ALEF, Adult Learning and Empowerment Facilitators is a Swedish non-profit organization founded in May 2010. We are religiously and politically unaffiliated. Our vision is to ensure non formal education in the mother tongue for the world's 750 million young and adult illiterates. ALEF has developed a unique method for this.
ALEF's method is based on the participants' specific life situations and challenges. It is important that the learning situation is relevant to the participants' own lives. Ideally, participants should be able to go home from each group meeting and directly apply something they learned or talked about.
Every lesson is based on natural and meaningful text. At the end of each group session, participants create their own text which the group leader writes on the chalkboard. This text is used to practice reading. In the same way, numeracy is learnt by reading a short text about a situation in real life where numeracy skills are needed to solve a problem.
Central to each group meeting is a group discussion on a given topic. Participants tell about their own experiences, reflect on the underlying causes for the challenge described and decide on how to take action. The group discussion is the starting point for the text which the participants create together.
The program consists of three courses of 6-7 months each. The group meets a couple of hours 2-3 times a week at a location of their own choice. It can be under a tree, in a storage room, a backyard or in a church or school. The group leaders receive a two-week intensive training. All groups are regularly visited by a coach, to ensure that the method is applied correctly and that the participants make progress.
Read more about ALEF's method.
ALEF's strategy is to collaborate with local agencies who are already on location and who are familiar with the culture and the local language, and understand people's life situation and challenges. ALEF trains a small group of key people from the local agency in ALEF's methodology. Together, we create educational resources tailored to the needs of the people that the organization works with.
ALEF is the first letter of the oldest known alphabet, the Phoenician. The first letter = the first step. The abbreviation ALEF stands for "Adult Learning and Empowerment Facilitators". We want to facilitate local actors to empowering young people and adults in the world's poorest areas to change their situation from below by learning literacy and numercy. 750 million of the world's young people and adults still cannot read, write and use numbers. Most of them are women and girls. Almost all live in extreme poverty.
ALEF's goal is for people to gain knowledge, insights and skills to do the following:
take control of their own finances and health and improve their own living conditions;
understand and defend their rights and act to change the mechanisms of poverty, discrimination and oppression;
gain access to decision-making processes, community services and shared platforms;
use their mother tongue in writing for various purposes, thereby preserving their cultural heritage and identity.
In several countries in Africa and Asia, almost half of the adult population lacks basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. A majority of them are women.
Being able to read, write and use numeracy is the first step towards taking control of one's life and gaining access to all the functions of social life. It is a prerequisite for democracy and for being able to fully use and develop one's internal and external resources.
Can you imagine democratic processes without written documents: information, ballot papers, voting cards, and signatures?
Can you imagine children who succeed in school without the parents being able to monitor their schoolwork, read school reports, messages from the school, textbooks, and understand what the children are learning?
Can you imagine financial development without small businesses and cooperatives using accounts, plans, calendars, receipts, contracts, agreements, membership lists, mailing lists, inventory lists, orders?
Can you imagine a civil society without members being able to handle documents such as statutes, agendas, minutes of meetings, membership lists, cash books etc.?
Can you imagine men, women and children who can defend their fundamental rights and resist abuse of power and oppression without being able to communicate in writing?
Can you imagine equal families and an equal society without both men and women reading, writing and using numbers, and knowing their rights and obligations?
ALEF currently has five ongoing partnerships with local organizations in Africa:
Our first partnership was started in 2010 with a Togolese NGO, Acatbli, who is worked among the ifè people in Togo and Benin since many years.
In Uganda we collaborate with CACI (Change African Child International) among Luganda speakers in the Wakiso district.
Since 2018, we collaborate in educational material development for the kikongo language in the Congo-Central province of Congo-Kinshasa in collaboration with the CEC church.
In 2019, we started cooperation in Ethiopia with the Oromia Education Bureau, which is responsible for the Ethiopian Government's adult education program in the Oromia province.
The idea and the need
ALEF grew out of the realization of a need coupled with an idea. When the organization was launched on May 2, 2010, the founder Hélène Boëthius had already worked with adult literacy in development for over 25 years.
She first worked in Togo, where she created course materials and built up an adult education program in the ife language in the early 1990s. Today, around 50,000 people have learned to read through the program, which is currently run by the local organization ACATBLI.
Later Hélène worked with several different Swedish aid organizations. She gained insight into many different literacy projects for adults, and began to develop and test her own ideas for methodology and materials.
The awareness grew of how literacy and numeracy skills enable people to escape poverty and marginalization, and how important it is to educate adults, not the least in order to create conditions for the children to succeed in school.
In order to reach the world's 750 million young and adult illiterates effectively, Hélène saw the need for a method which can be adapted to each group's specific language needs while being easy to teach and apply.
ALEF's founders also saw the need for a separate organization specializing in adult education for adult illiterates, an organization which can serve as a consulting organization for other actors.
ALEF's partnerships are expanding
On May 2, 2010, ALEF was formed as a Swedish nonprofit association with a board of six people.
Already in the same year, ALEF began to support ACATBLI's work in Benin. In January 2011, a manual for "participatory discussion" was created for the project in the ife language in Togo and Benin. It was the first time ALEF's method for participatory discussion was tested in a project, and the response was overwhelming. In many villages, the discussions became so intense and engaging that village leaders arranged special evenings when the whole village gathered to discuss the various topics.
Early in 2012 Hélène made a trip to several countries in East Africa, meeting representatives from local organizations from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Congo-Kinshasa. They were introduced to ALEF's method and were offered the opportunity to apply for participation in a pilot project.
The result was two partnerships: one in Uganda and one in the South Kivu province in Congo-Kinshasa. In the beginning of 2013, teaching materials and course plans were created for a first year course in the mother tongues luganda in Uganda and mashi in Congo-Kinshasa. The first study groups were started, 12 groups in Uganda and 18 groups in South Kivu in Congo-Kinshasa.
During the following years, the number of groups gradually increased. A second course with focus on numeracy was created in 2014, and in 2016 the third and last course was created. The table below shows the number of participants in the various projects over the years.
In the adult education program in Togo and Benin new course materials have been created based on the ALEF method. In 2016, a new numeracy course was created. At the end of 2017, a third year course was also created, introducing reading and writing in French. This was supplemented in 2019 with a course on how to run a cooperative and practical courses in agriculture.
During the last couple of years, our two partner organizations in Uganda and Congo-Kinshasa have begun to train other similar organizations in using ALEF's method and materials. This makes it possible for more people to participate in groups. Some of the organizations carry out the education activities with their own funds, while others receive some funding through ALEF.
A new way to collaborate
In November 2017, ALEF entered into a new type of collaboration. A group in Östergötland linked to the Equmenia Church has a twin congregation in Congo-Kinshasa who has for a long time wanted to start a popular education project with focus on literacy. ALEF was was invited to act as a consulting organization. Following an introductory study, course materials for level1 were created in the kikongo language in the spring of 2018 together with a project management group of five people. A year later the second level course was created. A pilot project is underway with 6 study groups in each level. A third level was to have been created in 2020, but is put on hold due to the corona pandemic.
ALEF is actively looking for new partnerships where ALEF is responsible for creating the course materials and training a group of key people in applying the method, while another agency finances its educational activities. In 2019, such a partnerhsip started with the Oromia Education Bureau in Ethiopia, which resulted in completing the course materials for a first level course in the Afan Oromo language in January 2020.
The next step
On May 2, 2020, ALEF turned 10 years old. The year before, the organization's founder, Hélène Boëthius, turned 65. It is high time to transfer knowledge and skills to more people and organizations, who can pass ALEF's method to more languages in more countries. We are now actively looking for trainees who want to learn how to create new teaching materials in new languages. At the same time, we are looking for new partners in various African countries who want to use ALEF's method. We encourage anyone interested to contact us at for more information.
Number of participants in year 1 since 2011: