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Reflect Circles

VOICE operates 10 REFLECT circles in 10 separate village locations, all located in the Myemensingh area. REFLECT stands for REGENERATIVE FREIRIAN LITERACY through EMPOWERING COMMUNITY TECHNIQUES and is an innovative approach to adult learning and social change, which fuses the theories of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire with participatory methodologies. It was developed by ActionAid and partner organisations in the 1990s through pilot projects in Bangladesh, Uganda and El Salvador and is now used by over 500 organisations in over 70 countries worldwide.

Started in June 2007 as a means to empower and educate women, the circles have seen remarkable success within their communities. These women, a mix of young and old, with and without children, meet every day at a specified time and location to participate in literacy exercises and discuss community and family-related problems. Support from VOICE comes in the form of chalkboards, chalk, books, paper and pens, etc. but also in the selection of the group leader, usually a woman who has completed high school-equivalency and demonstrating leadership qualities, through a screening process. The group leader is also conferred a small honorarium. Once illiterate women are now able, in less than a year, to write and recognize the alphabet, numbers, basic words, and their names and addresses (important for voter registration, a task done with thumbprints before REFLECT). They are also encouraged to draw pictures as a positive form of creative expression. Each circle has an Action Plan based on the specific problems of the community, such as early marriage, the dowry system, domestic abuse, water supply etc. Some groups have successfully been able to challenge local government or solve domestic disputes.

VOICE sees the REFLECT circles not only as a means to empower women in their families and local communities, but as a tool to give all the villagers of Bangladesh a stronger voice. In fact, thanks to the information and knowledge acquired in the circles, some groups have successfully been able to solve domestic disputes but also to challenge the local government and claim their rights.

VOICE also uses the REFLECT circles as an analysis tool of the various lacks, problems and rights abuses in rural Bangladesh to get better knowledge and understanding of the situation. It will ultimately give VOICE a stronger stance in its demands to the government and other agencies. VOICE is in the process of visually documenting the REFLECT activities with the objective to produce a short documentary film able to spread the word about the efficiency of the circles, and thus maybe provide VOICE with the opportunity to expand the project to other villages and areas of Bangladesh.

What sets Reflect Circles apart from other rural education programs is the fact that no teaching is imposed from outside; the women use issues that are pertinent to their lives as a starting point for literacy. Also, there is much more emphasis on access to information as a sovereign right, for all women, and not just a privileged few. The learning and teaching process is organic, people-based, and suited to the needs of each village, and many circles had achieved self-sufficiency after program funding terminated earlier this year.


VOICE produced a 12-minute documentary on the subject of these Reflect Circles. More info can be found in our Audio/Video section.


You can also see our Reflect Circle Video on the Citizen Shift website (in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada)


See our Reflect Circle Image Gallery