Rey Ty, A.R., M.T., & E. H. (2009). Armed Conflict, Adult Education, and Social Change in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Chicago: Northeastern Illinois University.
Armed Conflict, Adult Education, and Social Change in
Asia, Africa, and Latin America
Rey Ty, Anu Rajbhandari, Michael Tusiime, and E. Hunting
The Third World experiences intense economic, political, and cultural crises. In the Philippines,
Nepal, Rwanda, and Nicaragua, rebel forces have been or are still engaged in armed conflict
with government forces. Intervening in armed conflict ridden societies, adult educators (a)
recognize inequality and negotiate social participation, (b) support conscientization and direct
action, or (c) engage in post-conflict social reintegration and social reconstruction. As catalysts
for social change, adult educators use the available political space in difficult situations.
Research Problem and Questions
In parts of Southeast Asia, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and West Asia, groups resort
to armed conflict to resolve crises. Given that each co-author has personal experience in Asia,
Africa, and Latin America, all co-authors engaged in the comparative analysis of these societies.
As a result, this research raises the following questions: What are the social and armed conflict
contexts in these societies? How does adult education facilitate political consciousness, social
action, and social transformation of these societies? What are the learning contents and agendas
which the adult educators aspire to achieve?
Importance of the Research to the Practice of Adult and Community Education
This study is important to the practice of adult education because it (a) presents four case
studies of how adult learning in social movements plays a concrete role in the transformation of
societies, (b) reveals and shares findings regarding the best practices used in the education
programs that can be applied in bringing about social change in other societies where the context
of conflict necessitates an adult education intervention, (c) presents a grounded model based on
the analyses of the cases, and (d) argues that adult education is an agent of change that promotes
social change here and now, despite the armed hostilities, as well as economic and political
difficulties, with which the Philippines, Nepal, Rwanda, and Nicaragua were or are confronted.
This paper is a qualitative research that highlights the role of selected non-governmental
organizations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in advancing political advocacy and grassroots
development projects amidst difficult political times. The case studies selected were based on
the knowledge and experiences of co-authors in the Philippines, Nepal, Rwanda, and Nicaragua.
The data were gathered through document analysis, collaborative critical reflection, and
participant observation. The emerging themes provided the inputs for the generation of a
grounded model of best practices in adult education as an agent for social change.
Social and Armed Conflict Contexts
Philippines. The Philippines was at the throes of dictatorship. When the people’s power
movement overthrew the Marcos dictatorship, formal democracy was restored. However, deeply
rooted historical problems persist. Social problems include foreign domination, feudalism, and
corruption, for which reason, many remain affixed in poverty (BAYAN, 2009). Today, due to
these entrenched social problems, (a) the government of the Philippines, (b) the National
Democratic Front and its revolutionary forces, (c) the Moro Islamic Front, and, in the past, (c)
the Moro National Liberation Front have been engaged in armed conflict.
Nepal. Nepal is a Third World country, among the poorest and least developed countries
in the world with 40% of its population living below the poverty line (Bhattarai, 2008).
Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, providing a livelihood for over 80% of the
population and accounting for 40% of the gross domestic product (GDP; “Nepal Facts &
Figures,” n.d.). Industrial activity mainly involves the processing of agricultural produce. Lasting
for almost 20 years, the armed conflict between the government and the Maoist insurgents
resulted in more than 12,000 lives lost, including bread winners (“Nepalese Civil War,” 2008).
Malnutrition and poverty have hit women hardest. In most rural areas, women participate in
planting rice, weeding and herding of cattle. In urban areas, they are employed in domestic and
traditional jobs, as well as mostly in the low-level government jobs. Although the government
has enacted many laws in providing equal opportunities in all aspects to women, their
educational level has taken a big hit since the percentage of enrollment and dropout level of girls
have been very high.
Rwanda. Rwanda has a per capita GDP of only $260 (“Background Note: Rwanda,”
2008). Rwanda gained its independence from Belgium in 1962, which created division among
Rwandans by favoring the Tutsi against the Hutu in access to opportunities. When Belgians left,
the majority Hutu systematically discriminated against the minority Tutsi. The conflicts
culminated in the 1994 Tutsi genocide that left 1 million dead and the country with a ruined
social, economic and physical infrastructure. Beginning in 1997 the broad-based government
with all relevant stakeholders drafted a road map to development, dubbed “Rwanda Vision 2020”
(Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, 2002) with six interwoven pillars: good
governance, a literate skilled human resource capital, a vibrant private sector, world-class
physical infrastructure and modern agriculture and livestock. Non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) have engaged in development work using this development road map.
Nicaragua. Nicaragua is an underdeveloped country which is one of the most
impoverished countries in the Western Hemisphere (“Nicaragua Backgrounder,” 2009). The
United Nations Human Development Report (HDR; Watkins et al., 2007).) ranks Nicaragua 110
on the Human Development Index, and 47% of the national population lies under the poverty
line. While there have been some advances in development and ranking higher than its previous
ranking (118 according to the HDR in 2004; Fukuda-Parr et al., 2004), Nicaragua remains
significantly impoverished. The enactment of the Central American Free Trade Agreement
expanded the opportunities for agricultural and manufactured goods exportation; Nicaragua
continues to struggle with widespread underemployment, second lowest per capita in the
Western Hemisphere (“Background Note: Nicaragua,” 2008).
From the Somozas came a presidential dynasty of corruption which pilfered $100 million
from the national coffers. The Somozas appropriated Nicaragua’s select property and
commercial interests, while not providing for the poor basic necessities such basic sanitation,
health care, and education (Walker, 2003). The peak of corruption came during the
misappropriation of foreign aid after a massive earthquake that decimated 50% of the capital,
Managua. This was a fertile ground for the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) to
rebel against the regime. Ousting the Somoza rule, the Sandinistas took control of the
government, which subsequently led to the Contra War. Backed by the U.S., the Contras staged a
guerilla-style war with the FSLN that left the country devastated and impoverished. What
followed was a relative time of peace. The FSLN was voted out of office by Violeta Chamorro
(Walker, 2003). Unable to rebuild the country from its massive accumulated debt, the party once
ruled by the Somoza family, the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC) regained power in 1996.
Misappropriation of foreign aid after Hurricane Mitch led to the eventual arrest and detention of
the PLC president. In 2006, the Sandinista party was re-elected back into office. Although there
is no current armed conflict in Nicaragua, the effects of the Somoza era, Sandinista revolution,
and the subsequent war with the Contras, has left the nation recovering from extreme poverty.
Adult Education, Non-Governmental Organizations, Conscientization, and Social Change
Philippines. Filipinos involved in social movements have always been actively working
against injustice, oppression, and repression, for which many have become victims of
involuntary disappearances, torture, illegal arrest and detention, and political killings. However,
they are not silenced by state violence. Rather, they courageously redouble their efforts in
grassroots-based popular education, learning in social movements, as well as fighting for justice,
human rights, and national and social liberation (BAYAN, 2009). Due to state repression, many
were forced to go underground. NGOs actively use popular education as a tool for
conscientization, organizing, and political mobilization against oppressive power holders. Many
NGOs provided relief and legal services to victims of human rights violations.
Nepal. The Women Awareness Self Reliant Center (WASC) is a non-governmental,
non-political and non-profit organization (Rajbhandari, 2008). It is affiliated with Social Welfare
Council, the governing body of the NGO sector in Nepal and World Association of Non-
Governmental Organizatioins. The WASC was established in 1999 aiming at the socio-cultural
and economic development of the community. The center has been involved in improving
economic conditions and aiding in health needs of communities through their own initiative
which improves the general life quality of women in rural areas. WASC believes that work
provides self-reliant and sustainable development thorough peoples’ participation. It has been
helping women learn the basic skills that are necessary for women to make a living or contribute
to the household where they are able to at least meet their minimal requirements. Also, it
provides financial and emotional support to the women of Nepal. WASC provides skills training,
such as teaching women to learn different languages, weaving, housekeeping, driving and other
means to help them. WASC also asks the government to help these women to be entrepreneurs,
by providing them with opportunities, such as loans that will enable them to start a business.
Rwanda. Haguruka (meaning “wake up”) is a non-profit making, and politically neutral
organization established in 1991 to defend the right of women and children through training,
social-legal assistance and education. After the 1994 Tutsi genocide, women comprised 52.2 %
of the population and 34% of the households were headed by women (Mutamba & Izabiriza,
2005). Their literacy rates were estimated at 47.8% for women, compared to 58.2% for men, and
25% of them had never attended any literacy program (Mutamba & Izabiriza, 2005). Haguruka,
as an association, believed that post-conflict development would not be possible if such a huge
part of the population was not facilitated and emancipated to participate in the country’s
development efforts. In a patriarchal society, many widows were not allowed to inherit their
deceased husband’s property, Haguruka has helped to solve this problem by training women on
their rights and by advocating for legal amendments that have now allowed women to inherit
their husband property for the welfare of the family. Haguruka also funds and facilitates human
rights groups where women and men participate by role play and drama to educate the
population about literacy programs and reconciliation. Together with other women and
advocacy groups, Haguruka has influenced policy and legal reforms. Women’s representation,
numeracy, literacy and political representation have a stable increase. In January, 1997, women's
representation in the Chamber of Deputies rose to 17.1%. By November, 2000, it rose to 25.7%.
Fourteen years after the genocide, Rwanda’s constitution was adopted after a referendum held in
2003 which guarantees 30% quota of the 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies for women
(Mutamba & Izabiriza, 2005). In the September 2008 parliamentary elections, women occupy
56.2% of the seats in parliament, and Parliament voted in the first ever woman Speaker, setting a
record as the first female-majority parliament in the whole world (David, 2000). Haguruka has
provided legal support for genocide orphans against domestic violence from foster parents as
well as trained foster parents on child rights. Some orphans are funded to attend formal schooling
of basic vocation training. This is a great input in a country that, according to Lisanne et al.
(2007), had an estimated 300,000 genocide orphans.
Nicaragua. In the past, NGO educational efforts focused on literacy rates. Currently after
decades of civil strife and devastating natural disasters, the focus has generally been on
vocational and sustainable development training as a means of alleviating the effects of poverty
(Walker, 2003). One such NGO that has put forth this initiative is the Center for Development in
Central America (CDCA), located in Ciudad Sandino. Developed by the Jubilee House, Inc., the
CDCA aims address the needs of the community by helping them to achieve self-sufficiency,
sustainability, and democracy (“What is the CDCA?,” 2008). The CDCA began in 1994 at the
request of the FUNDECI, a development foundation located in the nation’s capital of Managua.
The organization works with Ciudad Sandino, the poorest municipality in the nation, which has
been a forced retreat for the victims of natural disasters. In response to needs of grassroots
initiatives, the CDCA works of with worker-owned cooperatives, organic farmers, and health
care professionals. The CDCA is focused on communities as a whole with the belief that life is
sustainable within communities, meaning that the CDCA aids in organizing democratically
elected outfits (“What is the CDCA?,” 2008). The aim is to identify needs and priorities as to not
impose values that are not consistence with the community’s ideas. What the CDCA provides as
an educational entity is the opportunity to for community members to gain knowledge that will
allow them to become independent by means of sustainable vocation, development, and
agriculture, a goal achieved through educating co-op workers in cooperativism, management,
accountability, administration, marketing, and import/export laws (“Fair Trade Zone,” 2008).
Learning Contents and Agenda for Change
Philippines. In the Philippines, the masses of the people, composed of peasants and
workers, join hands with their allies, in the broad democratic mass movement. Each sector or
group has its own agenda. Workers demand, among other things, just compensation and humane
working conditions. Peasants clamor for comprehensive land reform. The indigenous peoples
claim their ancestral domain. Women fight for equal rights, women’s rights and social liberation
and against state repression. Students fight for nationalist and scientific education and culture.
But the movement of movements, taken as a whole, struggle for national and social emancipation.
Nepal. WASC plans to provide at least 75% of rural women with some form of a job that
enables them meet their family requirements (Rajbhandari, 2008). One of the first priorities that
WASC puts on the agenda is to send women to school so that they can at least read and write.
Along with education, WASC helps women to be independent so that in case of a loss of a
breadwinner, they can still make a decent living. They can also contribute to the household
instead of having only one bread earner. WASC is committed to empower the women with
education and training that would enable them to get a chance of benefiting them and their
family. WASC creates awareness on woman education, health, and sanitation by establishing
training centers, academic institutions and health centers and hospitals.
Rwanda. Haguruka believes that massive social change is possible when all key players
get on board to advocate for economic and political participation of all subgroups in a wider
society. Haguruka plans to continue widen its information dissemination strategies by holding
televised and radio debates to diffuse information to a wider audience. Haguruka expands its
programs by broadening its support to literacy training program, basic skills training, research,
writing pamphlets and building networks with national or international government or non-
governmental organizations. Haguruka has another project of building a half-way house, serving
as a temporally safe house for abused children or women to regain social or emotional stability.
This transit house aims to reduce rental expenses; hence, a huge sum of the budget shall be
channeled to activities that directly benefit the vulnerable population.
Nicaragua. With several cooperatives established within the municipality, the CDCA
plans to continue their efforts to advance sustainable development and vocational training. The
CDCA has already achieved part of the goals by the creation of the worker owned Women’s
Sewing Cooperative in Ciudad Sandino. Functioning as an independently owned and run co-op,
the Women’s Sewing Cooperative is a worker-owned fair trade zone providing a means of
subsistence by organic and fair trade sewing. This gives workers equitable pay, a voice in the
decision making process and a means to raise the standard of living.
Summary of the Findings
The following summarizes the results of the research. One, the Philippines, Nepal,
Rwanda, and Nicaragua in the recent past have experienced varying degrees of armed conflicts at
the national level. Two, adult learning in non-governmental organizations indeed makes a dent
in the lives of people at the grassroots level. Three, the implementation of grassroots programs
provides data regarding best practices of how adult education programs promote advocacy or
community development for change in war-ravaged societies.
Contributions and Implications
This paper reveals that historical, social, economic, political, and cultural contexts matter
(Freire, 1970). People are affected by the hegemonic structures of domination as well as use their
human agency to bring about changes. This research confirms that adult education plays a
crucial role in facilitating critical consciousness and grassroots empowerment. This
transformative learning is an imperative primary stage that provides the venue for people to
engage in meaningful social action that benefits the masses of the people.
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Rey Ty, Michael Tusiime, & E. J. Hunting, Northern Illinois University: firstname.lastname@example.org,
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org; Anu Rajbhandari, Women Awareness and Self
Reliant Center, Nepal: email@example.com
Presented at the Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, Community
and Extension Education, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL, October 21-23, 2009..