Archive for January 2008

Participatory Local Governance for EFA

January 31, 2008

Yesterday morning I landed in the new airport in Silay City, Negros Occidental. Its signage is Silay-Bacolod in deference to the former airport. The clean modern lines impressed me, even if I was only half-awake, having left home at 3:00 am.

The first kilometers out of the airport cut through vast sugar cane fields. If only for this, I told myself, the new location of the airport is very appropriate.Visitors are immediately reminded that Negros Occidental is the largest sugar producing province of the Philippines. The history of the province is tied to the fortunes of its sugar industry, and sugar continues to define its society, despite some diversification of the economy.

Although ELF started its partnership with Quidan Kaisahan (QK) in 1997, we did not address the issue of child labor in the sugar plantations of Negros Occidental. ELF’s core program is grassroots leadership formation for grassroots community empowerment, and it is our area-based partners who choose both the grassroots leaders we train, and the program and perspectives for which we train them.

Quidan Kaisahan’s program then was what we call now “participatory local governance” at the level of barangay-bayan, for sustainable integrated area development. During the discussions at the board meeting of Quidam Katilingban Development Institute (QKDI), Teody Pena of QK said: “The issue of child labor in sugar plantations always confronted us, since they appeared to be the sector that is most vulnerable and oppressed. But we did not want to simply do public advocacy on the issue. We wanted to do something that would directly help them. But we didn’t know what to do, or how.”

For their part, the local government leaders and other Negros elite were in a state of official denial. “No, there are no child laborers in the sugar plantations,” they would say. “If there are any at all, they are only helping their parents in their family farms.”

QK’s work in PLG covers all the barangays of Toboso, Murcia, Hinigaran, La Castellana, and Sipalay City. It has helped build the capabilities of barangay officials and other community leaders to activate the Barangay Development Council, formulate their Barangay Development Plan and Annual Investment Plans, based on participatory rapid appraisal and planning, and spend their Barangay Development Fund on projects prioritized by the community.

In addition, QK has helped the BDCs set up a small micro-lending fund, administered by a project management committee. Later, a new sister organizations was set up to respond to the communities’ increased financial needs and capabilities – Pag-inupdanay Inc. (PI)

The PLG work of QK has received deserved recognition, and in addition to PI, it has set up new programs and institutions to address other issues of the communities. I like its practice of recruiting many of its new staff from the grassroots community leaders. Teody introduced the three new executive directors of QK, PI, and QKDI – Cookie, Alan, and Teddy – and mentioned with pride that they started as staff who came from the local communities.

Still, the issue of child labor kept coming up, and two years ago, QK decided to start a pilot program on child labor in five barangays of Murcia. Just about the same time, ELF was approached by ILO to implement a project on offering alternative learning system (ALS) to child workers in sugar lands. We asked our three partners in Negros – QK, ESKAN, and NOFFA if they would want to take part. Eventually, QK took up the challenge.

The funds from ILO allowed QK and ELF to offer ALS to 2000 children who were either already working in the fields or children-at-risk. But the funds were good for a project of only 10 months. Both ELF and QK felt that it is unrealistic and unfair to the children and their families to offer a one-shot type of program, with no prospects of sustainability.

We found the solution in the PLG work of QK. QK asked the barangay and other community leaders to identify those whom we would train as “grassroots community educator-leaders” or GCELs. We also asked them to contribute some counterpart to the limited ILO funds. The project design also included the setting up of Barangay Councils for the Protection of Women and Children, as the institutional expression of the barangay’s continuing commitment to the elimination of child labor. Some barangay councils issued special ordinances banning child labor.

Even if the child workers were offered another chance to study and acquire the equivalent of a high school certificate, what could we offer the parents in place of the income that their household would lose? ELF and QK proposed that some of the ILO funds should be added to the community-managed micro lending fund, but we were told that the source of the funds, the US Department of Labor, did not allow any of the money to be used for loans or livelihood projects.

The sister organization, PI, came to the rescue, and opened their lending facility to parents who would allow and support their children’s decision to join the ALS learning groups.

Even before this ALS project, QK had already been mulling the setting up of a sister organization that would specialize in education and training. The training of over a hundred GCELs through the project hastened the process of setting up QKDI.

We held the first meeting of the QKDI board in the provincial sports facility that was built for the 1998 Palarong Pambansa. On the way to the meeting room we passed by a group of 130-plus child workers who were there for a week, preparing to take the governments exams for ALS learners.

“Last year there were only 51 out of school youth learners from Negros Occidental who passed the exams,” Teody informed us. “Of that number, 16 came from other learning groups in the province. The majority, all 35 of them, were part of our program.”

I asked about a child worker whose story I had heard during my previous visit to Sipalay. I didn’t know his name, but I heard that he worked in charcoal production. The story that struck me was how he would run from the mountain barangay to join the weekly sessions of the learning group. He was also quoted as saying: “Even if I do not pass the exams, I will still continue with the program. I want to be an IM (Instructional Manager) so I can help other child laborers.”

“His name is Benjie,” Teody informed me. “He had dropped out of second year high school because his family needed him to work. He is now 17, and is one of the 35 passers.”

After passing the exams, he asked his employer for permission to stop working because he wanted to enter college, but his employer refused. “Why did he need his permission?” I asked.

“I couldn’t believe it, but his was a case of bonded labor,” explained Teody. “He had borrowed money from his employer to help feed his family, and unless he repaid his debt, his employer could insist that he continue working for him.”

How much did Benjie owe his employer” Just 2000 pesos. The QK staff chipped in enough money to pay his debt. Benjie took the entrance exams to the local Negros Occidental Agricultural College. “He topped the exams,” Teody said with obvious pride. “He enrolled in the education course, since he wanted to be a teacher.”

I thought the story ended on that high note. But after only a semester, Benjie had to stop schooling, since he had no more money. But before my spirits sank further, Teody added, “We will hire him for QKDI work.”

I spent an hour sharing with the QKDI board the “arithmetic” of the Education for All or EFA – 6 plus 9 plus 5. The 6 refers to the 6 goals of EFA 2015 defined at Dakar. The 9 refers to the 9 tasks of the Philippine National Action Plan for EFA. The 5 refers to the KRTs (key reform tasks) of the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda or BESRA.

At the global level, the Global Campaign for Education or GCE is leading the campaign to make governments and donors deliver on their international commitments. At the national level, E-net sits as co-chair of the National EFA Committee, and seeks to make the government fulfill its responsibilities to provide quality education for all.

What about the local level? We talked about setting up local EFA committees, and how they could include both the Local School Boards and the Local Literacy Coordinating Councils where they exist. I also reflected on the evolution of QK’s work and how QKDI’s developing framework could be called PLG-EFA.

I do find it worth my while and I enjoy discussing frameworks, strategies, and conceptual stuff. But on this morning’s flight back to Manila, it was the story of Benjie and his struggle for learning and life that kept playing in my mind.

ALS in Negros

January 29, 2008

My jet lag from the Brazil trip is not yet over, but I have to wake up at 3:30 tomorrow before dawn. Am off to Negros Occidental to attend the first board meeting of Quidam Katilingban Development Institute (QKDI), and it is a good symbol of really coming home from Brazil.

The GCE World Assembly gave me a global overview of the state of EFA midway to 2015. One of the messages at the assembly was the need to focus on the “neglected goals” of EFA. Most governments and donors, and unfortunately even some EFA campaigners especially in Northern countries tend to focus only on the goal of UPE or universal primary education. Of course they also add the issues of gender parity and equality, and education quality. What are the neglected goals? The other three of the six Dakar EFA 2015 goals: Early childhood education, adult literacy, and appropriate learning opportunities for out of school youth and adults.

The Philippine EFA national action plan does not neglect these last three goals, at least on paper. And partly because of persistent advocacy by civil society organizations led by E-net, even in practice there is a bit more attention paid to them. In fact there is an additional 2 billion pesos that the DepEd has gotten, which will go into training teachers of ECE or early childhood education. There is a bit, but much less, additional money given to the Bureau of Alternative Learning Systems. And at the last National EFA Committee meeting, we agreed to pursue the task of mapping what other national government agencies programs target out of school adults and youth.

But after more than seven years of national advocacy for ALS, it is clear that we cannot wait for progress to be made and budgets to be increased at the national level. We need to campaign and make breakthroughs for the other EFA goals at the local level, by division (cities and provinces) and districts (towns). Actually even progress on the other EFA goals of improving the formal school system will also need a combination of national reforms and local initiatives.

That is why I look forward to the meeting of QKDI tomorrow. I have known about the work of Quidan Kaisahan (QK) on participatory local governance or PLG for seven years, and although it has taken up education, especially of out of school youth, only in the last few years, I think that its experience proves the great possibilities for advancing EFA through PLG. I welcome its decision to set up a new sister organization, QKDI, which will focus on the education of out of school youth and adults, particularly the child workers in sugar plantations.

I will bring to the meeting ideas from two other ALS projects for out of school youth whose approach is somewhat like PLG-EFA, and with which I am related. One is the Oxfam-led consortium project in 30 conflict-ridden barangays in Central Mindanao. The other is the EQuALLS 2 project being implemented by Synergeia in selected towns of Sulu, Maguindanao, Sharif Kabungsuan, Lanao del Sur and Marawi City.

There should be valuable cross-learning opportunities among these three ALS projects which I will propose to the three organizations.

When I dropped by the Synergeia office this afternoon, I saw on the table an announcement of another summit, on Education. That will run during the same days that the Energy Summit is happening! I am reminded of the series of UN-sponsored summits in the decade before 2000. After a while, there was talk of “summit fatigue.”

I have no problem with the government officials convening “summits” on issues they want to prioritize. But I hope they realize that while summits are the most visible part of mountains, and set out the grand targets we should aspire to reach, mountains start from the ground up.

Back from Brazil

January 28, 2008

The KLM flight from Amsterdam arrived on schedule before noon, and Girlie kindly fetched me at the NAIA airport. After helping Ayen sort the Havaianas I managed to buy just before leaving Sao Paolo, I took a shower and stretched out for my longed-for nap.

Just before 5 pm, Girlie woke me up: “We are invited for dinner by the Santos family,” she said. “Are you up to it?”

Our initial connection to the Santos family was through Jino, who was Ayen’s classmate at the Community of Learners; they have maintained their high school friendship, even if they are enrolled in different schools. In an unexpected twist of fate, Jino’s father is a former general who was in active service when I was a political detainee in the 1980s.

Like his commanding officer, Col. Galileo Kintanar, Mon Santos used to spend time talking with us prisoners at Camp Bago Bantay, trying to figure us out; in the process, we developed mutual respect. We even had an informal, half-serious arrangement that after my release, should I feel that I was being tailed by military operatives, I should call him so he could tell them to leave me alone: “If you ever need to be arrested again, let me do the honors!”

We lost touch for more than a decade, and met again through our children. From time to time, we have pursued our previous conversations about the peace process, and what possibilities are there for addressing the problems of the rural poor communities outside the framework of insurgency and counter-insurgency.

More recently, our mutual interest is in renewable energy and biofuels. He is one of the undersecretaries of the Department of Energy, and is executive director of the Biofuels Board.

Our dinner conversation focused on renewable energy and biofuels. There is a 3-day summit on energy, starting tomorrow and he has invited me to be on the panel discussion about social mobilization for renewable energy.

That explains why the first text I received after landing at NAIA was from NEA, asking if I was attending the energy summit. Later Fr. Paking Silva called to check if I was going, so we could catch up on our plans to assist the electric cooperatives in navigating a safe course through the turbulent waters of EPIRA.

In earlier conversations, Mon asked me for advice and help on how to promote a more community-based approach to producing biofuels. “The dominant model tends to be the large-scale plantation,” he explained, ” and I am afraid that if that is what we use for biofuels production, we will reproduce the problems associated with the plantation model, including social inequality.

There are no quick and easy answers. The processing plants of ethanol or jathropa oil will need thousands of hectares of raw materials. The family-sized farms are devoted mainly to food crops. Even if there is a projected demand for biofuels, the up front investment is substantial, and the farmers may find the gestation period too long.

Still, it is good that a government official wants to find a way for smaller communities to participate, instead of taking the traditional and easy way of dealing with large investors and their plantation model. I guess his background in counterinsurgency has also made him sensitive to the potential problems of this model.

In fact, one of the items activist-friends asked me to look into when I was in Brazil was precisely biofuels. After all Brazil is way ahead of most countries in producing ethanol and blending it with fossil fuels.

The full agenda of the GCE World Assembly did not give me time to look deeper into biofuels in Brazil. But the few Brazilians I managed to interview also observed that the great inequality in land ownership in Brazil have persisted and have even been reinforced by biofuels production.

Those of us who are campaigning for the extension (and if possible, improvement) of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program are wary of the moves by sugar plantation owners to invoke the legitimate need to produce ethanol and reduce pollution as an excuse to exempt their landholdings from agrarian reform.

I look forward to tomorrow’s discussions at the energy summit.

Waking up with Sao Paolo

January 25, 2008

On this last day in Sao Paolo, I decided to take an early breakfast and walk slowly through the city. One of my favorite activities when in a foreign city, if circumstances allow it, is to “get lost” walking through its streets and alleys.

You get a different view and feel of a place if you slowly cover the ground, glancing at whatever catches your eye. It´s close to a meditative walk if done early morning before the city awakes. I read sometime back that Charles Handy, one of my favorite social philosophers (this is the identity he prefers, though he is classified as a management guru), likes to walk through the streets of a city where he is invited to lecture or do consultancy. He says it gives him a more immediate view of the market and society.

This morning, it felt a bit like walking in the Makati business district, though I have never done that, with the tall buildings and wide streets, though the sidewalks here are much, much wider, and I like their black and white mosaic patterns.

As I walked through the main streets, with their banks and offices, I recall one of the Brazilian delegates telling me that Brazil is the country that has the most unequal distribution of wealth. Yesterday, Daniel of the Brazilian Campaign also said that there are 1 million people in Sao Paolo who are millionaires and more. On the other hand, there are 2 million people who live in the favelas.

Hotel Iraguá is in the center of the city; there are no favelas within walking distance. But I saw a lot of people sleeping on the sidewalk snuggled close to the closed shops that will not open today, or so I was told last night. Today Sao Paolo celebrates its 454th anniversary as a city. As I neared the municipal theater, I saw a long line of people lined up for a performance, and this was only 8 am. Our Brazilian hosts told us to expect lots of music and dancing in the city’s many plazas.

As I walked down the relatively deserted streets, the city started to wake up. Vendors parked their carts, selling some sweets and coffee. Cleaners and sweepers were at work on the sidewalks and streets. I looked at the faces and bodies of the early risers. They are recognizably working class. I guess it is not a middle class habit, or need, to wake up this early, especially on a holiday.

But there are people who have to keep a city going, holiday or not. The policemen were out early, so with maintenance people, and those who need to make their daily living. The food shops and restaurants also opened early. If I were doing a marketing survey, that is an affirmation of the proposition that you can´t go wrong with meeting the food needs of a population. But of course you have to have the right location, the right food, and the right prices.

I leave Sao Paolo tonight for Amsterdam, and after a few hours transit, I fly home to the Philippines. After packing my bags and checking out, I still have few hours more to get some glimpses of Sao Paolo. The GCE Assembly was rather hectic, and we stayed most of the days and nights inside the hotel.

I go to the hotel business center to do an internet check-in; the cheaper internet cafe did not open today. I finally got to read Girlie´s blogs, including the one about “living on a jet plane.” After my release from prison in 1986, I did get a lot of invitations to conferences abroad. Friends teased me that I should write a sequel to my 1986 book entitled Touching Ground, Taking Root, and give it the sequel title: Touching Ground, Taking Off!

A wizened friend from the World Council of Churches teased me: “Ed, you are a former prisoner, a theologian, and an activist. And the Philippines has just had people power. You can make a living for a year talking to various audiences in the North!”

But he also added: “Do not forget that it is a market. Your appeal will wane after a while, for no other reason that after tasting you, they will look for another dish. The Philippines may be the flavor of the day. Tomorrow, Central America. And there is always South Africa.”

I recounted this in a conversation with a Palestinian delegate at the GCE Assembly. “In many of the ecumenical conferences I have attended,” I told him, “there is oftentimes an unhealthy competition among delegates, about who comes from a country that is more oppressed, with more problems than the others.”

Later, this had a second variation, competing about whose struggle is more heroic and likely to succeed. I still encounter that sometimes, but when the delegates are relatively young, I give them the benefit of understanding. It is when I hear veteran conference goers still playing that game that I get both amused and turned off.

Fortunately, there was very little of that at the GCE World Assembly. I guess it must be because the representatives of the national coalitions are not really newcomers to the global advocacy scene, and are veterans of other struggles before they took on the issues of EFA 2015.

After a many years of “leaving on a jet plane” I decided to cut down on outside travel. But I texted Girlie that this might change soon, since the Asia-Pacific delegates voted me as one of their two representatives to the new GCE board. Kailash, whom we re-elected as president, immediately warned me, “I will be inviting you to India to meet our Global March staff, now that you are on the board.”

Time to wind up. I have to finish my most important family task: Where are the Havaiana shops in Sao Paolo?

GCE in Motion

January 24, 2008

Yanti Muchtar of E-net for Justice (Indonesia) has kindly offered me her laptop. “Do you want to check your e-mail?” she asked. Of course I grabbed at the chance, and also post another blog.

We are in the final day of the GCE World Assembly, and the morning session is placing quite a demand on the delegates’ energies. Yesterday, our energies flowed rapidly during the discussions about the mid-term assessment and the draft 3-year strategic program for GCE, both of them praised as excellent. But once we buckled down to discuss the proposed “motions,” the assembly got stuck for more than an hour just on the first motion, on education quality, which the chair acknowledged was expected to be contentious. A significant of time and energy went into the debate on the use of the mother language, a point that is of interest also in the Philippines.

The 27 proposed motions had already been circulated months before this assembly, and even discussed in regional pre-assemblies; written amendments were accepted on the first day. After that, we expected the process to be a straightforward presentation of the written amendments and the motions, followed by a vote for or against.

But what actually happened is an example of the military saying that “No plan survives the first contact with the enemy.” Once the floor was opened for discussions of the amendments and the motions, there were proposed “amendments to the amendments,” many of them generated on the spot, “points of order,” and other interventions in the four languages of the assembly – English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. I had to admire the heroic efforts of the translators, and the “coolness under fire” of Owain, a necessary foil to the Gallic chairing of Elie.

The GCE should be a learning organization, and based on yesterday’s lessons, the organizers designed today’s session to be more efficient. By the time we broke up for noontime lunch, we managed to discuss and approve a number of motions, including the amendments on adult learning that E-net Philippines and E-net for Justice Indonesia have proposed.

Yesterday, Francis of PLAN International asked if GCE is a movement, a coalition, or a campaign. He also asked if we are mainly proposing and changing policies, presumably within the existing political order, or ultimately seeking to change that political order. His questions were noted but not directly answered, since we were focused on the motions.

Although the discussions on the motions seem tedious and too slow for some, I think that they reflect GCE’s nature both as a coalition and a movement. As a coalition, we have to deal with diversity and arrive at a consensus, resorting to a vote only if that is needed to move forward. And it is this moving forward that defines us as a movement. A movement must move; that means action. But action needs decisions, and decisions are preceded by discussions.

Movements also need milestones, so that we can judge if we are moving forward at a pace that is required. The more specific motions flesh out the general program of action, and the work we put into them will guide the GCE board whose members we elect this afternoon. Elections being what they are, we expect more energies to flow.

Thinking of Einstein in Sao Paolo

January 24, 2008

Up to yesterday, my body clock has not adjusted to the 10-hour difference between Sao Paolo and Quezon City. I woke up every hour, and after 5 am, couldn´t go back to sleep. I decided I might as well do some kalimasada. Last night, I went up to my room to wash up before going with the GCE participants to a Brazilian dinner and dancing. I decided to lay down on my bed for a few minutes rest. When I woke up, it was two hours later, and I missed the dinner!

This morning was much better. I still woke up early at 5 am, and decided to do another kalimasada practice. I drew back the curtain to see the skyline of Sao Paolo from the 20th floor of Novotel Jaragua, and did my duduk nafas. Yesterday because of my jet lag, I couldn´t do the takan nafas – press and hold my breath – for the usual 33 seconds; I adjusted the count to a more manageable 25. Today doing the full takan was easy. After the warm up movements, I did a brisk jurus dasar, took a quick shower, and went down for breakfast.

I sipped my coffee slowly, as my mind wandered back to kalimasada. Even the shortened practice got my energy flowing, and I recalled the book The Electric Universe, which explained how electricity powers the various life processes in our bodies. Girlie and I found the author´s account of “wet electricity” as one way of understanding kalimasada.

Somehow my synapses linked that idea of wet electricity to Einstein and his famous equation of E=mc square. Energy and mass are two different states of matter. When mass is completely converted to energy, the power unleashed is tremendous. But of course the more usual situation is a combination of relatively stable mass and flowing energy.

That triggered another synaptic link to the Global Campaign for Education. As I heard its history and read its mid-term assessment at this 3rd World Assembly of GCE, I found out that the original convenors of GCE did not set out to form an organization. Their initial goal was simple and limited – to mobilize a global civil society coalition that would influence the Dakar 2000 declaration on Education for All. It was a mobilization of the energies that were already flowing, but in different directions, and of passions focused on various causes and in various arena. The great achievement of the pioneers of GCE was to create a synergy – a combination of teachers unions and child rights activists, NGOs and education advocates, and focus them on one initial, but crucial goal – influencing the Dakar EFA process and outcome.

That they did, with significant impact. One UN official has admitted that without the GCE interventions, the EFA 2015 declaration would not be what it is, more comprehensive than UPE (universal primary education), including adult literacy and appropriate learning opportunities for out of school youth and adults, and also early childhood care and development.

Fortunately, the GCE pioneers also decided that they wouldn´t stop there. Instead of disbanding and waiting till 2015 to regroup and hold the international community accountable to the promises they made in 2000, they decided to build on the momentum of what they had done in Dakar, to avoid the default of civil society in the first EFA in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990.

Meeting in New Delhi for the first GCE World Assembly, they channeled the energies that had been mobilized for Dakar into a simple structure for continued engagement with international bodies and national governments to insure that the 6 goals will be achieved by 2015. The combination of energies took on a more definite shape beyond doing joint activities. Three years later at the 2nd World Assembly in Johannesburg, they further strengthened the GCE structure, expanded its members, and stepped up its advocacy and engagements.

This 3rd World Assembly here in Sao Paolo is the first I have attended. I am told that it is also the first GCE assembly whose participants reflect its main constituency – the natiobal coalitions, especially in the South. During the opening sessions, there were repeated references to the palpable energy that circulated in the hall; I could feel it. Truly the GCE has positioned itself as THE global civil society voice on EFA, and can claim its fair share of credit for the progress made toward the EFA goals.

But the theme and the tone of the assembly also reflects its growing maturity. There are reason to celebrate, of course, but there is also a deepening sense of concern. That is why the theme of the assembly is spot on – Education for All at the crossroads: The time to act is now!

The French, English, and Portuguese translations are even sharper. Instead of translating “crossroads” literally, they use “danger” in French, “riesgo” in Spanish,“risco” in Portuguese. Midway to 2015, there is a sense that the targets will not be met at the current pace, and with the current strategies. There is therefore a need for acceleration, but also innovation. There is also a need to communicate a greater sense of urgency, tempered with the realization that we need not distribute the EFA 2015 targets into equal parts per year. If we develop momentum, we achieve more in the later stages of the process. The reverse can also happen, unfortunately. A sense of complacency can lead to a “plateau.” But we can also feel overwhelmed by the task of pressuring governments and donors, and yield to premature despair.

The excellent mid-term assessment done by an independent group poses this question to GCE. Since GCE has identified its reason for being with the achievement of EFA goals by 2015, what happens if the goals are not met? Will it not be blamed also as having failed, and therefore end with self-criticism and internal acrimony?

Of course, as an advocacy coalition, GCE sees itself as holding the state as having the principal responsibility for achieving EFA. But the framework developed by the environmental movement could also apply to EFA, with governments and civil society having “common but differentiated responsibility.”

It’s time to go to the final days session, and I need to end this post in mid-thought. But I want to end with the idea that “crossroads” is the more appropriate word. The words chosen as translations point to the danger of falling behind and not achieving the EFA targets by 2015. But “crossroads” also poses the possibility of building on what we have achieved and the momentum we have developed. We can accelerate and innovate to reach our goals. The definition of goals I like is that they are “dreams with deadlines.” And I like to add, “with details.”

There is a saying from Brazil that speaks to this: “If I dream alone, it is an illusion. If we dream together, it is a reality.”

Reunions in Sao Paolo

January 23, 2008

The KLM flight from Amsterdam was delayed for an hour, but we landed safely in Sao Paolo. The immigration lines were very long, however, and that meant another hour of waiting. But once through, our luggage were waiting, and the Brazilian hosts of the GCE World Assembly efficiently brought us to the Novotel. A quick light meal, and we all jumped into bed.

After the overnight sleep on a reclining couch in the Schipol airport, the feeling of my back sinking into the bed cushion was a simple pleasure. One has to experience deprivation, even temporary, of what one is used to, to appreciate again what we may take for granted.

That was one thought that struck me from the opening day of thie 3rd World Assembly of the GCE here in Sao Paolo. Was it Kailash or some other speaker – I don´t remember – who asked us to imagine one child we know (or even ourselves as a child), and imagine what he or she would be without quality basic education.

I had relatively good public education till Grade 4, but finished elementary in the parish school, and my high school in the seminary. But I think of Arvie, the son of Judy who helps us in our household, who transfered to Quezon City from Capiz. He was in high school, and yet could hardly read. And our daughter Ayen; what would she be if we couldn´t afford the private education she benefited from?

At one of the meetings of E-net Philippines, I said that one problem we in the NGOs may have in relation to campaigning for quality public basic education is that most of us did not go through it. Or if we did, we did not send our children through it. That is also the problem we have trying to create a sense of urgency among our government officials, including Congress and the Senate. How many of them send their children to public elementary and secondary schools?

At the opening ceremonies, we were reminded about the difference civil society and campaign coalitions can make. After the first Education for All commitment by governments in Jomtien, 1990, there was hardly any sustained civil society engagement to hold governments accountable to their promises. By 2000 and the EFA conference in Dakar, the number of children of school age who were out of school had increased, so with the number of adults who are illiterate. Mid-way to the 2015 target date of EFA, the same numbers have declined lower than the baseline of Jomtien.

There are many factors that explain the decline, of course, and attribution of causality can be contested, but one clear difference this time is the active and consistent campaigning of civil society, and at this GCE world assembly, we have reason to claim our fair share of credit.

I counted 177 delegates and observers on the list, and by the start of the assembly, I had a chance to greet and have a quick chat with only 25 of them. But they were a good start, and I felt the sense of a reunion, not just of friends but also of energies and visions, despite the shared jet lag. I met the ASPBAE people – Maria and Bernie, and our Southeast Asia informal network – Yanti and Iva from E-net Indonesia, Theavy and Samphors from  Cambodia, Thea and Raquel from the Philippines. I also finally had a chance to congratulate Rasheda from CAMPE in Bangladesh. She has just been appointed Minsiter by the caretaker government, for mass and basic education, women and social welfare. Over breakfast, she quickly enumerated the four things she plans to achieve before she steps down with the caretaker government after a year. I was reminded of the discussions we had the past months when talk of a possible transition and caretaker council was rife in the Philippines.

Kailash’s towering figure was difficult to miss, and his opening address exuded the same passion I felt when I first heard him in Phnom Penh. Later, we discussed the possibility of exchanging lessons and ideas about combating child labor in India and the Philippines.

There is much more to say. But this business center closes in two minutes, and I just wanted to post this before I sleep. My blogs are a way of sending some news back to the Philippines. Will be sending more updates tomorrow.

And yes, Ayen and Girlie, I checked out the nearest supermarket for their display of Havaianas!


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