 2010, two Moroccans were invited to the Pamoja West Africa Annual General Meeting that took place in the Gambia. This enabled Sameh Derouich and Fouzia Ezzaoudi to meet Reflect practitioners from across West Africa and to gain an understanding of how the network operates and how they might draw on the experience in the Moroccan context. During the meeting they shared Morocco’s Reflect experience as part of the reporting session, witnessed the election of Board members and took part in the development of the 2011-2015 strategic plan.
In 2011, Abdelaziz Filali Sadouk and Yamina Rafie took part in the Pamoja West Africa Best Practice sharing workshop in Sierra Leone. The workshop revealed a wealth of exciting Reflect initiatives going on in communities across the sub region and field visits enabled first-hand experience of some of these and an opportunity to discover more about rural Sierra Leone.
The Moroccan and West African political, social, economic and cultural environments are quite different. Morocco is considerably more developed in terms of infrastructure and services and government exerts greater influence and control over daily life, including the delivery of literacy services. This meant that once the decision was taken by the Ministry of Education to experiment with Reflect, education authorities at regional and provincial level were readily available to support the initiative. It also ensured that national education authorities were involved in the initiative from the start, since it would not have been possible without their support and cooperation. The disadvantage was that TOTs, which usually take a minimum of 12 -14 days had to be condensed into 10 days to fit in with the availability of busy government workers.
Morocco is one of the few Arabic speaking countries currently using Reflect (others are Sudan and Egypt) and consequently Moroccans were required to adapt Reflect techniques for the acquisition of reading and writing skills for use with Arab script. Trainers from Mali used French as the language of communication, which, while not ideal, since participants were more at ease in Arabic, served reasonably well to transmit the key concepts.
Differences and similarities in the roles of men and women in Morocco and in West Africa show up in their respective Reflect experiences. In Morocco, government participants in Reflect workshops have all, so far, been men, as are most association representatives, whereas Reflect circle facilitators are almost exclusively women, with only one male facilitator in the whole country. In West Africa the majority of circle facilitators are men, and men tend to predominate at all workshops, unless organisations are specifically required to send a man and a woman, as is the case for a number of Reflect orientated events. In Morocco all but one of the pilot Reflect circles are made up solely of women, the exception being the one for farmers, who are men. In West Africa while some women’s circles exist, there are many mixed circles, with few, if any, specifically for men. When asked, several Moroccans thought that it would be difficult to have mixed Reflect circles because of gender, based social restrictions and the different interests of the two groups.
Reflect Circle Facilitators
There is a significant difference in the educational levels of circle facilitators in West Africa and in Morocco. In the rural West Africa community, facilitators have rarely had access to formal education beyond primary level whereas in Morocco facilitators have secondary and even tertiary educational qualifications. This has no doubt assisted Moroccan facilitators in their capacity to adapt the approach and in developing learning modules to fit their realities. It may also mean that they need less frequent supervisory and support visits, but in no way removes the need for such visits or the need to meet together regularly to discuss progress.
Themes and Objectives
Most Moroccan Reflect circles appear to be working initially on the development of individual skills and experience as a prelude to collective action for change. Many have found it challenging to implement action points that have emerged from their analyses and discussion, mainly due to lack of resources, and this aspect merits consideration by both the Associations and the local authorities concerned. As In West Africa, improved economic circumstances are an important focus and some Moroccan Reflect circles have aspirations to develop co-operatives of various kinds. The men’s circle is already quite advanced in setting up “Cooperative Elfidha” to process and market milk from their cows, with funding accessed by the supporting association. Documentation and sharing of this experience through Reflect networking could serve to inspire and assist other circles.
Another difference between Reflect in Morocco and Reflect in West Africa is the degree to which religion plays a role. In some West African countries meetings traditionally start with Muslim and/or Christian prayers, in others there is no such preamble. In Morocco, participants have ensured that Islam is part of the content of their Reflect circles. Stories from the Prophet’s life are analysed and discussed for their relevance to participants’ daily experience, thus bringing ethical issues such as forgiveness out of the mosque and within the remit of Reflect.
With their longer experience, West African Reflect practitioners have realised the importance not only of collective action for economic benefits, but also of advocacy to improve access to basic rights and quality services, particularly literacy and training opportunities. Civil society action for change is a fast developing concept in the Arab world and it remains to be seen to what extent new Reflect practitioners in Morocco will develop advocacy initiatives to expand the possibilities open to them. This is particularly relevant for women since they make up the majority of Reflect practitioners in Morocco but appear to have significantly less access to power and resources than their male relatives, colleagues and friends.
Some unexpected outcomes
In addition to encouraging the use of Reflect across a wider geographical area at modest cost, this experience of South-South Cooperation has served to challenge preconceptions and widen horizons in a number of ways.
On arriving in Morocco, Reflect trainers from Mali were surprised to be perceived as having “come from Africa”, since they had assumed that Morocco was part of Africa. To the Moroccan way of thinking this is not the case and sub-Saharan Africa is considered to be far away, different and even dangerous. That an effective and interesting approach to learning was brought to Morocco from Africa by Africans was seen as unusual. This was reinforced by the experience of Moroccans visiting West Africa. They found that although the environment was certainly different, many of the issues and the feelings in people’s hearts were much the same.
Reflect circle in Morocco Source: DVV International
One Moroccan Reflect practitioner’s visit to Sierra Leone was far more than just another workshop. It was her first time to leave Morocco and her first time to fly. After several days in Sierra Leone she remarked with surprise: “It’s not dangerous here, is it!” and explained that her family and community had been concerned by her journey, believing Sierra Leone to be full of wild animals and prone to unpredictable events.
Possibilities for the Future
The expectation is that the results of an evaluation of pilot Reflect circles in Morocco will lead the Ministry of Education to adopt and fund the approach on a wider basis. However in Morocco, as in most West African countries, it still remains to develop appropriate ways of integrating the literacy achievements of Reflect circles participants into national data. Evaluating Reflect requires a focus on how participants are using literacy to improve their lives, alongside a voluntary option for testing and certification. The choice to sit for a test needs to remain with the newly literate person and such testing needs to result not only in the gathering of statistical information but also the issuing of nationally recognised certificates by Education Ministries.
There is potential for sharing experiences concerning gender issues. While their situations are different, women are marginalised in both Moroccan and West African societies and are developing and participating in strategies to broaden their horizons. Women in West African rural communities are increasingly involved in community decision-making and many men welcome this, alongside the discovery that women are capable of far more than they imagined. Women in Morocco traditionally lead quite separate lives from men. One Reflect facilitator explained how her Reflect circle left out one street in the map of the town that they created, and it emerged that it was a street of cafés frequented by men which none of them had ever walked down. Outings and visits organised as part of Reflect circle activities are enabling women to visit parks, museums and other public places, giving them access to new ideas, new information and increased social interaction.
Reflect circle in Morocco, Source: DVV International
A number Moroccan Reflect practitioners would like to see a North African Reflect network made up of Reflect practitioners from other Arab countries. They have ideas about spreading the approach to neighbouring countries and South-South Cooperation would provide a viable model, particularly in light of the common use of the Arabic language and other social and cultural similarities. There is also the potential for more West African Reflect practitioners to travel to Morocco for on-going shared learning and greater understanding of North African realities. This might be particularly useful since many West African youth take the Moroccan route to arrive in Europe, sometimes with unrealistic perceptions of what this entails or how to minimise the risks.
Probably the outstanding challenge for Reflect circle participants, Reflect facilitators and accompanying associations in Morocco, is to develop the use of new literacy skills to promote the implementation of action points and advocacy for change. At its heart, Reflect is a political process that can make a significant contribution to individual lives and the peaceful development of a vibrant civil society. Time will tell how Reflect practitioners in Morocco will choose to interpret this and how they will move forward to widen the democratic spaces available for citizen participation.
Sharing the experience of Pamoja West Africa has enabled Moroccan Reflect practitioners to experience the advantages of networking and to understand why it is an essential part of the Reflect approach. As the five newly formed Reflect networks in Morocco’s regions go from strength to strength they have the potential to create a vibrant national network that will continue to engage with Reflect practitioners in West Africa and beyond.
1 Pamoja means “together” in Kiswahili.
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