ActionAid started work in Balangir in 1997, providing emergency help in response to a drought. We then worked with the local communities to develop plans for long-term work, which were approved by the local community assembly as the official local development plans.
In many cases the poorest sections of each community had little voice in these initial plans. We therefore formed Reflect circles with the people who were identified as the poorest. These circles met twice a week, discussing in greater depth the issues identified in the plans, translating them into action, and improving or correcting the plans to reflect their own points of view. By being constantly reviewed and acted upon, the plans avoided the risk of becoming static documents. The local elite found it impossible to reject changes to the plans where the Reflect circles prepared their case well.
Although there is no explicit teaching of literacy in these Reflect circles, they are using literacy in the active pursuit of change. The effect has been to enable people to overcome their fear of and alienation from situations where literacy is involved.
On every issue the circle starts its analysis from the experience of participants themselves. The facilitator then introduces information which will help them to assert their rights or access their entitlements. Acting to assert these rights often involves using different communication skills (whether the spoken word, written word, numbers or images) and these skills are reinforced through that practical engagement and action.
"I used to be as reluctant as anyone to come out and talk to people, but as we started the dialogue and the actions and I went to these different government offices, my fear and shyness were removed and I started to raise my voice. Now we know we have rights and that government officials should be our servants. We have the information about who is supposed to do what, when and where and how." Jangyabata Suna, Bubel village
Some of the prominent outcomes in the villages of Bubel and Sunarijore included:
- mobilising to obtain government ration cards
- securing housing and legal land rights from the local land office
- campaigning against alcohol abuse and getting a local stall-holder licence revoked
- exposing corruption in the public distribution system
- securing access to drinking water and building proper drainage channels
- establishing a plantation for reforestation with help from government departments
- planning, designing and building a micro-irrigation system
- documenting crop and vegetable varieties
- mapping out and securing electrification of houses.