In Brief: Selected Development Organizations
Updated: Apr 11, 2019
Prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development
Fundación para la Aplicación y Enseñanza de las Ciencias (FUNDAEC) was established in Colombia in 1974. It is animated by two key concepts: first, that for a population to walk its own path of development, there must be institutions and structures that genuinely belong to the people; second, if people are to take charge of their own development, they must engage in systematic learning. FUNDAEC’s secondary education program, known as Sistema de Aprendizaje Tutorial (SAT), has received governmental certification in Colombia and has spread beyond its borders to several other countries in Latin America, reaching an estimated 300,000 young women and men. To respond to the interest shown in SAT by an increasing number of Bahá’í-inspired organizations around the world, FUNDAEC has modified some of its curricular elements and assembled them into a program called Preparation for Social Action, which is now being implemented in a number of countries in Africa, Asia, Australasia, and Latin America.
Asociación Bayan started in 1986 as a small rural hospital in Honduras in the Department of Gracias a Dios to serve the Miskito and Garifuna peoples. In the late 1990s, the agency turned its attention to the field of education, embarking on a major initiative to introduce into the region FUNDAEC’s SAT program. During 2017, over 8,000 students were enrolled in the program, which has been formally recognized by, and receives funding from, the national government. The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in the United States, has highlighted the experience of SAT in Honduras as an effective educational endeavor that has been scaled up to reach large numbers.
New Era Foundation
Located in Panchgani in the state of Maharashtra in India, the New Era Foundation oversees the New Era High School and the New Era Teacher Training Centre (NETTC). The New Era High School, which was established in 1945, currently serves over 900 students; it is known throughout the state both for its standards of academic excellence and the emphasis it places on moral education. In relation to NETTC, at any one time, over 150 students are being trained as preschool or primary school teachers. Many of the graduates are eagerly employed by existing schools, while others have gone on to establish their own in different parts of India or in neighboring countries.
In the wake of decades of internal conflict and civil unrest in the country, the Cambodian Organization for Research, Development and Education (CORDE) grew out of the efforts of individuals striving to raise the capacity of the population to determine for itself a path of development. Since its establishment in 1994, CORDE’s endeavors have focused primarily on education and have included the operation of the University for Education and Development, the promotion of community schools, and the implementation of training programs to develop the capacity of youth in rural areas.
Fondation Erfan-Connaissance was established in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to promote the establishment of community schools in the Kivu region. By early 2018, it was supporting 45 schools with close to 4,300 students, and was offering training for teachers from preschool to grade 6. The organization has also begun offering agriculture training to teachers in order to begin learning about addressing the nutritional needs of children and improving farming practices.
The Kimanya-Ngeyo Foundation was established in 2007 to work toward the empowerment of youth and the development of communities in Uganda through the application, generation, and systematization of knowledge. To this end, it implements the Preparation for Social Action program in several villages in the country and has reached over two thousand individuals thus far. It also carries out an agricultural research program and an in-service teacher-training program, assisting local teachers in public schools to reflect on the aims of education and to enhance their capacity for effective classroom instruction.
Rays of Light Foundation
The Rays of Light Foundation was established in 2007 to address the educational needs of populations in the sparsely inhabited and remote regions of Papua New Guinea, where access to education is limited. The Foundation offers the Preparation for Social Action program to assist youth and adults to build capacity to promote the well-being of their communities. The program has been introduced to three provinces in the country, and by 2017 there were over 200 participants. The organization also conducts a teacher-training program for individuals who wish to work with their communities to establish nursery and primary schools. In 2017, the Foundation supported some 35 schools with almost 1,300 students.
Wordswell Association for Community Learning
The Wordswell Association for Community Learning was established in Toronto, Canada, in 2007 by a group of youth and young adults, who are teachers, doctors, engineers, and community workers concerned with releasing the potential of youth across the city. One of the Association’s lines of action involves assisting youth to serve as animators for the junior youth spiritual empowerment program, which is carried out in a number of housing complexes across the city in collaboration with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. Wordswell also carries out research into the opportunities open to young people to pursue further education and to develop skills and abilities that will allow them to secure employment that contributes in some way to the common good.
The Unity Foundation is an agency located in Luxembourg that is focused on raising funds for Bahá’í-inspired organizations in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia offering educational programs. Over the past five years, the Foundation has facilitated the flow of more than three million euros to such endeavors. One of the Foundation’s most significant donors is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Luxembourg. In recent years, the organization has conducted workshops in schools and universities in the country, as well as film presentations and discussions, to raise awareness of concepts relating to social and economic development inspired by the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith.
In-Depth: The Evolution of a Development Organization in the Central African Republic
In 2003, a group of individuals in the Central African Republic (CAR) began to consult on how they could contribute to the social and economic progress of their country. They were particularly inspired by Bahá’u’lláh’s injunction:
“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”
As they analyzed social conditions in the country, they were struck by the pressing need for primary education, especially in rural areas, given the debilitating effect of years of internal strife on the development of the nation’s educational system. Thus, Fondation Nahid et Hushang Ahdieh (Ahdieh Foundation) was established as part of a search for a better response to the educational needs of the people of the country. While keenly aware of the challenges involved, the founders of the Foundation saw in the people of the country a vast source of potential and talent that could, if tapped into and channeled appropriately, play an essential role in overcoming these challenges. Drawing on insights and training materials from Bahá’í-inspired organizations in Chad and Mali, they set out to learn about how to assist local communities to establish and manage their own primary schools.
Development of a Program through Action-Reflection
Among the first actions which they took was to organize a month-long training seminar for some 20 aspiring teachers selected by their respective communities. The purpose of the training was to help build the participants’ capacity to start kindergartens in their own communities shortly after returning. Five schools were subsequently established. In its work with these schools, the organization gained several insights into areas such as raising consciousness in a community about the nature of education, training new teachers, adding new grade levels each year, and building capacity in a community to sustain the livelihood of teachers and to manage and administer a growing school. That the schools were locally operated and relied on financial resources from within the community allowed the organization to increase the scale of its efforts in an organic manner.
In its efforts to develop its program, the organization had to be ever-conscious of the reality of the population with which it was working, and able to adjust its plans accordingly. For instance, many of the teachers engaged in the project were young mothers with limited formal education and with responsibilities that did not allow them to participate in training programs of several months’ duration. This led the Foundation to adopt an approach to teacher training that wove together theory and practice in a particular way: rather than requiring participants to relocate for extended periods, the Foundation offered training annually for one to two months, after which the teachers were encouraged to quickly put into practice what they learned. Teachers were trained to offer one grade level at a time, starting first with kindergarten. Through regular visits from staff of the Foundation, and a system in which more experienced teachers would support those newer to the program, gradual improvements were made to the quality of instruction.
Naturally, the schools had to overcome many challenges as part of their evolution. In the early years, for instance, official school inspectors were at times skeptical of the community schools, which generally operated in simple structures constructed with locally available materials, or sometimes even under a tree. Nevertheless, through a continuous process of action, reflection, and refinement, the organization developed various elements of a program for the multiplication of community schools. Indeed, by 2008 there were some 28 schools in operation and over 100 teachers who had received training.
Consolidating Structures and Strengthening Relationships
The promising results being achieved led to requests from a growing number of organizations in Africa that endeavored to follow a similar path of learning. In 2008, in consulation with the Office of Social and Economic Development, the Foundation then began assisting the staff of these organizations to develop teacher-training programs in their respective countries. So as to ensure that capacity for the implementation of the program within CAR continued to grow, a few university graduates from Bangui were identified and invited to join the organization. Further, five training sites were established in various parts of the country to decentralize some of its activities. By 2011, the Foundation was working in 13 municipal areas with 33 schools that were providing education to nearly 2,800 children. At the same time, it was extending support to organizations in seven countries that were working with 95 schools offering education to over 5,000 students.
Notwithstanding the general state of civil unrest in the country since 2012, the organization’s activities continued to grow and develop. In addition, the quality of the education it offered had earned the appreciation of not only parents but also of education practitioners and government officials. In the words of one government official in relation to one of the first community schools that had been formed:
“I have been able to visit this school regularly since its establishment. In the beginning the school was informal and had inadequate infrastructure, but parents really saw the intellectual capacity of their children being developed. So I went to talk to the educational authorities to help the school become recognized. Other government officers visited as well and were really impressed by the will of the parents to keep the school going. Over the years I have really seen the capacity of the children grow, and one thing that differentiates them is their moral values. What I have seen is that without morality, there is no harmony. . . . There is a saying that goes, ‘Every time you open a school you have closed a prison.’”
As collaboration with officials and other actors became stronger, the Foundation began to consider how it could participate more systematically in conversations taking place at the national level about primary education. It saw a need for the creation of a forum in which key concepts pertaining to the improvement of primary education in the country could be discussed. In April 2012, the Foundation organized a seminar for representatives of government and nongovernmental agencies engaged in the education sector, during which ideas related to the purpose of education and the role of the teacher in society were explored. The following year, the Ministry of Education of CAR and the Ahdieh Foundation entered into an agreement that provided official recognition for all schools established with the support of the organization. In 2014, the University of Bangui accredited the Foundation as a teacher-training organization and offered its collaborators access to degree programs. The organization has continued to be drawn into discussions on matters related to educational practice and policy with various local, national, and international actors.
Emergence of Additional Lines of Action
As the Ahdieh Foundation gained experience with supporting communities to address the educational needs of their children, it also found itself drawn ever more deeply into understanding and addressing other concerns of the populations with which it was working. A common challenge many of the communities faced was related to nutrition and children’s health. The children attending the schools were often not adequately nourished and had difficulties concentrating during the school day. In 2010, the organization began assisting the teachers of certain community schools, along with members of the community, to study materials aimed at building capacity to engage in highly productive, environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. With the institution’s support, these communities then established and began tending to experimental agricultural plots. At a basic level, schools were then able to provide a hot meal to the students each day. Beyond this, a process was also set in motion to assist the community to generate, apply, and disseminate knowledge about how to effectively meet the nutritional needs of the population while also increasing the income of farming families. More recently, the Foundation began to give greater attention to the educational needs of youth in a handful of communities—particularly students graduating from the primary schools. By 2014, the Foundation had set about facilitating the study of a set of materials from a Bahá’í-inspired organization in Colombia to raise up promoters of community well-being by strengthening in young people mathematical, scientific, language, and service capabilities.
The evolution of the Foundation and all of its lines of action has been sustained by a steady rise in human resources. The largest reservoir of human resources for the Foundation has been the teachers themselves. As teachers have gained experience, they have begun to serve in other ways: training and supporting newer teachers and refining the content of the curriculum used in the classrooms, to give two examples. A number of teachers have also been assisted to enroll in formal university programs.