Archive for the ‘Education for All’ category

Kailash and the Global Campaign for Education

October 12, 2014

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Malala and to Kailash is welcomed by education campaigners as a recognition of our campaigning work. I am reposting my reflections in 2007 after listening to Kailash in Phnom Penh.

Campaigning Inside and Outside

At the Asia-Pacific conference of GCE members in Phnom Penh, the speeches of Kailash Satyarthi the president of GCE offered useful perspectives on advocacy work by civil society organizations or CSOs.

In 1990 at Jomtien, Thailand, where the first Declaration on Education for All, or EFA, was signed by governments, he said that there was no civil society participation; though Aloysius, the Education International representative said EI was there. But in the run up to the 2000 conference in Dakar, Senegal, the two international organizations, Global March against Child labor and Education International, decided to actively get engaged, together with other INGOs who are both funding and campaigning agencies.

The first GCE included national campaign coalitions notably CAMPE, the Campaign for Popular Education in Bangladesh which had been set up in response to Jomtien. According to Kailash, it was through CSO advocacy that “education as a fundamental human right” was included in the preamble in the Dakar declaration, unlike in Jomtien. They also insisted on establishing an international monitoring group that would insure that governments fulfilled the commitments they signed; this is now called the High Level Group which is meeting tomorrow in Dakar.Later, GCE also played a crucial role in establishing the Fast Track Initiative (FTI), a funding facility specific for EFA.

From service delivery to policy advocacy

Kailash emphasized that GCE represents a successful example of the changing role of NGOs and civil society from service delivery to policy advocacy. For CSOs this means going beyond previous roles of delivering services to the people, either autonomously (usually funded from abroad) or subcontracted by governments, though this continues to be needed and valid. To create impact on a wider scale, CSOs need to engage in advocacy campaigns to hold governments accountable and fulfill their responsibilities to their citizens.

Development jargon has picked this up as a “rights-based approach” to development. The “3 Rs” campaign of Enet Philippines is in the same spirit – Rights, Responsibilities, Resources.

Since I am posting this on December 10, Human Rights Day, I recall the additional perspective that Kailash presented. He said that the right to education was included in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, but until Jomtien or 40 years later, the United national did not hold any high level conference, much less a summit, on education.

Without an organized campaign and constituency, declarations will not be followed up by action and funding. The lesson is that rights, like freedom, will not be given motu proprio, even by those who have pledged to deliver them.

But we cannot simply take care of ourselves in the name of self-reliance, and let governments go scot free of their responsibility. CSOs have arrived at the same conclusion in their respective national contexts. What is more difficult and which makes GCE’s achievement remarkable, is doing this globally.

The level of frustration that we experience in dealing with individual governments is multiplied when dealing with intergovernmental institutions. And the level of resources needed – not just funds, but time and skills – is much greater. No wonder international NGOs who are both funders and campaigners play a more dominant role, even if most members of the global network are based in individual countries.

Acknowledging the limits of campaigning

Despite the specific successes that Kailash asked us to celebrate, he also acknowledged the sobering limits of CSO campaigning.

At the High Level Group meetings, few “high level’ heads of agencies and states attend. The funds committed to the FTI are less than what is needed. The role of UNESCO as convenor leaves much to be desired. But compared to where we started, and would surely have much less achievement, there is more hope than frustration.

There is of course the problem of attribution. How much of the results can we claim is due to CSO campaigning? Would governments have done them anyway even if we didn’t pressure them? Proving causality is a tricky challenge. Perhaps we can borrow from an unlikely source – Mao Zedong’s aphorism that the reason for change is internal, but for it to operate it may need external conditions, like the egg that won’t hatch unless there is enough heat from outside. Sol Alinsky has a different and slightly more cynical comment: “People in high places can be made to do the right thing, usually for the wrong reason.”

The mid-term external evaluation of GCE adds another caution. Its effective engagement with the global institutions may eventually brand it as just another “insider,” the latest in international power players who meet and debate and issue declarations. This is an important agenda in the run up to the GCE World Assembly in Sao Paolo. How does GCE insure that its “outside” campaigning is given its due emphasis?

Claiming space inside, maintaining pressure outside

Enet Philippines is facing similar challenges. We have been designated as the CSO co-chair of the National EFA Committee. From a comparative international perspective, this is quite an achievement, and the Philippine government has used this and other forms of CSO engagement to claim “pogi points.”

When this happened, I wondered aloud if we should claim it as a success or worry that it is a way of being coopted. Does being co-chair mean that we are co-responsible for the poor performance of the education system? After all the mid-decade Philippine EFA report (2000-2005) admits that we have fallen short of almost all targets.

What about our role as citizens demanding government to fufill its responsibilities? There is need to put pressure from the outside. After all the “partnership” of CSOs with government does not make us co-equal or co-responsible. It is still government that has the main responsibility to deliver on its EFA commitments. It is our responsibility as citizens to claim our rights and call on government to fulfill its obligations.

Those who have managed to claim space for inside campaigning need the voices and numbers of outside campaigners. This is not easy. The annual GCE global action week has mobilized over 5 million in hundreds of countries this April 2007. But what about the rest of the year? The same challenge faces Enet within the Philippines. In addition to taking part in the annual April global action week, we have a second campaign in September on adult learning and lifelong learning. They take a lot of time and energy, and we have limited funds.

And there is always the nagging question – to what extent have our activities not only created public awareness, but have brought about policy or program changes?


Paris 2011


Komunibersidad and PPP

December 3, 2012

Today at the UP College of Education, I shared some reflections on Komunibersidad and Public-Private Partnership or PPP.

The occasion was a workshop among the UP College of Education, the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) and E-Net Philippines. The three are cooperating in a research project on public-private partnership in education.

From the point of view of E-Net, the problematique is this: We call our advocacy campaign the “3 Rs” – rights, responsibility, resources.

1) We believe that education is a basic right, and we hold the Philippine government to its official commitment to achieve Education for All by 2015.

2) We believe that education for all, or more precisely “quality basic education for all” is the responsibility of government.

3) We advocate that enough public resources should be allocated to achieve quality basic education for all. We have a provision in our constitution that education should be the biggest item in the national budget.

Within this advocacy framework, what is the place of private sector participation in the delivery of quality basic education for all? Is it a necessary supplement or complement to inadequate public resources and capabilities? Isn’t there a danger that it gives the government an excuse not to increase the public resources needed to fulfill its responsibility? Does it not reflect the ideological trend of making the state “retreat” in favor of a supposedly more efficient private sector?

Local government participation

Even before talking about PPP, there is an important issue we need to address within the public sector. The Local Government Code which devolved more authority and responsibility to local governments, included the setting up of Local School Boards that administer a Special Education Fund.

During our workshops with Indonesian counterparts, their criticism of their national government’s failure to provide enough resources, extended to calling the devolution of some responsibility for basic education as a “creeping form of privatization.”

Although we understand the political context that generated such a critique, E-Net Philippine thinks such a critique is overstated.

In fact, both E-Net and Synergeia have favorable experiences in promoting LGU co-responsibility for basic education. The late Jesse Robredo even pioneered what he called “re-engineering the local school boards” to increase the participation of parents and community leaders, with positive results.

Private sector participation

Basic education in the Philippines has never been provided through a purely public system. At least 10 percent of elementary education has been private.  If we include early childhood education, private sector participation is even greater. For some time, in secondary education private sector participation was up to 50 percent, until the economic crisis and the increase of public school teachers salaries reduced it to around 20 percent.

The Philippine government’s commitment to PPP is expressed in the increased budget for GASTPE – government assistance to students and teachers of private education.

E-Net’s previous research into GASTPE did not dwell on the legitimacy of such public-private partnership. Instead, it developed case studies about its positive and negative features and results. The UP workshop is geared to crafting a future joint research project of UP, UAB and E-Net.

What about community participation? 

Although “community” is technically “private” rather than public, E-Net does not want to subsume it under the category of private sector, since this connotes for-profit corporate organizations.

While we press government, national and local, to assume responsibility for quality basic education, we also believe what Jesse Robredo said about making education ultimately a “community responsibility.”

This goes beyond the usual practice of using the PTCA – parents, teachers, and community association – to raise funds. It includes participation in local school governance councils. It is especially important  in the expanded development of ALS – Alternative Learning Systems, and ADM – Alternative Delivery Modes.

Komunibersidad and research into PPP

Before the start of the workshop, I was conversing with the three delegates from the University of Barcelona. I told them the story of Isabelo de los Reyes and how he met the anarcho-syndicalists in the Barcelona prison, which led to his founding the Union Obrera Democratica, which was also one of the base for the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

They asked if E-net Philippines has regular links with our Latin American counterparts. I said that it is difficult for civil society networks to meet across the globe, since our institutional resources and capabilities are limited. Probably there are more possibilities between universities.

On the other hand they said that inter-university exchanges have their own limitations, and may be limited to academic studies that are not geared to influencing public policy.

That gave me another angle for the idea of Komunibersidad – a partnership between community and university to develop a research-based policy advocacy agenda.

After the opening session, in another conversation, E=net and the UP College of Education agreed to meet soon to develop this partnership.

How Can We Rank Five Literacy Champions?

August 6, 2012

Once every two years, the Literacy Coordinating Council recognizes national literacy champions through the National Literacy Awards.

This year, the LCC has asked me (again) to head one of the final Board of Judges.

There are five final board of judges, one for each of the categories of the National Literacy Awards. Two are for outstanding cities (highly urbanized and component cities) and two are for outstanding municipalities ( class A – 1st to 3rd class, and class B – 4th to 6th class municipalities).

The category assigned to our group  is “outstanding literacy program.”

From programs to systems

When the National Literacy Awards started in 1994, there were only two categories – outstanding literacy program and outstanding literacy worker. That reflected the state of literacy work then – relatively small and limited programs, done by social development NGOs or  part of college extension services.

After a few years, the LCC made a strategic decision. Instead of focusing mainly on individual programs, they created the category of outstanding LGUs, with emphasis on multiple programs integrated into local development plans.

That put literacy in its proper context: Not a stand-alone program, but part of an over-all system. The LCC also promulgated a more comprehensive definition of “functional literacy.” This corrected the dominant but narrow equation of literacy with “basic literacy.” In this new framework, basic literacy is simply the entry level to functional literacy, and even beyond, to “lifelong learning.”

Size does matter

The first time I was invited by the LCC to a final board of judges, it was for the category of outstanding cities, which was won by Antipolo City. In the process, one of the finalists told us: “It’s not fair to compare a smaller city like ours with a few hundred million-peso annual budget, to Antipolo that has a billion-peso budget.”

The discussions that ensued led the LCC to go beyond the general category of “outstanding LGU” to create four categories: 1) Highly urbanized cities, 2) Component cities, 3) Class A municipalities, and 4) Class B municipalities.

The LCC also accepted our suggestion to create  a “Hall of Fame” for an LGU that is voted into first place three consecutive times. This is not just to honor them, but also to create space at the top for other outstanding finalists.

I had the good fortune of being on the board of judges that voted Antipolo City into first place for the third consecutive time. My second stint as a judge wss for the category of Class B municipality, when we voted for Tubungan, Iloilo. Two awards later, Tubungan also joined the Hall of Fame.

Should we not also have different categories for literacy programs?

This is my second time to chair the board of judges for outstanding literacy program.

Initially I thought that compared to the LGU categories, literacy programs should be easier to judge. The LCC has provided us a check list which we used to score the winning entries from the regions. The scores were our basis for unanimously selecting the top five outstanding literacy programs.

Field validation visits followed. Though quite hectic (we traveled to all five areas within July), these visits are the best part of the judging process. I like especially the interviews and interaction, formal and informal, with the program staff and participants.

At the initial briefings, we tell them that they are already all champions. Our field visits are partly to validate the documents submitted to us, and partly to help us rank them from 1 to 5.

I wish we could simply end by saying,”Our visits confirm that all five deserve to be declared outstanding literacy programs.” But we have been required to rank them. This I find difficult.

Unlike the LGUs that are ranked within four different categories, the literacy programs are to be ranked as a single category. But they are quite diverse, and difficult to compare.

Here are the five programs, in order of our field visits:

1) The program in some barangays of Alaminos, Pangasinan is run by a civic organization, the JCI (aka Jaycees), relying mainly on volunteers and own funds.

2) The program in Barangay Ronrono, Quezon, Nueva Vizcaya is run by FCF, an NGO that has been set up and funded by a mining company as part of its CSR and preparatory work in the areas that will be affected by its operations.

3) The program in some barangays of Naga City and some towns of Camarines Sur is run by staff of the community extension service unit of the University of Santa Isabel.

4) The program in some barangays of Digos City and some towns of Davao del Sur are run by a foundation that used to be the community extension service unit of Cor Jesu College.

5) The program among the Mangyans in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, is run by a mission team of nuns from the FMM order.

Seven Questions after Reading the SONA

July 25, 2012

Just before midnight, I finally get to read the full text of yesterday’s SONA.

Girlie asks me: “Why are you scribbling notes?” I tell her it’s to help me analyze the structure and main messages of the speech.

I wind up with 7 pages of notes, using the TN-MN method: TN is taking notes – writing the outline and key points. MN is making notes – writing my comments and questions.

Here are seven questions, and comments, after reading and re-reading the SONA.

1.  What messages did PNoy emphasize and highlight?

I have only the Filipino text, 18 pages on my computer, as basis. I wish I had the chance to watch and listen, and catch his ad libs.

If we go by the principle that the main messages of a speech are what is at the beginning and at the end, this is what I picked up:

From his opening greetings to the closing lines, he reprised his mantra: Kayo ang Boss ko.

Humaharap po ako sa inyo bilang mukha ng isang gobyernong kayo ang boss at kayo pa rin ang lakas. Inuulat ko lamang ang mga pagbabagong ginawa ninyong posible.

Hence the inspirational ending: Inuulit ko: posible na ang dating imposible. Humaharap po ako sa inyo ngayon, at sinasabing: hindi ko SONA ito. Kayo ang gumawa nito. SONA ito ng sambayanang Pilipino. Maraming, maraming salamat po.

It’s a message in the spirit of Lao Tzu’s saying about leaders, that after accomplishing a task, the people should say “We did it ourselves.”

This message has very positive resonance. I wonder how it comes across to those whose expectation is different – that leaders should do things for the people.

2.  How did PNoy respond to the pre-SONA commentaries that he should stop blaming the past administration and focus on what he has delivered about his promises?

I don’t want to read too much into the structure of the speech, since the final text of the SONA is partly “negotiated” and is reported as having undergone repeated revisions.

But I think the SONA reflects what has been reported as PNoy’s sensibility and stand. His message is about change that has happened despite formidable “legacy” problems. Hence throughout the speech, there is a running structure of contrast and comparison, of numbers and timeframes.

This is highlighted towards the end by his response to those who call on him “to forgive and forget.”

3.  What programs did he emphasize?

Going by the number of paragraphs and level of details, I’d say health, up to the vision of  “universal health care.” This is closely followed by education, from basic education to technical-vocational education, to higher education.

He discussed these at length after citing economic growth, as indicators of a key concept of the new Philippine Development Plan – inclusive growth. I sense that health and education are given greater emphasis compared to earlier explanations of the CCT as a poverty reduction program.

4. Should we read anything into who of the cabinet secretaries were mentioned by name and who were not?

This is the stuff of juicy political gossip and speculation.

But just for fun, I listed the names of cabinet secretaries as they were mentioned and commended by Pnoy: Sec. Ona of DOH and Sec. Montejo of DOST, Sec. Luistro of DepEd, Sec. Villanueva of TESDA, Sec. Roxas of DOTC, Sec. Singson of DPWH, Sec. Jimenez of DOT, Sec. Alcala of DA, Sec. Almendras of DOE.

Other senior officials mentioned are ARMM OIC Hataman and Ombudsman Carpio-Morales.

These names were mentioned in the context of the programs and achievements cited positively by PNoy.

What should we make of  those officials who were not named even though programs within their sphere of responsibility were also cited positively? To mention some, there are lengthy passages on environment-related issues, but the only name mentioned is an LGU official, not the DENR secretary. The president vows to finish CARP, but does not mention the DAR secretary. We could even ask why CCT is discussed at some length without mentioning the DSWD secretary.

Maybe there is nothing to this, since defense, foreign relations, and economic growth are also discussed at length without mentioning the DND and DFA secretaries or the economic managers.

But then again, being mentioned in the SONA is a major concern of competitive government officials.

5.  What glaring silences and absences caught my attention?

Obviously, even a lengthy hour and a half SONA cannot mention very issue and sector. Still, I am quite disappointed that some “favorite” concerns of mine didn’t get mentioned at all.

The indigenous people and their issues are invisible. A few days before the SONA, I posted in our Aeta Coordination group my hope that IPs would get even a few lines. Sorry.

Since I work as a consultant to the Secretary of Agriculture, I know that the fisheries sector often complain that though “agriculture” includes fisheries, it is usually only the farmers who get mentioned, and not the fisherfolk. There were efforts to have their issues and achievements mentioned. But, sorry.

There was a mention of the OFW in the closing paragraphs, but no substantial discussion of their contribution and their concerns. Again, sorry.

6. Since both Enrile and Belmonte have brought up the issue of charter change, did PNoy have any response in the SONA?

Can we read this passage as a subtle reference?

Ngunit huwag po nating kalimutan ang pinag-ugatan ng Batas Militar: Kinasangkapan ng diktador ang Saligang Batas upang manatili sa kapangyarihan. At hanggang ngayon, tuloy pa rin ang banggaan sa pagitan ng gusto ng sistemang parehas, laban sa mga nagnanais magpatuloy ng panlalamang.

As the late Inday Badiday would say: “Careful…”

7.  Political commentators say that this year’s SONA is an “electoral” SONA, given the coming May 2013 elections and the October 2012 filing of candidacies. What is PNoy’s campaign message? 

Paparating na naman po ang halalan. Kayo po, ang aming mga boss, ang tangi naming susundan. Ang tanong ko sa inyo, “Boss, saan tayo tatahak? Tuloy ba ang biyahe natin sa tuwid na landas, o magmamaniobra ba tayo’t aatras, pabalik sa daan na baluktot at walang patutunguhan?”

The opening salvo can’t be any clearer.

The challenge will be how to handle the “cognitive dissonance” that will ensue as realpolitik determines some choices of who will be projected as the pro-administration candidates.

Missing the SONA

July 24, 2012

Yesterday afternoon, I was interviewing Barangay Literacy Workers in two barangays of Naga City – Pacol and San Isidro. I headed a group of judges doing field validation of one finalist for this year’s National Literacy Awards.

I missed listening to President Noynoy Aquino deliver his State of the Nation Address.

Early evening, I hoped I would be able to catch a TV replay, or read the text (and commentaries) on the web. But our hosts brought us, for dinner  and overnight stay, to a hot springs resort deep in a valley of Barangay Panicuason, 17 kilometers from the city center.

My first question upon arriving was,”Is there WiFi?” Sorry, not only was there no WiFi, there was not even any celphone signal. No TV either, nor radio.

My initial disappointment took time to disappear, but eventually it did.

Our dinner was a feast of Bicol dishes. And afterwards, we could soak our tired bodies in three different hot water pools, from a warm 32 degrees C to a bearably hot 37 degrees C.

While savoring the pleasure of the hot spring waters, my mind would wander to memories and imaginings of the SONA, past and present. What did PNoy mention, and what were his silences? What did he emphasize, and what were mentioned just for the record? What were the slogans and issues of the “ritual” rallies?

As for post-SONA reactions, were there any other than the usual and predictable, especially given the coming 2013 elections?

This morning, after a late breakfast, I was in Barangay Malbong in the town of Gainza, for the third field interviews. Unlike the other two barangays, the women in we interviewed were barely a year into their 5-module functional literacy course. Although livelihood skills training is supposed to come only after they finish the FL course, the community extension service staff of the University of Santa Isabel flexibly adjusted the schedules, to meet their urgent needs after floods disrupted their lives.

I finally got to scan the text of yesterday’s SONA here at the Naga airport, while waiting for my return flight to MetroManila. Pleasant note: Free WiFi, with no password!

There’s not enough time to give fair comment on the SONA. Perhaps tonight, after a more thorough rereading.

The plane from Manila should be landing soon. I think of missing the SONA, and its connection to a question I keep asking myself since March, after the death of Boy Morales.

During his wake, different speakers paid tribute to what I called his “large organs.” Boy’s heart and mind embraced grand visions and causes. When we helped convene the “new” La LIga Filipina, our shared vision focused on rebuilding our nation. This vision included grand themes like participatory democratic governance, social justice and the empowerment of the poor, sustainable development.

At some point, Girlie asked me, “When it’s your time came to go, what would you want people to remember, and associate with you?”

I didn’t have time to think, because she wanted a quick answer. I said “grassroots communities.”

Later, reflecting on why I said that, I realized that although I remain committed to the larger vision of national and social transformation, I find deeper emotional satisfaction in stories of significant changes happening in local grassroots communities. But also greater intellectual challenges.

I do not counterpose the micro to the macro. They are interconnected, though the causalities are more complex than usually acknowledged. I sometimes talk of this complex causality as  “3 Ms” – multiple, mutual, and mediated.

Between the micro and the macro, there is a needed third Greek word – “meso.”

The day of the SONA is a moment when we focus on the macro – our nation. Benedict Anderson describes the nation as our “imagined political community,” limited, but within the limits, sovereign.

It is easier to do this when in MetroManila, or connected by media, traditional and new. It is more challenging to do this when in one of the poorer barangays in Bicol, without WiFi, celphone signal, TV or radio.

Alternative Learning System: FAQ

January 24, 2010

Almost every day, when I check the blog stats, the blog post on with the biggest number of visitors is the one on Alternative Learning System or ALS.

I am posting this short blog to answer the mounting number of comments, actually queries, on ALS. I apologize to those who have expected individual answers to their comments. I do not usually respond to the comments on my blogs.

FAQ 1: Where can we find the results of the latest ALS exams, administered last November 2009?

Answer: The official results are supposed to be posted in the DepEd website. When I checked the other day, there are no results posted yet.

I can understand the impatience and frustration of the learners and those who have helped them. I have told my contacts in the Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS) of DepEd about your many comments and complaints, and urged them to post the results soonest. But so far, no results have been posted.

A point of clarification to those who have vented their frustration on me (I had to delete the more insulting comments). I am not a DepEd official, and have no power at all over when the results will be posted.

My involvement in ALS is as the head of E-net Philippines, a civil society network that does advocacy for Education for All, which includes ALS. Many of our member NGOs offer ALS in cooperation with the DepEd and the LGUs. They are also still waiting for the results to be posted.

So what can we do, other than wait?

Keep asking and following up with whoever is your contact in the BALS and DepEd, including those who have helped you join your learning group in ALS. Any form of pressure on the DepEd can hasten the posting of the results.

FAQ 2:  I want to enroll in ALS. How do I join?

Answer: There are three usual options. 1) Contact your local DepEd (the district supervisor’s office, or even the principal of the local public high school). They are supposed to offer ALS to those out of school youth and adults who want to join. They also have a budget, though limited. 2) Contact your local government official (barangay captain/councilor, or mayor/vice-mayor,councilors). Many LGUs offer ALS in cooperation with the DepEd. 3) Contact an NGO or development agency working in your community. Ask if they offer ALS as part of their programs.

A fourth option is to ask around if there is anyone in your community who has enrolled in ALS, and get information from him/her.

If you have extra energy, I suggest that instead of purely individual effort, you look for others who are also interested to enroll in ALS. Then go as a group to the DepEd, the LGU, or the NGO. If you can contact your congressman or congresswoman, there is a better chance that they will respond to your request if you are a group. Write to the newspapers and call the radio talk shows.

And don’t let the answer to FAQ 1 discourage you.

2010 Update: Like last year, this blog has received many queries and comments about the results of the October 2010 exams. it seems that the DepEd had initially promised the results by November. But based on phone calls to the Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS), the test results will not be available until February 2011.

Since it takes time to answer the questions and comments, and we cannot immediately respond to one another, I have opened a Facebook page  – ALS: Alternative Learning System. Check it out and post your comments there, for faster interaction.

Three Phone Calls from Abroad

September 3, 2009

Within the last six hours, I received three phone calls from abroad.

The first was from Singapore. Minette, my daughter in law, works and lives there with my son Yeyi. Our excited conversation revolved around their trip to the Philippines late this month, to celebrate the first birthday of their twin sons, Edric and Yohan on September 19.

Of course there will be a series of reunions with families and friends. Girlie woke up this morning with a bright idea: “Why don’t we invite them all to Bantayog ng mga Bayani? That way we can introduce them to the martyrs and heroes on the Wall of Remembrance, and the Museum.” A visit to Bantayog can give them a glimpse of September 21 and martial law, crucial events that have shaped the lives of our generation.

The second phone call came at 8:30 pm, from the Brussels head office of Education International, which coordinates the teleconference. I had expected it an hour earlier, the usual time for the global teleconference of the board of GCE, the Global Campaign for Education. it took a while before we could assemble a quorum from four continents – Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Unfortunately, the connections were poor and patchy. Assibi who was supposed to chair was using her celphone somewhere in Africa, and couldn’t get clear signals. She asked Elie, the former chair, to take over, since he had clearer signals. I guess he must be in Belgium, or somewhere in Europe.

Owain, the global coordinator, led us in discussing the different reports from his office in Jo’burg, South Africa. David Archer joined in from London, Helga from somewhere in Norway, and Bernie pitched in for Maria from his office in Australia. Two colleagues from Brazil updated us about their planned conference on quality.

From what I could gather through the static and fluctuating signals, there was concern about our global advocacy work toward intergovernmental fora. By 2010, we will pass the two-thirds mark on the way to EFA 2015, and the six goals of EFA will be hard to reach in most countries of the South. The global financial crisis makes it more difficult to effectively push for transfer of more resources from Northern countries.

Then abruptly, my line went dead.

The phone rang again after a few minutes. I thought I was reconnected, but it was another voice – Charlotte from London. She works with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, where a good friend, Ian Linden, coordinates the program on Faith in Action.

Charlotte called to brief me about my participation in a forum on October 6, the third in a series of six fora on Faith and International Development. Our session theme is about Poverty and Conflict, and Faith as a solution or cause. Ian had e-mailed me earlier asking me to be one of two speakers addressing the question, followed by a panel discussion. At first I demurred, but he said that he was interested to find out how my thinking has developed since we last met.

If I remember right, Ian and I last worked together on the Kairos International project in 1989, which built on the initial South African “Kairos Project” and expanded it to neighboring Namibia, to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala in Central America, and to Korea and the Philippines in Asia. We exchanged experiences and reflections of Christian theologians and activists from these countries, and challenged “right-wing” expressions of faith which condemned Christians who took part in liberation movements and struggles for justice.

That’s 20 years ago.

It’s not just that many years have passed, and we have grown older. Many more changes have happened, in the world outside us, and in our inner world of self-understanding and faith.

Toward the end of the Kairos project, we were sensing that new questions were being posed, because of changes in our respective countries, and the increasingly globalized interconnections. In one conversation, I suggested that one theme we should pursue is “Renewing our spirituality and strategy for justice.”


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