intro: what follows is a successful example on how local initiatives, including citizens participation together with public and private institutions’ efforts, can make a real change. In fact, financing basic education projects to tackle illiteracy means investing in empowering citizens, especially youth: a pre-condition in building up sustainable communities.
what: discussions about basic human needs such as access to education can sound as noble as they are hard to reach, goals to be left to government management. Well, this is not always the case. Every single citizen can be part of the solution. Just imagine that in Brazil $41US can change one person’s life. Actually, this is the price for a six month literacy course organised by the Brazilian NGO ‘Solidarity in Literacy’ (Alfabetização Solidária - Alfasol). Today, in the cities of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia (DF) and Belo Horizonte, citizens who sponsor the ‘Adopt a Student’ campaign finance literacy courses for almost 200,000 youths and adults. Anybody interested can ‘adopt’ a student by contributing just R$21.00 (less than $7US) per month during one semester.
why: according to the data from a survey conducted in 2000 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE - Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatísticas), there are around 16.3 million young and adult illiterates in Brazil 15 years or older, which represent 13.6% of all Brazilians in this age group. Although the illiteracy rate is relatively low, it shows that even in urban centres a significant number of people have no access to education.
who: created in January 1997, Alfasol has the goal of reducing illiteracy and stimulating the offer of public education for youth and adults in Brazil. When it began, Alfasol had only 9,200 students in 38 cities in the North and Northeast regions of the country, where the highest rates of illiteracy were to be found according to the IBGE. In 2003, it reached the significant number of 4 million students from 2,010 cities all across the country!
networking: one of the innovative aspects of Alfasol is its elaboration of an unprecedented series of partnerships. With it, private and public companies, state and federal administrations and individual citizens help to finance the work. Each partner gives its contribution:
- citizens finance the literacy of one or more students in the large urban centres;
- companies, institutions and organisations support the literacy of at least two hundred and fifty students in one or more of the counties where the highest illiteracy indexes are found;
- institutions of higher-education (IES - Instituições de Ensino Superior) provide pedagogical support and evaluate the learning results of the students;
- local city administrations and municipalities provide the physical space for the classrooms and contribute to the distribution of didactic material as well as transport for students and teachers.
As of today, Alfasol has acted in partnership with 135 companies and 219 universities that have qualified over 170,000 teachers. This system of partnerships has caused the United Nations to advertise the ‘Alfasol Model’ on the five continents by means of the ‘Literacy Decade Campaign’.
a winning formula: in 2004, Alfasol was awarded UNESCO’s International Literacy Prize (category King Sejong Prize). The prize, which includes a grant of $15,000US, is awarded in recognition of particularly effective contributions to the fight against illiteracy. It calls attention to the efforts of thousands of men and women who devote themselves year after year to advancing the cause of literacy for everyone. In its site, UNESCO stated that: "Alfasol is honoured for launching a literacy programme aimed at four million illiterate adults, and based on an innovative, simple and cost-effective model. The programme covers both urban and rural populations, encourages the participation of women and reaches the poorest and most isolated people. Alfasol succeeded in mobilising a large number of citizens, contributing to the sense of local ownership of the programme and creating a large group of educators within the country […]”.