Togo & Benin, ACATBLI
The Ife is an ethnic group of about a quarter of a million, who live scattered in several hundred small villages and a few towns on the savannahs in central Togo and Benin. Their centre in Togo is the town of Atakpamé, located 160 km north of the capital on the Atlantic coast, Lomé. In Benin the Ife live around the small towns of Doumé and Tchetti.
More than half of all adults and young people among the Ife have never attended school. The people make a living from farming, mostly corn, beans, yams and millet. The soil is stony and poor, and rain is often scarce. Poverty is dominant. Many suffer from tropical diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, parasites and HIV / AIDS. It is not uncommon that illitterate parents avoid sending their children to school. They do not realize the benefit of going to school unless wanting to move from the countryside to work in a big city.
The partner organization
The project is run by a local organization, ACATBLI. It grew out of the work that ALEF's founder Hélène Boëthius started during the 1980s and 1990s among the Ife people. She was a pioneer in writing down the previously unwritten language, started to produce printed booklets, and initiated Bible translation with local Christians. Together with ACATBLI's current leader Akoété Agbemadon, Hélène created literacy course materials for youth and adults. They developed an adult education program in the many villages on the savannah. Today, around 50,000 people have participated in one or more courses, and society has started to change as people use reading, writing and numeracy in their everyday activities, and create village committees for development.
ACATBLI has study groups in the Plateaux region of Togo and in the provinces of Tchetti and Doumé in Benin. The educational program comprises three levels. In the first level participants learn to read and write in Ife, while discussing different life situations and how to deal with them. In the second level, they learn applied numeracy. The discussions on how to deal with specific life challenges continue. The participants create their own texts together where they express their thoughts. In level 3, they learn how to handle different documents in the official language, French. At that level, they also learn modern farming methods and how to run an agricultural cooperative.
Two thirds of the participants are young girls and women. Each study group of 20 meets three times a week, about 2 hours each time. The group is led by a person from the village, who has received a two week training in how to lead a group. An experienced supervisor comes on a moped once a month to attend the group meeting and make sure that everything goes well and that the participants keep up and learn.
The training program
ALEF has been funding ACATBLI's work in Benin since 2011. ACATBLI's work in the Ife language means a lot in this area, where few other development efforts are made by private or government agencies.
In 2019, the 60 groups in Benin who previously participated in level 2 could complete their third and last level course. The two project managers based in Togo also made a study visit to the project in Uganda in early October. This meant a great deal to the project managers' understanding of how the learning of reading, writing and counting can be integrated with income-generating activities.
For 2020, ALEF has chosen to focus on the education program in Togo. A former funding partner suddenly ceased the collaboration, even though over 100 groups were in the middle of the program. With funding from ALEF, ACATBLI now ensures that the 70 groups who finished level 1 in 2019 now continue with numeracy in level 2. The group leaders were trained in late 2019, and the groups had just started when the corona crisis led to restrictions that made it impossible for the groups to meet. In June, all 70 groups could start meeting again, with the restriction that no more than 10 persons can meet at one time.
In May and June, thanks to generous gifts to ALEF, ACATBLI was able to distribute food aid to over a hundred families who have been hit hard by poor harvests combined with price increases and income loss due to restrictions because of the pandemic.
The results that our partner organization ACATBLI report testify to a society where the it used to be the normal situation to be illiterate. Those who participate in the groups receive an advantage that most others do not have.
An example of this is that many participants and group leaders find it difficult to attend group meetings when it is time for selling the cotton crop and when harvesting cashew nuts. They get hired by the purchasers to help, because they are literate and know numeracy. Their newly acquired knowledge prevents them from learning more! This has been solved by arranging extra group meetings, where those who received extra jobs during the harvest can catch up on the sections they missed.
Since participants in level 3 learn to read some French, they can now monitor their children's school work. They have learned how to read the children's school grades topic by topic and understand if things are going well or poorly for the children. The proportion of parents who pay for a report booklet where they can follow the children's school work has increased from 50% to 90% thanks to the lessons in the ALEF course that discuss this. The local schools report that children attend school more regularly, and the proportion of children who pass their year of study has increased significantly. More parents are now getting birth certificates for their children, because they understand that they need them when the children start school.
Mothers who participate in the courses have learned how to handle children's medical journals; they have learned to read the dates when the children should be vaccinated and when to check the weight and health of their infants. 90% of participants with infants now go for regular checkups. They have also understood the importance of hand hygiene and clean water, and have learned how the menstrual cycle works.
The participants themselves find that they are better in handling relationships. They are less aggressive, and find it easier to express their thoughts, and to listen to others. There is also a whole new openness to learning and trying new things, especially in agriculture. They have realized that it is possible to get better crops by changing their methods. Through the cooperatives, people in the villages have become less individualistic, and those who are poor dare to cooperate with those who are better off.
Here are some concrete results noted by our partner organization:
90% of the participants made some changes in habits related to hygiene and health, eg. when it comes to drinking water, food and sleeping under mosquito nets.
25% of participants who engage in trading have begun to write down who buys on credit, and keep a cashbook for income and expenses.
Up to 90% of participants vaccinate their children.
60% of participants have learned to use a mobile phone.
Several groups have started savings and loan cooperatives.
More than half of the groups do some kind of joint work to help each other.
65% of the groups have created committees to manage wells and water pumps.
The local Benin organization that runs the project organized two working days during the year to repair the main road between Tchetti and Doumé.
More and more group leaders and supervisors have been asked by the local village managers to participate in the work with the local administration. Local councils have also begun to give place to women who have participated in the groups, which raises the status of women in the villages.