REFLECT Literacy and Livelihood Programme, Sudan

  • Date published:
    13 November 2015
Programme Title REFLECT Literacy and Livelihood Programme (RLLP)
Implementing Organization GOAL Ireland
Funding The British Government (Department for International Development – DFID) and the Irish Government.
Date of Inception 2005

Context and background

Sudan has endured decades of violent and destructive armed conflict. While relative peace has been restored to some parts of the country (e.g. Southern Sudan since 2005) conflict persists in other parts (e.g. Darfur). A particularly negative impact of these vicious cycles of armed conflict is that many women (and indeed men) have been deprived of their childhood educational opportunities. This, coupled with the effects of poverty and socio-cultural practices which tend to promote the education of the boy rather than the girl, has resulted in high illiteracy rates among women. Estimates suggest that literacy rates for male and females in North Sudan stand at about 71% and 52% respectively. The situation is particularly dire in Southern Sudan – the ‘former’ epicentre of the conflict where literacy rates stand at about 37% and 12% for males and females respectively. Recognising that the high rate of illiteracy among women undermined their families’ and communities’ living standards and development, GOAL Ireland started the REFLECT Literacy and Livelihood Programme (RLLP) in early 2005 in an effort to empower socially disadvantaged women. The RLLP builds on GOAL’s related REFLECT programme: Women’s Literacy Programme in Displaced Communities which, after operating for six years, won the 2005 UNESCO King Sejong International Literacy Prize.

The REFLECT Literacy and Livelihood Programme (RLLP)

The RLLP targets socially disadvantaged women such as those in internally displaced camps or communities. Currently, the programme serves over 2,000 female learners or beneficiaries annually in five locations across the country: Khartoum State, Kassala State, Upper Nile, Southern Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan. The main languages of instruction are Arabic, English and other local languages.

The RLLP has a broad-based curriculum which covers the following integrated themes:

  • basic and functional literacy
  • literacy for health (e.g. maternal health, family nutrition, preventative health, child care, sanitation and hygiene)
  • family literacy
  • livelihood skills training (e.g. training in income generation activities).

Aims and objectives

The programme aims to:

  • combat illiteracy among women
  • empower women to effectively nurture their children’s psychosocial development
  • empower women through literacy and livelihood skills training to combat poverty, enhance their livelihoods and income generation capacity, and promote community development
  • increase women’s knowledge and awareness of the prevention of endemic diseases and on key health issues such as family nutrition and child care
  • empower women to be active participants and decision-makers within the family and in the community.

In short, the overall main purpose of the RLLP is to empower women living in some of the poorest and marginalised communities of Sudan in order to improve their families’ living standards or welfare as well as to promote community recovery in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Programme implementation: Approaches and methodologies

Enrolment of learners

The programme is advertised in the communities with assistance from the local leaders and existing women’s groups. Thereafter, women are invited to register and attend introductory sessions. Because the study units are developed through participatory community assessments, for many participants, motivation to enroll into the programme comes from it covering issues that are highly prioritised by the women themselves, such as management of water resources, children’s health and women’s rights. Additionally, the strong desire to make up for lost educational opportunities motivates most women to participate in the programme since most of them were deprived of education as children due to, for example, the protracted conflict in Southern Sudan and the prevalence of prejudices against educating women.

Recruitment and training of facilitators

Committed programme facilitators are usually identified and recommended to GOAL by their community leaders. Others, however, are recruited directly by GOAL through public advertisements. Although female facilitators are mostly preferred, the programme has largely failed to engage women as facilitators due to the high rates of illiteracy among them.

Typically, facilitators are expected to have completed their secondary level education, but in some cases, programme implementers are forced to recruit people with primary education due to the shortage of highly qualified personnel. Once recruited, facilitators receive inductive training (which is followed by monthly training workshops) in adult education and REFLECT teaching methodologies. They also receive comprehensive teaching manuals that help them to implement the programme in the field.

All facilitators are engaged on a voluntary basis but are entitled to a monthly incentive or stipend of about $50 for each group that they teach. The average number of learners to facilitators is 20.

Teaching-learning approaches and methods

The programme employs the REFLECT teaching-learning methods. REFLECT is an innovative approach to adult learning and social change which was popularised by Paulo Freire. The REFLECT approach empowers groups of learners to develop their own learning materials (e.g. maps, calendars, diagrams) and activities (e.g. drama, story-telling and songs) which reflect their socioeconomic and political circumstances. As such, the development of literacy and other related skills is closely linked to people’s everyday lives. For example, numeracy skills are nurtured by teaching learners how to calculate the cost of healthcare or children’s school fees.

Hence, using the REFLECT approach, GOAL encourages women to form learning groups or ‘circles’. The ‘circles’, with assistance from a facilitator, meet almost on a daily basis and conduct their learning activities using a range of participatory methods such as drama, role play, songs, games, debates/discussions and competitions which enable groups of learners to develop skills and challenge themselves within a learning context. In addition, the programme also makes extensive use of visual learning aids such as maps, calendars, matrices and other diagrams.

The REFLECT method therefore allows the learners to assume a central role in the teaching-learning process which in turn gives them a strong sense of confidence, programme ownership and personal fulfillment. Furthermore, it also allows them to continue using the ‘circles’ as centres of learning with little external assistance.

Monitoring and evaluation

The participants’ learning progress is assessed through quarterly tests, which are administered by programme facilitators and marked collectively by a group of supervisors and facilitators.


At the end of year one, an internal evaluation showed the following results:

  • From a baseline of 100% illiteracy, 67% of beneficiaries could write a short paragraph, and 71% were able to do written calculations with two digit numbers.
    • 78% of beneficiaries have mobilised their community to take part in discussions or events on health and education.
    • 93% of beneficiaries have attended health and nutrition awareness training
    • 80% of beneficiaries are active in implementing savings or small projects within their group.
  • The programme has improved women’s knowledge of key health issues such as maternal health, prevention of disease, sanitation and hygiene, family nutrition, and HIV/AIDS. They are also able to read and understand basic medical instructions such as how to take or administer drugs to their children.
  • Many beneficiaries have formed and are running profitable income generation activities and because of this, their social status and families’ living standards have improved.
  • Furthermore, programme beneficiaries are now more aware of their rights and in particular how to handle challenges that arise from a lack of basic services. In one case, for example, after realising that the lack of adequate security services in their area was contributing to conflict and insecurity within their community, groups of programme beneficiaries wrote letters of complaint to the authorities requesting better security to reduce conflict. The services were duly provided.


Perhaps the greatest challenge that hinders the effective implementation of the programme in Sudan arises from women’s customary roles and family responsibilities which leave them with little time to participate in educational activities. As such, many women fail to participate in their ‘circles’ as regularly as they would want to.

In addition, in some remote areas, it is difficult to engage qualified facilitators as most people have been largely deprived of educational opportunities. Noteworthy, most facilitators are not very literate in the desired languages of instruction, Arabic and English, which have been used for the production of teaching manuals. In order to address this challenge, pilot circles working in tribal languages and English have been established, and teaching manuals have been adapted accordingly. A special unit to provide English to beneficiaries who have been learning in Arabic has also been developed.


Funding for three years has been granted by DFID and a further two years’ funding was granted in 2007.

Furthermore, the intensive two-year process of capacity building enables groups of women (learning circles) to continue implementing similar activities within their communities with little or no external assistance. To achieve this, GOAL Sudan has developed and produced its own REFLECT manuals in Arabic and English which are distributed to programme participants.

Lessons learned

  • The programme has to be adapted to and aligned with women’s everyday social activities. As such, the programme has to be flexible and should allow women to decide the time and place best suited for them,.
  • Language in Sudan is a highly politicised subject, and the choice of the language of instruction significantly influences the outcomes. As such, it is necessary, as much as possible, to prevent conflict of interest by using local languages. Conducting literacy lessons in a language which is not spoken by the beneficiaries is counterproductive as it affects their comprehension of issues.
  • REFLECT-based literacy programmes are cheap to run as very few commercially-produced material inputs are needed. Most importantly, the programmes empower learners to be active participants in their own and their communities’ development through active and contextually-based learning.



GOAL Sudan,
P0 Box 48 Khartoum, Sudan


C/O GOAL Ireland
P.O. Box 19
Dunlaoghaire, Co. Dublin, Ireland

Tel: 249 912 163 895

Last update: February 2012

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 25 July 2017. REFLECT Literacy and Livelihood Programme, Sudan. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 23 September 2021, 23:49 CEST)

PDF in Arabic

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