by Sam McGill reporting from Venezuela.
"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world." - Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
Drawing on the theory and practice of Paulo Freire, ENFODEP (Ensayo de Formacion de Educadores Populares - test of formation of popular educators) has been developing the political reflection needed for sustained community action since 1991.
I was lucky enough to volunteer and live with two of its founding members in Vargas State for seven weeks and get an insight into its aims and achievements. Rafael and Ivonne Delgado began in the 1970’s and 1980’s as active members of ASOCITE (Associacion Civil de Terepaima- a community organisation and system of barrio committees founded in 1976) in La Vega, Caracas. Primarily the experience of Rafael and Ivonne began with applying Paulo Freire’s methods of teaching literacy to communities of La Vega. Active in a time of extreme poverty (70% poverty, 40% extreme poverty in 1998 before the Chavez government) and repression, the work of ASOCITE developed into a struggle for housing, education and social rights including hunger strikes, government office occupations, a newspaper and a radical radio show.
It has to be remembered that at this time, political action was criminalised and repressed. Rafael explained that meetings and production of material had to be done in secret and even possession of Marxist or revolutionary books or music was criminalised. This political oppression, coupled with soaring poverty and economic plunder through an IMF agreement under presidency of Carlos Andes Perez resulted in the Caracazo on 27-28 February 1989.
The Caracazo or popular uprising was met with the full force of the state, anywhere between 270 people-10,000 people were estimated to have been killed as army and police opened fire on people in residential areas, then detained thousands, many of who dissapeared. Rafael and Ivonne recounted that at this time there was an explosion of popular consciousness yet many of the left were busy with other things and the explosion needed a direction, a formation in order to develop from a spontaneous explosion to something more sustained and capable of challenging the state and transforming the future.
ASOCITE began to discuss and meet with other similar groups in Caracas with the aim of coordinated development and political formation. At this time Rafael graduated from CEPAP, a programme of investigation and a nucleus of the National Experimental University of Simon Rodriguez (UNESR). Within this context, in 1991, Rafael, Ivonne, ASOCITE, and other groups such as INVEDECOR and the National Association of Social Workers, founded ENFODEP with a view to political, critical socialist discussion of community struggles and the formation of popular educators, the process of transformation where people become protagonists of change.
Popular educators, in the view of ENFODEP are not simply community workers or youth workers, but any member of the community who takes on the role of raising consciousness and critical thought of their family, co-workers, and neighbourhood. This can only be achieved through self reflection, and action within a group. In this manner and with self financing from member and supporter donations, ENFODEP was created through the fusion of the ideas of ASOCITE, Paulo Freire and CEPAP.
In 1997, ENFODEP developed as a course recognised by UNESR. Although it differs from a university programme in that students, graduates, founding members and friends/supporters alike are all part of its development and thought; students of ENFODEP are supported to work within three projects for 4-6 years and then receive a qualification recognised by a university. Currently ENFODEP has 25 participants over 3 centres in Vargas, Caracas and Portuguesa. Over the last 13 years, 50 people have completed the course and gained the qualification. The most important aspect however is the self-development and group reflection of participants.
Currently ENFODEP in Vargas, where I was volunteering, meets every Saturday when students get together to share their experiences, critically and politically analyse their assignments, supported with reflections from Rafael and Ivonne. In March 2010, ENFODEP Vargas held the annual meeting to discuss and develop the curriculum. This was mainly focused on revising aspects of the course to include the changes and developments within the Bolivarian Revolution. It has to be remembered that ENFODEP was formed in the context of a repressive neo-liberal regime, shattered by the election of Chavez and the progress of the Bolivarian Revolution. Now the focus needs to be critiquing the revolutionary process, but with the aim to improve and develop it and the popular community power that it offers.
The aim for 2010-2011 is also to expand the network of ENFODEP, developing the project further in Portuguesa state and expanding into Lara, Cojedes and possibly Carabobo states. If they can secure advertisement funding for the Saltaire, a community newspaper based in Vargas state, then this will also financially support ENFODEP in this development.
Although ENFODEP is the main project in Vargas and Caracas for Rafael and Ivonne, they continue to practice their commitment and methodology through sustained work in their community, La Salina, a rural village on the coast in Vargas State.
They are part of the Paulo Freire cooperative that runs the Salvador Garmendia community library and cinema. The library is open every weekday for students to come and investigate coursework and seek advice with their studies. The cinema functions every Thursday for adults and Saturday when young people come to watch free films. They continue to publish Saltaire with input from the local population and have been key to bringing Mission Robinson, Mission Ribas and Mission Cultura to La Salina and neighbouring Puerto Carayaca. With over 30 years of community experience they are certainly significant protagonists in the continued development and process of the Revolution in Venezuela.
ENFODEP continues to facilitate community activists, popular educators and revolutionaries and demonstrates how a small organisation of politicised, conscious and committed participants can have a big impact, supporting the national transformation of the Venezuelan people into protagonists of change, determining their own future and sovereignty.