With the support of IFAD, over 3000 people living in rural Sierra Leone have been trained in the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) over the past five years. Fifty of them have become certified GALS facilitators, sharing the tool with their families and neighbours. IFAD decided to start documenting the highly successful spread of GALS in Sierra Leone, starting with these ‘champions’. And so, a documentation workshop was held in Kenema in November 2016. Using a pictorial approach, as is used in GALS, 22 of the champions learned how to organise and share their personal experiences.
The Gender Action Learning System was introduced in Sierra Leone in 2011. Its overwhelming success in changing the lives of women and men in rural areas has been recorded before, and granted the program an IFAD Gender Award in 2014. But we so rarely hear from these women and men themselves. As the GALS champions and their neighbors keep transforming their communities, their stories remain largely untold to a wider audience.
The IFAD-funded Rural Community-based Poverty Reduction Project (RCPRP) hosted a three-day documentation workshop for 22 of the champions. The workshop followed a step-by-step process that helped the champions organise their knowledge and personal experience, making it easier to build up a story and include the most valuable bits of this knowledge. Participants worked through the following steps:
- Selecting the exact experience they wanted to focus on, discussing this in groups;
- ‘Setting the stage’: defining the boundaries around the selected story and creating a starting point for the process;
- Describing: drawing the activities and outcomes of these activities in a ‘river’ that represented a timeline;
- Analysing using the image of a fish: deciding what constitutes success or failure (in the head of the fish) and identify what helped achieve this success (drawn along the bones of the fish);
- Drawing short conclusions with the main lessons.
At the end of the three days, all participants presented their personal journey: the challenges they faced, the successes they saw, the reasons they found for their accomplishments and failures, and the lessons they had learned along the way.
Because not all champions read and write with ease, the methodology was adapted to use drawings only. All explanations were done using drawings rather than text, and all exercises required the participants to record their thoughts in drawings. The champions work as GALS facilitators and already use drawings in their activities. Throughout the workshop they were working in their notebooks and on flipcharts, compiling and analysing their histories, together and on their own. The final presentations were recorded and transcribed, allowing for wider distribution.
Documentation using pictures has proven to be one way to allow people to reflect on and share their experiences, regardless of their level of formal education. The GALS champions did have experience with drawing and regularly work with analytical tools, which may have helped them to complete the workshop with such success.
Not only did the workshop provide the RCPRP with 22 success stories to share, it built the foundation for these 22 champions to reflect on and report on their lives in the future. Because the methodology goes beyond merely describing what happened and includes a reflection on why these events happen, it strengthens critical thinking skills in the process. Like Augustine Kabba, one of the champions explained, “the documentation tools help me understand why I did or did not succeed. It is about learning to evaluate why things happen, until you know where to take action. It is like a saying in Mende: ‘if you want to sleep, you have to sit first’.”