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Dorothy Tooman (2008)

Dorothy Tooman

Dorothy Tooman

Before my involvement with development education at national level in Liberia, my knowledge and skills were mainly in household management and office work – where I took instructions from my bosses with little or no opportunity for analysis, critical thinking and creativity. I now work with DEN-L (Development Education Network-Liberia) – a grassroots not-for-profit and Non-Governmental Organization in Liberia as Executive Director, and this is my reflection on how I made this learning journey.

My initial involvement at DEN-L was in helping grassroots women develop literacy skills. As we know, learning is better achieved through ‘doing’ and that was the exact situation I faced. I learned facilitation skills through the adult literacy sessions. As I gained experience of facilitation and animation, my confidence and skills in the area grew stronger. Over time, the scope of my work at DEN-L increased beyond working with illiterate women to training literate people from diverse social, economic and political backgrounds in the DELTA programme (Development Education and Leadership Training in Action) based on Paulo Freire’s critical awareness approach to development and education. This challenged my understanding of the socio-political and economic context at local and global level. I later had the opportunity to increase my knowledge and skills through courses at the Don Bosco Polytechnic College, now Stella Marie, in Liberia and the Training for Transformation programme at the Grail Centre, Cape Town, South Africa respectively.

Facing the reality is sometimes challenging but the experience of the reality could generate positive energy to inspire the future. I will never forget my experience in one of our training programs in 2005. I was one of two trainers with 33 persons – 29 men and six women. The participants had high level of academic and diverse cross cultural backgrounds, and some with long experience working at international level. At that early stage of the training, it was clear to me that connecting the ideas to make clear and grounded inputs in the training was challenging. I was the least qualified academically with my certificates and a diploma in transformative development.

However, my skills and knowledge in facilitation enabled me to support my colleague in providing guidance for the group as they shared, discussed, and analyzed issues relating to development education. I admired and appreciated the diverse contributions of the participants on each topic. The groups’ analyses were particularly interesting and full of learning for me but also helped me to realize my personal limitations in terms of relevant theories. It was clear to me that linking the puzzles of theories to the practice could better prepare me as a trainer but also face other tasks beyond that level with boldness.

So I decided to pursue further studies to deepen my knowledge and strengthen my skills in dealing with development education issues, firstly enrolling at Cuttington University in Liberia and later at Kimmage Development Studies Centre (KDSC) in Ireland (through the support of DEN-L and Trócaire). At KDSC, learning is participatory – the experiences and contributions of the students have high value in addition to academic study. With 22 persons from cross-cultural backgrounds most of whom were development practitioners, I had the space to research and learn. Sharing and Listening to the rich stories of my colleagues and lecturers about development education and practice was really interesting. I had the opportunity to research, discuss and study key development theories and critique them. Reading the views of critics broadened my understanding. Beyond that, I had the space to discuss and conduct comparative analysis of the roles of the multilateral financial institutions such as IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank, which are of course, so relevant to countries such as Liberia.

Connecting my experience of development education with my studies along with my personal reflections, widened and deepened my understanding of the local-global factors that influence development. My understanding about why sustainable development and peace has not been achieved at local and national levels for most southern counties and the impact of that at global level was also sharpened. I could better link the role of Structural Adjustment Policies to the Liberian civil crisis. I also understood the importance of the roles of individuals in changing their communities, as part of a global transformation.

Now, as a development activist and the head of DEN-L, I am more conscious, critical and objective about ensuring development education in practice to promote the well being of people and their communities whether in the training room, or on the table with funders. The message and insight I take with me is that a better community and world is possible, and each positive step in that direction is important.



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