Baha'i-inspired educational system for the poor of the world honored by the Club of Budapest

December 22, 2002

FRANKFURT, Germany — The Club of Budapest has honored FUNDAEC, a Baha'i-inspired development organization in Colombia, with a "Change the World -- Best Practice Award" for its achievements in providing high school education and training to more than 50,000 people living in rural areas in Latin America.

In his speech at the award ceremony, Peter Spiegel, the Secretary General of the Club of Budapest, characterized the project as "the most considerable revolution of education in the twentieth century."

"The genius of this new educational model," Mr. Spiegel explained, "lies in the fact that it teaches people living in Third World Countries to take charge of their own development processes and begin to interact as equals with the rest of the world."

Known as SAT (for "Sistema de Aprendizaje Tutorial, which means "System for Tutorial Learning" in Spanish), the tutorial learning program is built around a series of highly interactive workbooks, which enable specially trained tutors, who may themselves have little formal education, to offer a high quality secondary educational program in rural areas with minimal overhead cost.

The ceremony, held at the historic St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt on 6 October, was attended by honorary members of the Club of Budapest Sir Peter Ustinov and Paulo Coelho, who were granted the Club's Planetary Consciousness Award. Also at the event was Istvan Hiller, personal assistant to the Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, whose presence reinforced the support of the Hungarian government for the Club's efforts in promoting the emergence of planetary consciousness and supporting exemplary, like-minded projects. In all, some 1,000 people were present.

The Change the World -- Best Practice Award was given to four international educational projects that aim at empowering people through learning and enabling them to take full control of their economic development.

Other "Change the World" recipients this year were Aguida Zanol, representing Reciclar-Institut in Brazil, which seeks to connect art, ecology and social development; Nina Kostina of the Frank Foundation, which has sought to help orphans from former countries of the Soviet Union; and Marcia Odell, representing the Women's Empowerment Program in Nepal, which has developed an innovative approach to microfinance and the empowerment of women. The WEP program has reached more than 130,000 women in Nepal and has also received considerable support from the Baha'i community of Nepal.

Gustavo Correa, Director of FUNDAEC and one of the founders of the project, represented the Foundation at the ceremony. He said the award this was a big step in the recognition of the FUNDAEC program. "Although our initial efforts started out very small and humble, as time went by, more experience and confidence were gained and in 1980 SAT, the Tutorial Learning System, was born," Dr. Correa said. "While our first materials were developed and tested only in the North Cauca Region of Colombia, with the official recognition of the Ministry of Education in Colombia SAT has been implemented in other parts of South and Central America as well. At present the SAT program is used for secondary education in Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Colombia. At the same time the first phases of the implementation of the program have started in Zambia, too," said Dr. Correa.

FUNDAEC (Foundation for the Application and Teaching of the Sciences) was established in 1974 by a group of professors at the University of Valle in Colombia who were looking for new strategies to develop the capacities of people and to generate knowledge in isolated regions of the country.

The program is rooted in rural reality, based upon the needs of the local residents with the aim of strengthening local economies and communal identity. SAT offers students a high school education that not only provides them with theoretical knowledge, as most traditional educational practices do, but also allows them to become independent and to serve their own communities.

"When started this project, we were originally inspired by a quotation from Baha'u'llah, the prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith," said Dr. Correa. "Baha'u'llah talks about man as 'a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.' He says that 'education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom'. In FUNDAEC we firmly believe that there is significant hidden potential within every individual, a potential which, if nurtured, may foster the spirit of service and contribute to the well-being of the whole community."

SAT is open to, and in most countries free for, everyone. Students usually pay only for their textbooks. To date, the six-year study program has been completed by 50,000 students, and there are currently about 30,000 youth attending various levels of SAT courses. Participants are not only strengthening their own sense of identity and purpose but are also starting to realize the importance of the community and are gaining a sense of unity.

"The basic idea behind FUNDAEC is a sense of spiritual transformation," said Dr. Correa. "In the course of their studies the students discover the spirit of service and begin to consciously nurture their spiritual qualities. One of our students, for example, used to be a thief, and in the lapse of six months he became a useful member of his community, while one of the graduates was actually elected the mayor of his locality."

Each SAT course is facilitated by a tutor from the same locality as his or her students. Tutors are trained at the Center for Rural Education, the university founded by FUNDAEC in 1992. The five-year degree program offered there has also been officially approved by the government of Colombia and offers training in education.

Local SAT groups, guided by their tutor, apply the principles learned in the program, use their knowledge to become active in strengthening a sense of community identity where they live. Their activities demonstrate a wide range of diversity, from the implementation of sustainable productions systems to artistic and sporting events, and from educational activities for children to environmental projects.

Dietmar Schonherr, a well-known actor and the initiator of a development project in Nicaragua, presented the award to Dr. Correa. "FUNDAEC is based upon the need for a new concept of development aid," he said. "It is to be carried by the population itself, by its experiences of their daily reality."

Founded in 1993 by scientist and Club of Rome member Ervin Laszlo, the Club of Budapest was formed on the idea that the enormous challenges facing humanity today can only be dealt with through the widespread development of a cultural, cosmopolitan and global consciousness. The Club seeks to build bridges between cultures and generations through a variety of activities, including the recognition of significant accomplishments by individuals and organizations, such as through the "Change the World" award.

The Club of Budapest sees the Change the World -- Best Practice Award as the first step leading to long-term cooperation between the Club and FUNDAEC. "As a first step we are consulting with one of the German TV channels about the establishment of a new kind of talk show that would promote the mission of visionary projects such as FUNDAEC," explained Mr. Spiegel who has been observing the work of the Foundation for several years.