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Hope for the poor in the "Mad Country": the Rural University of Colombia, South America

Professor Manigeh Roosta
Universidad Tecnica Privada de Santa Cruz - UTEPSA (Private Technical University of Santa Cruz) , email:

Professor Lucy Forsyth Townsend
Department of Educational Psychology and Foundations, Northern Illinois University, email:

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Lisbon, 11-14 September 2002

Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not being able to go to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is not having a job, is fear for the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation and freedom.

--The World Bank Group, 2002


Nearly half the 2.8 billion people in the world were living on less than UK£1.2 (US$2) in 1998, according to the World Bank (WB) (2000). Poverty is decreasing somewhat in East Asia, the WB report stated, but it is gaining momentum in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, it is raging like a winter storm. The United Nations has urged the international community to develop policies and strategies to eradicate this age-old problem. The UK Government had taken leadership on this issue. In 1997, it published the White Paper on International Development expressing its commitment to cut in half the number of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015. The UK Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) established a policy to provide insurance support for projects designed to improve the social and economic conditions of the poorest 41 nations. Thereafter, the ECGD persuaded 25 other export credit agencies in the leading trading nations to establish similar policies. The ECGD also wrote off a huge debt run up by two of the poorest nations, Bolivia and Uganda, and promised to relieve the debts of many other poor nations as well (UK Government, 2001). Clare Short, The UK Secretary of State for International Development, reported that during 2002-2003, the department would, among other initiatives, donate UK£300 million to three of the world's most deeply impoverished nations: Bolivia, India, and Pakistan (The United Kingdom Parliament, 2002).

The UK's largesse is impressive, but it may have a negligible impact on worldwide poverty. In September 2000, the WB issued the results of the most in-depth study of global poverty it had ever conducted. A team of investigators worked for more than two years exploring the efforts of a host of entities, including national governments, non-governmental organizations (NGO's), universities, and private businesses, and interviewing 60,000 impoverished people in 60 countries. Based on the results, the team reported that economic growth is important but insufficient for eradicating poverty. The WB investigators stressed the need to set three priorities for the impoverished: opportunity, empowerment, and security . The WB team defined opportunity as the inclusion of poor people in the global economy by increasing their assets, such as education and land, and improving markets for their products by stimulating economic growth. The team defined empowerment as enhancing poor people's ability to make decisions about their lives and combating discrimination in its many forms. The team defined security as strengthening poor people's resilience in the face of illness, fluctuations in the market, crop failure, unemployment, natural disasters, and violence (New World Bank Report...., 2000). If we accept these priorities as essential for effective poverty-reduction programs, what, if any, agencies are including them in their plans and implementation?

The UK Department for International Development recently donated UK£290,000 to support the establishment of one such program in a remote region of Honduras (Richards, 1999). The Honduras program is the offshoot of a Colombian non-governmental organization (NGO) informally called "the rural university." Established more than 25 years ago in an impoverished rural region near Cali, the rural university has evolved into an educational movement serving nearly 50,000 rural students in 17 of the 32 Colombian departments (similar to Canadian provinces). In recent years, it has also spread to Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Zambia (Baha'í inspired. . . . , 2002). No institution, however brilliantly conceived, can single-handedly eradicate worldwide poverty; yet this collaborative rural network has promising possibilities.

The rural university did not take root in a peaceful, pastoral landscape but in a nation many journalists call the "mad country." Colombia, a landmass of around 440,000 miles with some 40 million inhabitants, is about the size of Central Europe. Located in the northwest section of South America, it has extensive coastlines on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean; three rugged Andean Mountain chains running from north to south; fertile central highlands; eastern grassy lowlands, llanos; and southern rain forests, a lush region that drains into the Amazon River. Few roads cross the llanos and the rain forest, an area that accounts for almost half the nation, and large portions of the maps issued by the National Geographic Institute are still inscribed with the words "insufficient relief data" ( Guillermoprieto, 2001, p. 20). Civil conflict, la violencia, plagues Colombian life. In the 1950s and 1960s, extreme factions in the two major political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, waged bloody internecine warfare that killed many thousands and displaced whole villages. Criminals took advantage of the instability to prey on the citizenry, particularly rural peasants in remote areas. Today the old ideological conflicts have evolved into a more complex struggle engaging what is estimated to be 30,000 members of guerilla organizations, illegal self-defense groups, narco-traffickers, and government forces (Understanding Colombia, 2002). Ingrid Betancourt (2002), former senator and unsuccessful presidential candidate in the 2002 national elections and now a kidnap victim, recently called the national legislature a den of thieves where criminals regularly buy control of policy and hire assassins to eliminate their political foes.

Colombia's rural areas are particularly unstable, for it is here that thousands of farmers raise contraband coca and poppies. Later, these crops are harvested and refined, then transported and sold illegally in Europe and the U.S. Cocaine and heroine annually net Colombian drug traffickers hundreds of millions of dollars, a hefty portion of which is paid to politicians and armed enforcers. Guerillas routinely attack bridges, roads, oil pipelines, power stations, and other features of the economic infrastructure. Not all guerilla forces are associated with the drug trade, but all contribute to a culture of violence, bombing and kidnapping for ransom (Understanding Colombia, 2002). Lonely Planet World Guide (n.d.) cautions travelers that if they must go to Colombia, they should not carry expensive cameras and equipment, avoid crowds because of the threat of guerilla bombings, stay clear of the police, and refrain from exploring rural areas. On September 30, 2001, Andres Pastrana, past President of Colombia, spoke for perhaps most of Colombia's 40 million people when he said: "The Nation is tired of kidnappings, of the systematic attacks on the civilian population, and of the continuous violation of international humanitarian law" (Excerpts: Quebec summit remarks by Fox, Pastrana, Cardoso, Arthur, 2001).

Despite civil unrest, a group of Colombian educators have quietly carried on an educational experiment among impoverished rural farmers since 1974. Their non-profit NGO, Foundation for Application and Teaching of Sciences (Fundación para la Aplicación y la Ensenanza de las Ciencias, FUNDAEC), is the mother institution of the rural university. FUNDAEC was conceived by a group of physics professors (Universidad del Valle) in Cali, the nation's third largest city and center of the cattle industry, sugar production, and illegal drug trafficking. This city of over one million people was built beside a rushing river in the southwest center of one of the most important agricultural areas of the nation, the Cauca Valley. Cali is the site of several universities, including the University of Valle established by the department in 1945 and housing one of the finest medical schools in Latin America (Sumwalt, 1970). FUNDAEC's rural university is not formally associated with the University of Valle, yet it is an offspring of that institution.

What, then, is Colombia's rural university? How did it come into being, what is its belief system, what methods does it use to alleviate poverty, and why has it become a rapidly expanding educational movement? This study addresses these questions. It is the historical and philosophical component of a larger study on the rural university movement. It describes the founders' search for ways to empower rural peasants through a new people-centered conceptual framework for rural development. It examines their efforts to foster the establishment of appropriate structures to facilitate the genuine participation of communities in the process of generating and applying knowledge. It explores their commitment to a meaningful social purpose that permeates a curriculum designed to foster students' social vision and provide them with useful skills for effective work and community service. It reveals their commitment to racial, gender, and social class equalitarianism as expressed in educational programs and hiring practices. This paper argues that the rural university has set all three of the priorities the WB researchers identified as crucial in combating poverty: opportunity, empowerment, and security.

There are many ways a study like this could be conducted. We have chosen to place FUNDAEC in the context of the history of Latin American education, community development, and the economy of the Cauca Valley, where FUNDAEC began its work. Such a study is useful to those interested in meaningful ways a university can become involved in equalitarian community development, especially in impoverished rural areas. It is of particular relevance to UK educators whose tax dollars were used to underwrite some of the costs of expanding the rural university to other nations.

From Group Discussion to Institution Building

In 1971, the University of Valle received several large grants from the Rockefeller Foundation (USA) to strengthen its leadership in Colombian development. As a result, the university sent many of its faculty abroad for advanced degrees and reorganized the institution so that professors had more opportunity for producing and disseminating knowledge. Professors also formed interdisciplinary groups to plan ways to use their collective knowledge of education, science and technology in development projects (Arbab, 1984). Farzam Arbab was teaching physics at this time. Years later, he recalled that he and his colleagues worked to transform their department into a "center of excellence" (p. 37) along the lines of the North American universities. While he viewed these efforts as "an exceptional success" (p. 40), he was uneasy about what was occurring in the interdisciplinary development group he had recently joined (hereafter Group 1). Arbab began to attend Group 1 meetings after the members had made significant progress on their plans. Later, he recalled that the group had agreed on the definitions of a number of key concepts and were beginning to design a model of development. He participated enthusiastically, believing that the search for ways to apply science in a larger context was a logical step forward.

Another physics professor, Edmundo Gutiérrez, stated (interview, 1997) that these meetings occurred in revolutionary era of 1969-1971, when student activists "interrupted" what appeared to be successful attempts at institution building to accuse the faculty of failing to meet the needs of the masses (Arbab, 1984). Such a complaint was not new. When the 31 colonial Spanish American universities were first established, all followed the Spanish custom of serving only the Roman Catholic Church and the aristocracy. After Colombia declared its independence in the early 19th century, Church influence declined somewhat. Yet university faculties of theology, law and medicine continued to wield more power and prestige than other schools established later: philosophy and letters, to educate high school teachers; and later still, engineering, business, economics and sociology (Harding, 1968). University officials believed the professional training of an elite group of male leaders, signified by the title "doctor," would lead inevitably to the nation's social and economic progress. However, many university students, especially those belonging to wealthy Colombian families, had no intention of pursing degrees to qualify for the professions. Their goal was to earn a title as a badge of culture. For these students, the university was primarily a finishing school (Bakke & Bakke, 1971).

A groundbreaking critique, articulated during World War I at the University of Córdoba in Argentina, contains many of the same concerns expressed by the student activists of the 1960s and 1970s. The earlier movement, called Córdoba Reforms, urged university officials to make many changes, including the development of a curriculum designed to meet the current needs of society and to extend university services to the larger society. The Córdoba Reforms became a guiding vision for many Latin American universities, broadening their mission to include using their resources to foster a more just and humane society. Yet there were many obstacles to realizing that vision, and by the late 1960s, student activists were again demanding that Latin American universities commit themselves to a social mission (Super, 1996). By this time, Colombian universities were educating less than 4% of the population.

Student activism fostered a greater awareness among the members of Group 1 at the University of Valle that development, defined mostly in terms of industrialization, was failing to improve the living conditions of the vast majority of people in the developing countries (Wilkie, et al., 2001). Macroeconomic indicators, such as Gross National Product, measured economic growth but revealed little about the well-being of the majority. The group defined "well-being" as the sum of a number of factors such as education, health, housing, and employment. Some Group 1 members argued that their rural development project should go beyond traditional interventions in technical assistance, credit, and marketing and should also seek solutions to the problems of health, shelter, education, and community organization. Others asserted that their experiences in the field of rural development revealed the need for integrated action. The group defined "integral development" as the integrated, simultaneous actions of a number of government organizations. The group decided that its role was to coordinate and integrate all group-sponsored actions for development. The group discussed other problems as well. Many groups formed in the past had agreed initially on cooperative action but later had difficulties due to a lack of understanding among disciplines and institutions. Nor was it easy to come to agreement on a common philosophy. Even after reaching some level of agreement, project leaders often faced serious difficulties in implementing their plans because one or more sectors absorbed more than their share of available resources (Arbab, 1984).

Later, Professor Arbab (1991) recalled,

We would fill large sheets of paper with diagrams and summaries of propositions, which we would share with international experts who used to visit the university.... Every day our model was becoming more sophisticated, considering the effect of one area's actions upon another, or adding new factors and refining the definitions over and over (p. 43).

During these deliberations, one of the participants raised a question about the role of the rural people in the groups' interdisciplinary, multi-institutional plans. There was plenty of evidence in the literature to indicate that development should be participatory; that is, rural inhabitants should play a role in improving their communities. Hence, Group 1 decided to incorporate community participation in the development model. It as at this point that Professors Arbab, Gutiérrez, and a few others began to feel disappointed. Arbab (1991) explained: "When everything was said and done, participation meant to gather people to collaborate in plans and schemes already designed by the interdisciplinary group, whose knowledge of the poor was based on studies that, in my judgment, had a very superficial contact with the reality" (p. 44).

One reason Arbab (1991) questioned the efficacy of Group 1's efforts was his recent acquaintance with the very people for whom the plans were being designed. Arbab was a member of the Bahá'í religious community, a group that comprised some 3 percent of the Colombian population. A Bahá'í family had asked Arbab to hold meetings in their home to teach their own and their neighbors' children. Arbab had agreed, so he and his family moved temporarily to live in a rural village near Cali. Years later he recalled this as his first intimate acquaintance with Colombians living in devastating poverty. Two aspects of the experience had a profound impact on his thinking. His most important discovery was not the families' living conditions but the rich range of capabilities he recognized in the village youth. He was moved when he heard about their aspirations. He had a good understanding of the larger structures in Colombian society that fostered social injustices, so he was well aware that these youth had very small hope of ever realizing their dreams. He asked himself how the elite group of university students he customarily taught could possibly provide these rural youth with hope for better lives? This question ultimately led him to change his conception of university science students to a much larger and less prosperous but no less gifted group. Perhaps, he reasoned, he and his colleagues needed to speculate further about how to find a direct use of science in the lives of rural Colombians. He also realized that in his role as village teacher, he had viewed himself neither as an agent of development nor as a dispenser of charity; rather, he was a friend who had enjoyed working with the villagers for a shared purpose.

Arbab began to visit other Bahá'í communities in Norte del Cauca, an extraordinarily beautiful region at the southern end of the Cauca Valley (Arbab, 1984). About an hour south of Cali, the Norte del Cauca has highly acidic soil in contrast to the fertile soils of the sugar plantations in the Cauca Valley on the north and the green foothills of the haciendas to the south. Once small farmers prospered here, growing enough coffee, cocoa, and plantain to feed their children and maintain their rural traditions. Many were the descendants of black slaves who had worked in the large haciendas. In the mid-20th century, the wealthy landowners began to buy up the land for the sugar industry. Farm after farm fell, and by the early 1970s a large number of the region's 40,000 small farmers had no land at all. Many families now struggled to eke out a living as tenants while others migrated to the cities (Arbab and Stifel, 1983). Arbab, who listened to the peasants talk about these staggering changes, felt uneasy about the gap that separated the life of the peasants from the increasingly sophisticated model of development being mapped out at the university. He valued his colleagues' desire to release the university from its traditional isolation, yet he decided to leave Group 1 for another group that would probe more basic philosophical questions before making any development plans. The second group (hereafter Group 2) was led by Professor Arbab and three other professors. It grew to include some physics students, a biologist, a sanitation engineer, a chemist, a mathematician, and an agronomist (Arbab, 1984; Arbab and Stifel, 1983).

Group 2 spent much time engaged in a process of critical reflection similar to that used by two much-discussed Roman Catholic iconoclasts, Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich. In writings published around this time, Freire and Illich raised searing questions about the traditional educational practices of the continent, particularly as delivered to the poor. Freire was an activist Brazilian educator devoted to eliminating hunger, poverty, and other forms of oppression. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book that sparked both angry denunciations and careful soul-searching, Freire called the teaching-learning process as conceived by most educators a "banking" exchange that perpetuated social inequalities. When illiterate peasants entered a literacy program, he charged, they typically had a teacher who viewed himself as knowledge-rich and themselves a knowledge-poor. The authoritarian classroom was one in which the teacher's voice droned on and on, filling all available space. What illiterate peasants needed, he stated, was an equalitarian relationship with the teacher in a learning environment he called a "circle of culture"; that is, one that fostered the free exchange of ideas and a critical examination of the peasant's everyday lives. Such an educational experience would cultivate conscientizacao, that is, critical consciousness of the unjust power relations in the peasant's world. Yet the peasants' awareness was not enough; action against oppression was the next logical step. Once these peasants had emerged from a "culture of silence," they should claim not only the right to speak of their lives but also to act in their own behalf (Freire, 1970, 1994).

Another spokesman for the oppressed was Ivan Illich, a priest originally from Vienna who learned Spanish in the Caribbean Islands. While Illich was serving as a parish priest in Puerto Rico, the bishop told his parishioners not to vote for a candidate because the man advocated the use of birth control. Illich argued publicly that this was an abuse of clerical power, a statement that raised the ire of his superior. After being forced from his parish, Illich hitchhiked and walked some 3,000 miles-from Santiago, Chile to Caracas, Venezuela. He eventually settled in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he established Centro Intercultural de Documentación, which he described as a space where visitors could be helped to redefine their questions "rather than completing the answers they have gotten" (Illich quoted in Smith & Smith, 1994, p. 435).

At the time, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was establishing the Peace Corps, and the Vatican was urging 10 percent of North American Catholic leaders to form the Papal Volunteers for Latin America. Illich questioned the benefits of such efforts. He advised hundreds of volunteer missionaries who stayed in his sparsely furnished villa to refrain from assuming North American cultural superiority and imposing it on the South. Instead, Illich advised, missionaries should learn the language of the people they hoped to serve, live in the culture they hoped to transform, confront their own cultural limitations, and approach their roles as educators with humility (Smith & Smith, 1994).

The members of Group 2 at the University of Valle had read neither Freire nor Illich, but they, like these two influential iconoclasts, were questioning many taken-for-granted assumptions of modern schooling. Professor Gutiérrez (interview, 1997) recalled, "I remember very vividly my major question: Who in society would notice if we shut down the Physics Department?" Who indeed? By 1964, Colombia had 43 universities to serve a population of almost eighteen million people, but one of the lowest ratios of university graduates in Latin America, 20 for every 10,000 citizens. Nine years later, the population was close to 23 million and the number of universities had risen to 59, but nearly 34.7 percent of the population was still illiterate and 96.7 had no post-secondary education. Colombians living in rural areas were the least likely to be educated and prosperous. In 1973, 34.7 percent were illiterate and only .2 percent had more than high school educations (Wilkie et al., 2001). In light of such glaring educational inequalities, Group 2 pondered what action they might take for the rural peasants. "We had to do something," Gutiérrez (interview, 1997) recalled, " leave this [ivory] tower and go out to look for people. . . . Farzam [Arbab] with his ideas motivated a lot of discussions about seeking new directions."

The members of Group 2 were well aware that many past efforts designed to take the university to the masses had failed. "Then we started to ask the question of what it really means to take development to the people," Gutiérrez (interview, 1997) recalled, "Or what it really means to take development to rural communities." The majority of the projects known to the group treated development as a package to be delivered to the "underdeveloped" by "developed" countries. Various forms of this approach had extended from the Western European conquest to the present. The Roman Catholic Spaniards, upon arriving in the New World, quickly founded universities, including one in Bogota in 1580, to transport Spanish learning and customs to the colonial populations. These founders copied the charter and statutes of the University of Salamanca and imported its professors and administrators to run their institutions. Like institution builders in South America, the English colonists in the North also sought to "civilize" the Americans along European lines. For example, community leaders in the 13 English colonies established nine colleges, all of which were copies of Oxford, Cambridge and the Scottish universities. Like their southern neighbors, they also tried to persuade learned Europeans to administer and teach in these schools. As their descendants moved into the western frontier, they established a host of colleges and women's schools that were copies of northeastern models.

The transfer model of university building moved from North to South America during the post World War II era, when the U.S. vied with the U.S.S.R. for world leadership. Fearing the spread of Communism, U.S. officials believed their best strategy was to strengthen "undeveloped" nations so that they would be impervious to Communist propaganda. Societal strength would be ensured, they believed, through the establishment of institutions like the large, highly successful U.S. land grant universities. They had faith that they could successfully establish similar institutions in the South if they had sufficient U.S. funding and technical expertise from the U.S. land grant universities. After planting the universities and providing Latin American professors with sufficient technical training, they planned to hand over the institutions to the nationals. Such a transfer was assured, they reasoned, provided the Latin American professors followed the blueprints of the land grant model imported from the North. This transfer model rested on the assumption that government agencies and university personnel could work cooperatively to reach a common goal despite differences in language, political ideology, cultural values, and technical knowledge. This model was widely practiced not only in Latin America but also in many other regions of the world. Propp found that between 1951 and 1966, the Agency for International Development (USAID) funded 69 rural development contracts in 38 countries using the technical assistance of professors in 35 U.S. land grant universities (Mattocks, 1990).

By the late 1960s, the weaknesses of the latest effort to transplant one kind of institution in another cultural soil were becoming all too apparent. Baldwin characterized the working relationships between universities and government agencies as chaotic and unorganized (Baldwin as discussed in Mattocks, 1990). Institution builders were struggling with a host of frustrations, including changes in agency policies, decreases in the role of technical assistance from land grant universities, and friction between USAID and the land grant universities. Perhaps they needed a systematic study of developmental projects, they reasoned. Hence, they investigated discrete institutions, developed theoretical models, published a number of papers, and held conferences to present and discuss their findings. They eventually rejected the notion of institutional development as a simple transferal of models, viewing it instead as a long-term, incremental "process" (Mattocks, 1990, p. 62) emerging in systems already in place. This approach, eventually called the "Integrated-Development School," viewed an institution as one element in a larger "suprasystem." David C. Korten, a spokesman for the approach, stated that the most successful development projects were those that engaged rural villagers, local leaders, and program personnel in a "learning process" to establish an institution, an organization, or a project (Korten quoted in Mattocks, 1990, p. 64).

Group 2 at the University of Valle studied the available development literature, but they were unacquainted with the writings of the Integrated-Development School. Still, their thinking was quite similar. They knew that top-down actions provided only partial solutions to the problems of development, even when development teams were successful in bringing together diverse disciplines. They believed the prevalent discourse on coordinated integration of rural development efforts was a step forward, but it could also be interpreted as an effort to make the packages more complete. On the other hand, the arguments against the principal currents of development were limited to highly theoretical political statements that offered little to social actors in the villages who were trying to forge jointly with rural people new paths of more equitable social and economic development (Arbab, Correa, & Valcárcel, 1990).

Eventually Group 2 moved to the central question of how inhabitants of rural areas could take charge of the process of their own development (Arbab, 1991), and this questioning process led them to consider some sort of organizational arrangement. Since the structure of the University of Valle discouraged action research projects in rural development, the group decided to establish a completely new (Arbab & Stifel, 1983), non-profit foundation, FUNDAEC, that would sponsor a rural university. This university would go to the villages to learn about the processes that already existed there, and then determine how to integrate the processes for the development of the community. Yet they would not take development to the villages; the villagers themselves would do it. The contribution of the rural university would be to offer an educational process to the villagers. Professor Gutiérrez (interview, 1997) explained: "It was not education for the sake of education, but education for the sake of development. This concept was the axis and the guiding line of the curriculum: education for development." Gradually the group began to view learning, which they believed to constitute the core of development, as their sole concern. They called the "space" where that learning was to occur the rural university. Given the absence of the government intervention at the village level, this non-formal university would seek to fill the existing gap in research and action in rural Colombia (Arbab, 1982) and be a catalyst of development (Arbab, Correa, & Valcárcel, 1990).

A Shared Philosophy of Development

Once the group had determined a central purpose for the project, they began fleshing out a set of deeply rooted principles, ideas, and convictions. They were aware of the confusion that resulted when interdisciplinary teams with conflicting philosophical beliefs tried to collaborate. Hence, they met weekly to raise and discuss fundamental questions. For example, what did they mean when they spoke of the well-being of the rural poor? And what sorts of rural persons would they recruit for their rural university? These and other questions led to a more in-depth study of current development models. At the same time, the group made visits, held dialogues, and continued to share life experiences with the people in remote rural areas of Norte del Cauca-all contributing to a philosophy of development they would continue to refine over the next several years.

What was the vision of the ideal rural community?

Group members recognized that they needed to reach consensus on the kind of rural community they hoped would result from their development efforts. They decided that it would be a place in process, where material conditions-health, nutrition, housing and real income-were improving for the majority. Yet at the same time, it would also be a place where people's spirituality was nurtured. Spirituality was a concept the group defined as the human impulse to care for others' well-being, i.e., to serve others. Given the opportunities for spiritual enrichment, the people would serve not only themselves but also society as a whole. Traditional rural values-faith, hope, kindness, and courtesy-would thrive in such a setting (Valance & Arab, 1997). Ideally, this ideal place would be part of a larger society that was willing to create the necessary conditions so that the rural populations could embark on an autonomous process of development. In speaking of autonomy, the group did not mean the villagers would be totally independent of or isolated from other segments of society. Rather, they would be engaged in frequent exchanges of knowledge, services, and products. The process of development with which the people were engaged would necessitate the study of the community's history and current activities to develop an awareness of cultural strengths and weaknesses, and to "search for and walk a viable path of organic change" (Arbab, Correa, & Valcarcel, 1990, p. 25). This search for knowledge would not be limited to the culture of the village and region, but would extend to the knowledge and experiences of other people and groups in the world who were facing similar challenges. From such sources, community members would select appropriate elements and apply them for further study and evaluation. The participants would also be engaged in creating appropriate structures to foster the exchange of knowledge, resources, and services with other segments of society.

What sorts of persons were needed to actualize rural well-being?

An overwhelming majority of Colombians practice Roman Catholicism (Countries of the World and Their Leaders, 2001), a belief system that views human beings as fundamentally sinful and in need of God's forgiveness. A smaller but highly articulate group consists of Marxist atheists who have argued that human beings are products of material evolution, their most basic drive being survival. Group 2 expressed a view that skirted the particularities of either group. While they accepted the Marxist view of human beings as products of material evolution, they argued that the survival instinct is useful, even necessary. Yet unless it is controlled, this instinct leads to a domination of humanity's baser characteristics, such a selfishness and violence (Roosta, 1997). Traditional Roman Catholics would call human cruelty and violence evidence of humanity's evil tendencies. The FUNDAEC group argued instead that one would not call these qualities evil or good in animals, implying that one should not do so when speaking of human beings. Yet unlike the animals, human beings have what the group called a spiritual core expressed in love, justice and mercy. These noble qualities result when the human being's spiritual nature is nurtured and when it controls the lower nature. The group acknowledged a great amount of cruelty and injustice in the world, but they reasoned that if people were properly educated, their spirituality would flourish, leading to greater prosperity and advancements in civilization. They did not deny the need for material prosperity; nor did they, like traditional Roman Catholics, relegate prosperity to Heaven. Rather, spirituality, as they defined it, elevated ordinary activities that were done with the view of serving others "to a more sublime station" (Arbab, Correa, & Valcárcel, 1990, p. 39). Given such beliefs, the group decided they would not develop specific courses in religious dogma or its humanistic counterparts, ethics or social behavior. Instead, they would treat spirituality as an attitude that would exhibit itself in diurnal choices made on the basis of a "profound understanding of human nature, and in meaningful contributions to community life and to society" (p. 38). In keeping with their belief in the central importance of human spirituality, service to humanity would be a dominant theme in all their efforts.

What sort human being is the rural peasant?

The group observed that in their contacts with development groups, they consistently perceived an air of doubt about the intelligence and worth of the poor, especially people living in rural areas. They noticed that in subtle ways, developers implied that poverty was more than the lack of material means. Development literature and projects of social action characterized the rural poor as hungry, needy people incapable of solving their own problems (Arbab, 1984). The literature also characterized the poor as hindrances to the development process or sub-humans in need of political and social control.

The group rejected this characterization as well as notion that men are superior to women. Instead, they asserted the conviction that every rural person, whether man or woman, possesses the potential to contribute significantly to the community and the larger society, and all should have equality of opportunity (Institutional Assessment, 2001). For them, the students in their programs might lack a balanced diet as recommended by nutritionists or the intellectual stimulus provided by educational technologies, yet these youth were still full of promise. Hence, a major goal of the group was to dispel the image of the poor farmer whose life had to be planned and managed by the more privileged members of society (Arbab, 1984). Instead, the group characterized the rural participants as essential to the success of their efforts. The challenge was to collaborate with the villagers to discover ways to realize their potential. As the group saw it, they had to reach beyond reforms or promotion of violence in the name of justice. Rather, they had to seek new ways to function that would "render rural life meaningful in the context of a global human society, a society that would be radically different from what has taken shape during the past decades of material progress and spiritual bankruptcy" (Arbab, Correa, & Valcárcel, 1990, p. 25). The village people, then, were viewed as the primary resource for social change. It was this conviction that led the group to begin its projects with the design of an educational program for the integral intellectual, spiritual, and social development of rural youth, who in turn would constitute resources for the subsequent programs of research and action. These youth would include women along with men.

What relationship should FUNDAEC establish with the rural farmers?

The prevalent development literature suggested that teams begin with blueprints containing predetermined goals and objectives. The role of the participants was to assist the developers, for example, in detecting needs and formulating plans, giving feedback and contributing labor (Arbab, Correa, & Valcárcel, 1990). Yet after many of these successful participatory projects had ended, the communities continued to deteriorate due to the lack of appropriate institutions in the rural regions. Hence, the founders realized that they had to develop ways to provide for continuity and permanence. That is, they would need to put a heavy investment in teaching the people to manage their development activities (Arbab, 1984).

The FUNDAEC group also realized that they had to provide the rural farmers with many taken-for-granted structures of modern society. Rural farmers usually owned one or more small plots of land, which were their only sources of capital. If they wanted credit, their opportunities were limited to an appeal to an official agent, who might or might not grant their requests. These farmers knew nothing about advances in technology and their farms had inadequate infrastructures. All these shortages forced them to sell and buy at prices beyond their control. What the villagers needed was to gain access to technological knowledge, to have assistance with credit, and to develop farm and village infrastructures (Arbab, 1984). Given such conditions, those who managed successful development projects turned to modern institutions, such as banks and government agencies, to manage their resources. The problem was that these modern institutions worked primarily with the large, successful landowners, and they knew little about the needs and constrains of the small farmers.

Given such conditions, the rural people were vulnerable to the privileged, who could easily further their own interests and foster dominant social ideologies to the neglect of the villagers. The group decried the pervasive practice of promoting technologies in rural villages that were designed for large farms. As the peasants were quick to recognize, these technologies were simply not appropriate for small farms. Hence, the group planned to develop structures that would allow rural people to be full partners in generating and applying knowledge. They believed that any socio-economic development should put into action the right of everyone to have access to information and to participate completely in knowledge generation and application. They predicted that this interaction would lead to processes of development originating in the rural people themselves. Two key activities of their rural university would be research and education conducted in the space between the knowledge systems of the small farmers and the modern sector.

The group acknowledged that they had to distribute responsibility carefully. They would try to avoid the danger of assuming that the farmers could bring about change by themselves or that the farmers could carry most of the weight of development. They estimated that for many decades after they had initiated development activities, they would need to continue searching for the necessary resources from outside rural areas (Arbab, 1984). This meant the professors and the graduates of the rural university would take it upon themselves to act as brokers and to try to channel the resources of the modern sector to the farming communities. They realized that unless they took on this responsibility, their graduates might have difficulty finding employment. If the young people in their programs remained unemployed, a pattern that was common in development projects around the world, their initiatives would lead inevitably to frustration and accelerated migration to the cities (Arbab, 1984).

What peasant knowledge should be preserved?

The FUNDAE group rejected the notion that the villagers had no knowledge worth preserving or using. As they saw it, the peasant economies of the past had had their own rationale for managing resources, logic of production, concept of work, communal solidarity, market rules, tendency toward diversity in production and animal husbandry, and their own accumulation and redistribution schemes. The group did not glorify these peasant economies. Rather, they recognized that almost all the peasant systems were now disintegrating so that there was no peasant economy in the traditional sense but rather a heterogeneous population of small-scale farmers, agricultural workers, small businessmen, and small entrepreneurs. The point was that villages were not in a vacuum where economy and modern technology could be simply transferred. Thus, in the conditions of each community, the group needed to seek an appropriate economy, a technology, and a social organization that could be modern but at the same time maintain continuity between the communities' past and present (Arbab, 1987, cited in Valcárcel, Correa, & Gamboa, 1998).

The keynote speech of Professor Arbab at the graduation ceremony of the first cohort of rural university students exemplifies the FUNDAEC group's fundamental conviction that they should seek to preserve valuable village knowledge while seeking advanced technological knowledge to protect the villages from disintegration. Arbab recalled the frequent visits he had made to the home of an elderly villager, Doña Julia Vásquez, who was seated in her yard tending her great-grandchildren and looking out over her farm. "Now I understand that on those occasions I was learning from her to look at the world from a different perspective, from the perspective of a peasant," Arbab stated. He went on to explain that his conversations with Doña Julia had taught him many important lessons. He acknowledged her "poverty, days without food, and an extraordinary struggle for survival," yet he rejected the notion many intellectuals had that peasants like Doña Julia saw the world as "poor, bitter and hopeless." Instead, Arbab found in Doña Julia "faith and hope, . . . kindness and courtesy. There was integrity," he said, "integrity that is diminishing completely from the so-called developed world." Arbab went on to say that despite the illiteracy rates and all other problematic conditions in the rural villages, he believed Doña Julia had much valuable wisdom and that many people throughout the world "could benefit enormously if they would carefully listen to her." Yet, at the same time, Arbab also recognized that she "would benefit from modern science, that there was modern knowledge that could help to improve the quality of her life and the lives of her great-grandchildren." FUNDAEC, Arbab explained, wanted to provide "a space where modern knowledge interacts with an integrated world represented by Doña Julia." Its aim was to use these two sources of knowledge--the traditional knowledge of the village people and the sophisticated scientism of modern society--to generate "new alternatives and draw new paths for development" (Quoted in Roosta, 1997, pp. 63-64).

What new knowledge should be sought?

The FUNDAEC group believed that from a materialistic viewpoint, knowledge frequently is confused with information. It is viewed as another input necessary for the production process, along with capital, land, and workers (Arbab, cited in Valcárcel & Correa, 1995). The group rejected this narrow definition of knowledge. But what, then, was the knowledge they sought to generate in collaboration with the rural people? It took some time and experimentation before they finally came to an agreement.

Before establishing the rural university, the FUNDAEC group were primarily concerned with solving social problems, yet that focus soon shifted to technology. Arbab, Correa, and Valcárcel (1990) describe the first three years as ones of persistent action accompanied by systematic reflection. At the beginning, they unconsciously accepted the notion that research experts at the international and national levels had addressed adequately the technological needs of the rural communities. Despite their suspicion of some of the plans based heavily on propagation of technological packages, they thought that their main role was to socialize the farmers into more profound scientific and technological knowledge. Hence, they worked intensively with a few families using the latest technological packages. The results were not encouraging, so they started questioning the appropriateness of the available technology, especially for the precarious conditions of the rural areas.

This initial period was followed by a vague notion that the farmers' own traditions were probably the best source of knowledge. The group did not get to the extreme position of proposing a mere recuperation of all past traditions. In this period, the professors and the students made an effort to define technological appropriateness in terms of simplicity, low cost, and intensity of labor, accessibility, and a certain quality of softness. Still, the results were not encouraging.

The group eventually came to recognize more clearly the way knowledge is disseminated around the world. Knowledge, commonly known as modern knowledge, is usually generated in universities and specialized centers in industrialized countries. Replicas of those institutions are created in the underdeveloped nations within the dominant paradigm, yet only a small portion of the population is able to participate in this process. The majority of the peasants in the world receive technological "packages" that have resulted from research conducted in those centers. The "technological transference" takes place through a large number of agents of different governmental and NGO's.

The FUNDAEC group, given their initial experiments, came to the conclusion that the process of knowledge generation should not be a purely academic endeavor, and at the same time, it would be a mistake to reduce knowledge generation to the category of mere experience, ignoring the need for systematic search for rural development alternatives (Arbab, 1988). They did not want to deny the need for centers dedicated exclusively to research and development, and they did not intend to replace or supplant these modern research centers. They also did not question the need of establishing appropriate channels through which individuals and communities could receive the services of health, education, and technical assistance. Yet none of these explained the knowledge they hoped the villagers themselves would generate and disseminate. This knowledge would result from a collaborative process to solve specific community problems: a study of village conditions, an identification of community problems, a review of available expert literature on the problems, a plan of action, a careful comparison of methods and results, and an evaluation (Valcárcel & Correa, 1995).

What immediate and long-term goals should FUNDAEC strive to achieve?

Group members were aware that within the context of local, national, and international set of conditions, a small institution like the rural university needed to develop modest aims. Hence, their immediate goal was to assist one or more rural communities to begin the process of finding and developing new possibilities for themselves. They would do this by examining the varied "processes of life" in Norte del Cauca, "looking for alternative technological and organizational practices, learning from these activities" (Arbab, Correa, & Valcárcel, 1990, p. 26). Hence, the establishment of the rural university would set in motion important processes that, in spite of their limitations, could lead to meaningful programs that would engage the rural populations in their own socio-economic and organizational progress (Arbab, 1991). However, the ultimate goals were not the creation of wealth and its just distribution, although these were certainly essential and indispensable byproducts (Arbab cited in Valcárcel & Correa, 1995). The group asserted that all theories based on dogmatic materialism were incapable of leading to the well-being of the majority of humanity. No matter how heroic their struggle against misery and oppression, the principal cause of misery would remain prevalent in one or another of its thousand forms until they recognized the spiritual nature of the human being and allowed it to have ascendancy (Arbab, Correa, & Valcárcel, 1990).

What could hinder the achievement of these goals?

The group members were aware of societal forces that could undermine their efforts. Unjust land tenure policies, market fluctuations, harmful schooling policies, international and national policies regarding technologies-all had an impact on life in the rural villages (Arbab, 1984). They were certain that the farmers could not develop their communities unless they had land. They also needed complex developmental plans and resources from the modern sector. Hence, the group were careful to assert that they had no naïve hope that rural development could be the result of isolated changes inside the rural people themselves and that fundamental change in the powerful forces from outside were not necessary. They believed that substantial improvement in the conditions of the rural inhabitants finally depended on organic change in global as well as village structures. However, in the long-term process of development, different simultaneous types of action had to be undertaken, and institutions had to decide how they could best contribute to change according to their possibilities and inclinations. The group also recognized destructive tendencies in the rural people, such as the disintegration of the family's basic structure, its decision-making, and its ability to socialize the young. They called attention to the rapid decline of traditional values like "responsibility, rectitude, and solidarity," and the persistence of "oppressive attitudes toward women and certain patterns of leadership" (Arbab, Correa, & Valcárcel, 1990, p. 26). Despite these and possibly other constraints, the FUNDAEC group believed their envisioned program offered hope. Together, they, the rural youth and their families would embark on a continuing journey that included action, research, and reflection.

From Philosophy to Programs

It remained to be seen whether the group could translate its philosophy of development into viable programs. The group approached the Rockefeller Foundation for funding to incorporate FUNDAEC as a private foundation, consolidate the group, and begin their educational programs. Rockefeller accepted their proposal, and FUNDAEC was incorporated as a non-profit institution whose stated purpose was to disseminate knowledge to ordinary people so they could be active participants in the process of developing their communities and regions (Valcárcel, Correa, & Gamboa, 1998). The rural university was the name the FUNDAEC group continued to call the educative processes they planned to set in motion. Yet they were careful to assert that this institution would be different from legally sanctioned, urban-biased universities. These institutions required the completion of secondary school for enrollment, a qualification that automatically disqualified an overwhelming majority of rural youth. Between 1960 and 1964, only 2 percent of the rural population completed even elementary school. Adolescents who wanted more schooling usually had to travel to urban centers. These conditions effectively closed off secondary education to the vast majority of those the group planned to educate.

A second major difference concerned the institution's mission. The traditional Colombian university saw as its central purpose to offer professional training in law, medicine, engineering, and a few other disciplines to an elite cadre of men (along with a few women). As was stated before, a general assumption of university officials was that the nation's development was assured if a pool of university graduates existed. These institutions might develop extension programs, research centers and other entities to foster the nation's development, but such efforts were viewed as ancillary. In contrast, the university envisioned by the FUNDAEC group placed the search for strategies to develop the region at the center of its mission. To realize this goal, it would invest heavily in the development of human beings, offering them various levels of education designed to set in motion and catalyze processes in the rural population that, in their totality, would form a continuing process of development. Its educational programs-and these would change with changing conditions-would seek to develop the essential concepts and skills that would contribute to that essential goal. In such a scheme, the educational programs were viewed as "components of the overall strategies" (Arbab, 1984, p. 6).

The rural university's mission led the FUNDAEC founders to outline three types of activities they planned to do. Unlike the typical university faculty that taught university-level courses to a select few, the FUNDAEC founders planned to examine the organization of the region to determine what personnel were needed to foster regional development. They would offer both formal and nonformal educational programs to prepare people for these roles. Since the group believed training in itself would be insufficient to bring about social change, they determined to initiate a second set of processes simultaneously: to apply current technological knowledge in local settings, and work on adapting and propagating it in other villages. Hence, they would devote many resources to developing the villagers' knowledge of science and technology. They would also serve as mediators between the villagers and sophisticated national and international institutions, such as foundations, the national government, universities, and banks. In this way, they would funnel needed resources from the modern sector into the rural villages. A third series of processes concerned community organization. The FUNDAEC group would lead the farmers to study the entire organization of the community and region, including all of the services offered and the structures supporting village level activities. The founders planned to give special emphasis to the production of goods and services. They planned to explore the ways the villagers marketed their goods, what access they had to loans, how they accumulated capital, and how they learned about new technological developments. Because the FUNDAEC group saw a direct connection between training and research in technology to production, they planned to tie activities in production with research and training in technology (Arbab, 1984).

Stage One: 1974-1880

The implementation of FUNDAEC's philosophy and strategic plans occurred in three stages. In the first, 1974-1980, the FUNDAEC group set about developing an educational program for their first cohort of students. In the 1970s, many development agencies worked only with illiterates. The group believed they could accomplish more and in a shorter amount of time if their students were literate. Hence, they selected an initial group of 26 literate men and women, aged 16 to 23, from the small villages of the Norte del Cauca. All had at least a few years of primary schooling (Arbab, 1984). Later the cohort was joined by a second group of 25 from the same region (Molineaux, 1986). Students were selected on the basis of their potential for learning quickly and their commitment to serving their communities.

The FUNDAEC group, before developing a curriculum, conducted a thorough study of the Colombian educational system. The governance of schools was similar in some respects to that of the U.S. in that each of the 32 Colombian departments funded and controlled its public schools. The Colombian system was different in that the federal government paid teachers' salaries, which were low, as was funding for building maintenance and supplies. Another deficiency was a poorly educated teaching force. Only 5% of all teachers in preschools, primary schools, and high schools had college degrees, most having only a few pedagogy courses in a "normal school." The normal school was not a separate institution but a stream of courses offered as the final two years of the high school's six-year curriculum. Of the seven courses of study in the typical high school, the normal school course was ranked near the bottom. Whatever the quality of their preparation, the people who managed to find teaching positions after completing high school had life-time employment, no matter how badly they performed (Wickremasinghe, 1991).

Schooling was compulsory for children aged 7-11, but as late as 1966 illiteracy still hovered at 35 percent. Part of the reason was the long distances rural children usually had to travel to attend a primary school. Those who could attend had a five-year program of study. If they persisted, they would next take an examination to quality for high school, most of which were located in cities (Wickremasinghe, 1991).

The FUNDAEC group, upon examining the high school curriculum, found that recently published textbooks contained colorful pictures, carefully arranged boxes featuring formulas and conclusions, and excellent learning objectives. The problem was that the textbooks did not match the students' classroom experiences. Typically teachers required the memorization of facts and the development of a few useful skills. The FUNDAEC team observed further that the high school curriculum failed to encourage students to be creative or to develop connections with nature. Nor was there was much that contributed to students' moral and spiritual development. The group came to the disturbing conclusion that the high schools were irrelevant to the rural students' lives (Arbab, 1984).

Given the paucity of good curricula for rural youth, the FUNDAEC group had only vague notions of what they should teach. They decided not to divide the curricular content into the subject matter disciplines as was habitual in the high schools. They viewed the disciplines as reflecting the fragmented industrialized societies that had produced them, not Colombian rural society. Nor did they plan to offer vocational programs aimed at the existing job market. Since they wanted to set into motion a long-term process of research and action, they would need to begin with the identification of rural potentialities and problems. Next, they would define the human characteristics rural youth would need to work with the community in addressing the problems. The curriculum would be designed to foster the development of those human characteristics. They recognized that it would be in a constant state of reconstruction resulting from an ongoing search for greater insight into their students' needs and desires, as well as the social needs of the region. This approach to curriculum design would differ from all those with which they were acquainted in one other important respect: it would bring together practical and theoretical knowledge so that concepts were joined with specific skills that would be used to address community problems. Hence, it would be intellectual, practical, and spiritual; and it would provide students with the skills and dispositions for action research (Arbab, 1984).

The result of these initial deliberations was a university program for a new professional called the "engineer in rural well-being." Like physicians who dedicated themselves to meeting people's medical needs, the rural engineers they planned to educate would strive to improve conditions in the local community and region. Hence, all learning activities would revolve around the axis of community service (Arbab, 1984). But how could the students, many of whom had never even finished elementary school, pursue a university-level professional program of study? The FUNDAEC founders were not sure; they planned to offer a preparatory program in order to learn how quickly the rural youth could progress. This method was not so different from that followed by many North American universities desiring to extend the collegiate experience to students lacking adequate academic opportunities. What the FUNDAEC group wanted to avoid was a watered-down curriculum that prepared students for menial jobs.

To initiate students into action research in their communities, the FUNDAEC group directed all the students to categorize the activities of people in the village and then conceptualize the activities in a series of chains, for example, the chain of activities people engaged in to raise animals, obtain safe drinking water, recover from illness, or grow crops. Students readily identified around 60 chains. The students were then asked to write comparison/contrast papers describing what the experts believed the villagers should do in each situation (for example, to obtain potable water or recover from the flu), and what the people were actually doing. They then were to analyze the two descriptions to identify the technological constraints faced by the villagers in everyday life. From there, they would begin to seek solutions. The first research projects challenged students to experiment with different kinds of agricultural production, to apply different technologies to increase agricultural and fishery production, and to form effective community organizations (Institutional Assessment, 2001).

For example, students found, in analyzing the chain of activities related to raising pigs, that most people bought one or two piglets and allowed them to roam around freely, feeding them small quantities of commercial feed as well as nutrients from the house and farm. After 10 to 12 months, the family would sell its pigs, earning about the same amount of money it had spent on the purchase of piglets and feed. The family viewed this investment as an informal savings plan rather than an income-producing venture. Government experts recommended that if farmers wanted to earn more, they should purchase better races of pigs, but the students found that better races were not available to the rural farmers. A second restriction was the cost of feed, which was packaged for and marketed to large farms. The students decided to search for a source of feed that would cost 30% less than market prices (Arbab, 1984).

The next phase of the project was to conduct a series of experiments that involved substituting materials found in the region for commercial feed. The professors were acquainted with controlled experiments to develop new animal feeds, but they wanted to build on what farmers were already doing. Thus, they tried mixing the farmers' customary feed with a variety of readily available substitutes, including a common weed, Amaranthus sp, and water hyacinth. They did not attempt to balance the pigs' diets, but they did combine the feed with various percentages of substitutes. After the pigs were sold, the FUNDAEC group compared the profits on the various pig-raising experiments. The results indicated that Amaranthus sp could be used as a valid substitute, lowering the cost of feed and doubling the farmers' profits.

After concluding a number of similar experiments, the FUNDAEC team reviewed what they had learned, including the ever-increasing cost of commercial feed and the labor involved in experimenting with substitutes. Should they continue such experiments on individual farms or move them to a different site? Eventually, after considering all the costs, time, labor and earnings, they decided to abandon the experiments on the farms and invest in a small plant that could continue the experiments and also process and sell feed to farmers throughout the region. Hence, they secured a loan and developed a plant small enough to have the flexibility of experimenting with local feed substitutes and big enough to promote the production of units of 2-40 pigs (Arbab, 1984).

In working on community problems like swine production, the FUNDAEC group developed a list of concepts and capabilities that an engineer needed in order to lead the villagers through the experimental process. They identified five competencies: community service, language, mathematics, the sciences, and crafts and technology (Arbab, 1984; Arbab & Stifel, 1983).

As was previously noted, community service was the core of the entire program. This competency involved the development of trusting relationships with the local people so that the students could collaborate with them on identifying and solving community problems. The service component began with a research-action project, Associations, requiring students to select a family or two and develop a short-term, low-risk collaborative effort to produce a commodity such as honey, papaya, or chickens. The students were expected to organize the project and contribute labor and technical knowledge. The collaborators usually contributed labor and land. The projects required regular meetings in order for the students to listen to expressions of their neighbors' hopes, resources, and needs. When the projects were completed, the students and their collaborators shared equally in the profits, after subtracting 15% for underwriting subsequent projects and 15% for a general community fund (Arbab & Stifel, 1983).

Classroom activities were designed to provide students with the theoretical constructs and instruments to assist them in these collaborations. The students were introduced to information on a range of factors contributing to the material and spiritual culture of a rural community: education, health, the structure of community groups, social services, the marketing and purchase of goods, the organization of production, and the process of establishing small industries. In time, they were required to provide a detailed description of their community assessment, including their observations and consultations, followed by the form of action they took to solve a perceived problem. The final activity was a reflective discussion on all the projects, after which students discussed what they might do next to improve life in the village.

It would be impossible to complete such assignments without having sufficient language skills. To strengthen these skills, the students read and discussed 80 passages related to the problems they were striving to solve. Some were transcriptions of recordings of the villagers; others were texts related to development. They also wrote descriptions that included an analysis of the families' aspirations, needs, and resources. They transcribed recordings of conversations, identifying communication problems and different styles of expression. They also wrote papers describing chains of activities related to village processes, comparing what the experts suggested with what was actually being done.

The students reviewed arithmetic with the goal of acquiring the capacity to use numbers and quantitative reasoning to gain a greater understanding of the region and to solve mathematical problems related to their projects. They classified the plants and animals and thereby developed a comprehension of sets. They used addition and subtraction to carry out simple bookkeeping functions. They gained a better comprehension of fractions in the study of indices concerning the health of the region. They learned to estimate size, use the decimal system, and analyze data. They used these functions to keep and analyze records of experiments, such as comparing diets and outcomes in pig production.

Students studied science to help them gain knowledge of the processes of nature. They were allowed to choose among a series of activities, for example, to study the growth of a small field of corn or beans, a population of insects, or the transfer of heat. They made observations, studied texts that explained the processes under question, organized observations, experimented, and developed models to explain what they had learned. They learned crafts and technologies through a series of activities designed to develop their competence in the skills of agriculture and other forms of production. For example, one set of lessons required students to cultivate a small field of around five crops. They also learned basic skills of construction and built objects in a newly constructed workshop.

The rural university's major research project was designed to solve technical agricultural problems of small farmers. Specifically, they conducted a number of small experiments with the following goals: to organize farm labor more efficiently, improve nutrition, increase crop and animal yields, provide a hedge against fluctuating prices by diversifying crop production, and minimize farmers' dependence on sources of food outside the region (Arbab & Stifel, 1983). The details of these experiments will not be explored in this paper.

By 1980, the FUNDAEC team had drawn financial support from 20 national and international agencies. The budget had increased from UK£12,840 in 1974 to UK£103,200 in 1980. The team now consisted of a full-time staff of 8, with 23 part-time or volunteer professors providing consultation, instruction, and curriculum development (Arbab & Stifel, 1983). The group had constructed a small training facility in the village of Arrobleda, Cauca. Realizing the wastefulness of duplicating experiments conducted elsewhere, they had established a documentation center in a Cali office for the storage of literature on technological applications in rural settings. FUNDAEC's own experiments with the villagers had resulted in a number of agricultural systems of production on local farms. The team had also formed a number of associations of village people who collectively established 10 small agricultural and fishery projects. They had written documents describing their research projects and had organized and stored them for easy retrieval. Last, they had developed the rough drafts for the first 2 of the 6-year educational program, which in its entirety was recognized by the University of Valle professors as more rigorous than the programs offered by the secondary schools (Institutional Assessment, 2001; Arbab & Stifel, 1983).

Stage 2: 1980-1990

In 1981, 22 students graduated as engineers in rural well-being. From their first diagnosis of the communities, they had recognized the need for a secondary program for rural youth. They decided to form study groups and use their own textbooks from the first two years of study at the rural university. It was already clear to the founders that the original program could not be entirely replicated. The students' experiences in different community projects had demonstrated the need for broader community participation. Hence, twenty of these students worked with rural families to elaborate, refine, and improve different components of the curriculum. Eventually the 6-year educational program, Tutorial Learning System (SAT, also called TLS) El Sistema de Apredizaje Tutorial, took its final form. The tutorial program prepared youth for three occupations, depending on the level of accomplishment: Level 1 (2 years): the promoter of rural well-being; Level 2 (2 years): the technician of rural well-being; and Level 3 (2 years): the bachelor in rural well-being. Only those who had completed elementary education were qualified to enter the program, and all had to enter at Level 1. Each level was viewed as the equivalent of 2 years of high school.

Level 1 students spent 12 hours a week in classes, completed 27 instructional units, and spent additional time in community projects, applying technologies to improve their family's agricultural production. They also gained theoretical and practical knowledge geared toward integral actions in areas such as public health and sanitation, agricultural production, and literacy programs (Roosta, 1997).

Level 2 students developed a deeper understanding of their community, including its opportunities and challenges. Technicians spent 15 hours a week in class, and completed 26 units, with additional time in the community. The combination of training and practice was designed to endow them with more confidence to support and promote different community initiatives in diverse fields such as health, literacy, and reforestation. At the end of this level, students were expected to have the necessary skills to organize and administer small productive projects and provide technical agricultural advice to families. (FUNDAEC, 1992B).

Level 3 students developed necessary skills for community organization. They learned to promote the establishment of local institutions that required knowledge beyond agriculture, such as managing a community store, administering a micro-enterprise, or organizing specific community groups. The Level 3 student spent 20 hours in weekly classes and practice in the community. The 26 units of instruction were designed to foster the student's ability to create a social space for improvement of community interaction mechanisms with private or public institutions. The student learned to articulate the voice and the needs of the community or to work directly with outside institutions (FUNDAEC, 1992b). By the end of this program, Level 3 students were expected to be active generators of projects for their communities' well-being. Also, they were expected to be competent to work with the region's private or public institutions.

In 1981, the National Ministry of Education allowed an agricultural high school to offer a three-year program (Arbab & Stifel, 1983) based on the SAT curriculum. It also recognized the 3 levels of SAT as equivalent to a 6-year public high school education (Institutional Assessment, 2001). Official sanction by the government was important, but SAT had to meet government requirements that were incompatible with the philosophy of the rural university. Nevertheless, the FUNDAEC group complied, believing it was better to modify the curriculum to broaden SAT's influence than remain a pure but small, isolated institution.

Thereafter, NGO's began to approach the FUNDAEC team, wanting to offer the SAT curriculum to their constituencies. The NGO's signed agreements for the training of tutors and the use of the SAT curriculum. The rural university also offered its graduates as tutors. The result was that SAT programs were established first in the departments of Antioquia and Risaralda and later in Valle and Santander. Such growth led the FUNDAEC group into a new phase of visiting different institutions and regions as assessors to the institutions where SAT had been established. Based on their experience of curriculum development, they offered seminars to these institutions' executives and field workers. At the same time, SAT programs in Norte del Cauca suffered because the most experienced tutors were committed to expanding and training collaborating organizations. This situation led the FUNDAEC group to develop a program equivalent to the bachelor's degree for the systematic education of external trainers (FUNDAEC, 1992b), the Licenciatura in Educación Rural (LER). The LER program was designed to allow FUNDAEC to continue the philosophical foundations of the SAT program and, at the same time, systematize the accumulated experiences of training tutors and external trainers in a university degree program in rural education.

Stage 3: 1990-present

The number of NGO's requesting tutors continued to increase, forcing the FUNDAEC group to decide between two courses of action: to invest all their resources in one institution, or to develop a number of institutions, each specializing in an aspect of the FUNDAEC mission. The group elected the second course of action. As a result, they established a foundation for agricultural and agroindustrial research, an institute to extend rural education to preschool and primary aged children, a university to deliver undergraduate and graduate programs in rural education, and an umbrella university to coordinate the activities of all participating organizations.

Many of the 40 organizations in the rural university network were NGO's with the exception of the University Center for Rural Education (Centro Universitario de Bienestar Rural, CUBR), a legally established university (Resolution No. 9111) with the power to offer two 5-year licenciatura degree programs in rural education (Licenciatura en Educación Rural (LER), one of which specializes in agricultural technology. The first cohort of 50 students began the program in Norte del Cauca in September 1990 (FUNDAEC, 1992b). The undergraduate program, designed for both SAT tutors and rural teachers in other educational settings, required matriculants to study one month at the university center in Perico Negro, Cauca, a small town in Norte del Cauca about 40 minutes from Cali. Thereafter, students practiced in their communities for four years. The University Center also offered the rural education program to rural teachers in the surrounding areas (Puerto Tejada, Norte del Cauca; Cali, Valle). Some other regions, such as Antioquia and Risaralda, then established their own university programs. In one decade the number of LER students increased to 470 (Institutional Assessment, 2001).

In 1995 a new education law was passed, granting departments and municipalities the power to approve their own educational programs. This legislation spurred 15 participating organizations to ask for and receive approval to offer SAT programs in their departments. The next year, the government of Antioquia, the largest Colombian department, adopted SAT in over half its rural municipalities and planned to expand its use to all of them. Hortensia Elena Aguirre, director of Educational District No. 034, stated that before the inception of SAT, the government officials of the village of Villacolombia had difficulty finding qualified people to fill key public posts. That situation changed after the inception of SAT. She said that SAT graduates now manage the public library, telephone office, pharmacy, and pre-kindergarten programs. Seeing the impact of the program, organizations in other departments began to explore the possibility of offering SAT programs, too (Rural learning. . . , 1996).

By 2000, the FUNDAEC group viewed SAT as its most important educational program. Participating organizations in 17 Colombian departments were now instructing some 30,000 students, nearly 50,000 having completed at least one level of the SAT program (Bahá'í Inspired Educational System. . ., 2002). During the decade, the programs were also spreading to Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Zambia, most offering SAT and a few the LER program. Little systematic research has been done on the rural universities in other nations, a notable exception being the Bayan experiment in the northern coastal areas of Honduras. It was here in a remote fishing region that the NGO, Bayan Association for Indigenous Social and Economic Development, recruited 500 students, 80% of whom were women, to participate in SAT programs. Six years later, 2000, 70% had dropped out. Richards (1999) and Murphy-Graham (cited in Perfetti et al., 2001) attribute the program's failures to a number of factors, for example, differences between the cultures of Colombia and Honduras, an inadequate number of well-trained tutors, and the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch. How the rural university adjusts to these and the circumstances of other nations will determine whether the model can be successfully transplanted around the globe.

From Rural Colombian Experiment to International Movement

This brief history leads to a final question, Why has FUNDAEC's experimental program in Norte del Cauca developed into an educational movement? The ability to raise funds from wealthy foundations and government agencies is one of the most obvious reasons. Throughout its brief history, the rural university personnel have continued to lead successful fund-raising campaigns, eliciting support in Colombia as well as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. As was previously stated, the first major grant came from the Rockefeller Foundation, which had already donated heavily to the University of Valle. Rockefeller and Valle had developed a trusting relationship, which was strengthened when a group of Valle faculty mapped out a plan to develop rural areas near Cali. The confidence of the Rockefeller Foundation staff, as represented by the initial FUNDAEC grant, was certain to have helped the FUNDAEC group in their subsequent efforts to raise funds. Yet perhaps more importantly, FUNDAEC's proposals expressed equalitarian values shared by a number of humanitarian funding agencies throughout the world. For instance, the group's commitment to gender equality is confirmed by the fact that women constitute 60% of FUNDAEC's personnel and 55% of the student body (Institutional Assessment, 2001).

In 1999, the FUNDAEC group enhanced the rural university's funding operations by founding the National Corporation for Rural Education SAT-COREDUCAR, an institution representing all organizations using FUNDAEC programs. SAT-COREDUCAR's purpose was to raise funds nationally and internationally for all the participants. This consolidation was especially effective as it allowed FUNDAEC to represent itself not as a lone entity in one isolated region of the world but as an umbrella institution collaborating internationally with many other organizations. Perfetti et al. (2001) view FUNDAEC's ability to create networks of institutions to be one of the major reasons for its success.

A second reason FUNDAEC was an attractive candidate for funding was the credibility of the FUNDAEC team, the core of which consisted of a small group of professors deeply committed to improving the lives and conditions of the poor. The diverse educational backgrounds and affiliations of a much larger group of volunteer and part-time professionals built confidence in the FUNDAEC group's ability to lead a major development project. Yet the FUNDAEC group did not rely solely on their collective expertise and creativity. Before making any plans, they conducted a thorough study of the region's economic and social conditions, read past and current literature on development, and examined the educational system. They also made repeated visits to the region of their anticipated activities, developing trusting relationships with the rural peasants with whom they planned to work. The result was a philosophy of development and plan of action that expressed a complex mix of new pedagogic concepts, equalitarian principles, and development plans tailored to the unique needs of the rural populations.

Another reason for the expansion of the program was its appeal to both non-government and government officials. The FUNDAEC team did not initially envision SAT as a form of secondary education, but other entities began to recognize it as effective alternative to an inadequate system of schooling. Hence, they approached FUNDAEC and, after reaching agreements, employed SAT graduates and used the SAT curriculum, adjusting the latter to local conditions. During the 1990s, an administrative decentralization process occurred in Colombian public education, enabling government officials more latitude in selecting programs of study (Valcárcel & Correa, 1995). Some viewed SAT as a satisfactory rural secondary program, while others saw the potentialities of SAT as a nucleus of a rural university. The expense of the SAT programs was an especially attractive feature. The operational costs per SAT student (approximately UK£187) for two years of the Level 1 program were substantially lower than the costs per student (approximately UK£306) for two years of schooling in the official educational system (the minimum monthly salary of a tutor was about UK£210). Other factors contributing to the endorsement of government officials were the high test scores in university entrance examinations by SAT graduates (Institutional assessment, 2001) and the commendations of external agencies. In 2001, a report issued for the Inter-American Development Bank's Regional Policy Dialogue recommended that SAT be used in an increasing number of rural areas in Latin America (Perfetti et al., 2001). The following year, the prestigious Change the World-Best Practice Award was granted to FUNDAEC by the Club of Budapest, Frankfort (Bahá'í inspired educational system. . ., 2002).

Yet the transformation of an creative educational plan into a movement requires more than a high-minded philosophy, attractive plans, the support of funding agencies, the endorsement of non-governmental and government officials, and awards of excellent. The greatest need of the FUNDAEC team was committed young people. Since the inception of FUNDAEC, Colombian youth have become increasingly aware of the need to acquire higher levels of schooling, especially given the nation's high unemployment rates. It has recently been determined that to rise above poverty, Colombian youth need a minimum of a secondary school diploma (Perfetti et al., 2001). Given such circumstances, many rural youth have sought educational programs that fit their possibilities in terms of time, dedication, relevance, and economic resources. SAT has provided an open and flexible learning process adjustable to the students' learning rhythms and allowed them to continue their work and family responsibilities while studying (Valcárcel & Correa, 1995). Once committed to the program, these youth have used a curriculum based on the socio-cultural conditions of real-life rural residents. It is a curriculum with which they can relate personally. Their texts integrate practical and theoretical aspects, emphasize productive and organizational processes, and require them to apply subject matter content in real-world projects. Such a curriculum has encouraged them to improve their family farms and local communities as a part of their schooling experiences.

Perhaps as importantly, the FUNDAEC group has employed tutors and coordinators who have grown up in the regions in which programs are being offered and who value the lives and rural traditions of their students. Many FUNDAEC tutors use a curriculum that is closely aligned to their own schooling. That is, when these tutors address their first cohort of students, they often bring with them a 6-year experience with one or more SAT tutors and the SAT curriculum. This congruence is certain to bolster professional confidence. The role the tutors assume combines guidance and support of their students through the curricular process as well as leadership in community development projects. Hence, the tutors model the roles they are educating their students to fill. Interviews with a number of students revealed that the students viewed their SAT and LER tutors more as trusted friends and partners in learning than as authority figures dispensing expert knowledge (Roosta, 1997). The trusting relationships between the tutors and their students bolstered the students in times of adversity and discouragement.


This paper has explored the historical and philosophical foundations of a new model of higher education for impoverished rural areas of Colombia. In 1974, a small group of professors from the University of Valle in Cali formally established a non-profit NGO, Foundation for Application and Teaching of Sciences (FUNDAEC) as the legal entity from which to launch their experimental programs. The goal of their plans was to stimulate rural development by educating the people to take leadership in improving their communities. To that end, the rural farmers would need knowledge, especially in the sciences. With this knowledge, they could develop and share new knowledge applicable to their life processes. Since 1974, the rural university has gradually emerged as an educational movement serving nearly 50,000 rural students in 17 of the 32 Colombian departments. It is now being transplanted in the foreign soils of Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Zambia.

From the earliest days of the movement, the FUNDAEC team asserted the conviction that while economic growth is important, it is insufficient for improving the living conditions of the impoverished. More than 25 years later, the researchers at the World Bank came to the same conclusion. Both teams recognized that if poverty were to be eliminated, institutions needed to enhance opportunity, empowerment, and security for the impoverished.

Opportunity . The FUNDAEC group rejected the notion that poor rural farmers are inferior human beings in need of continual guidance from the more enlightened. Nor did they accept discrimination against women and people of color. Rather, they selected staff and students of both genders who valued the small-scale farmer and the rural way of life. Rural university participants included blacks, whites, and indigenous peoples. The professors listened carefully to the rural youth, whom they believed to be wonderfully talented and full of promise. They knew the youth lacked access to high schools and universities, and their own study of the educational system led them to conclude that the available curricula were intellectually shallow and irrelevant to the students' lives. The education of the village peasant became the centerpiece of FUNDAEC's philosophy of development. The curriculum the FUNDAEC team developed was not designed to qualify the students for existing jobs but to be used for the development of their local communities and regions.

Empowerment . The FUNDAEC team viewed the rural university not as a traditional Latin American educational institution but a "social space" between the rural and modern technological worlds. The rural villages have lacked technological, scientific knowledge, which rural university personnel have sought to provide. The villages also have lacked access to funding and expert assistance for testing the applicability of advanced technologies in rural communities. Hence, the rural university has served as a broker between the two worlds. Team members continue to channel funds and knowledge from national and international agencies to the rural villages, and they have set up structures to allow groups of farmers to acquire small loans to experiment with alternative systems of farming, fishery, and production. They continue to guide their students and collaborating families to apply experimental procedures for improving local economic and social conditions. The university participants have established a number of community organizations designed to stimulate and sustain growth in the region. The people themselves manage funds and make decisions about these organizations. In all of these ways, the rural university has provided opportunities for rural farmers to increase their assets and stimulate economic growth.

Security . A major goal of the FUNDAEC teams' efforts was to provide the rural people with greater security. Rather than seeking to valorize any political party, the team guided the villagers to seek ways to protect themselves from fluctuations in the market and crop failures. They worked with the people to experiment with small-scale farming practices to ensure better family nutrition and higher yields. They developed small business ventures, and searched for purer sources of drinking water. In these and many other ways, they have sought to strengthen the peasants' ability to cope with hardship, whether in the form of violence, disease, or natural disaster.

The UK Department for International Development recently donated UK£290,000 to support the establishment of SAT programs in a remote region of Honduras. Whether the institution conceived in Colombia can serve as an effective poverty-reduction model in Honduras and other impoverished nations still remains uncertain. The transplanted programs are in the experimental stages, and in-depth systematic research on them still needs to be conducted. Nevertheless, the rural university still offers hope for the poor. It has already proven to be effective in creating programs designed to enhance the opportunity, empowerment, and security of thousands of rural Colombian peasants.

As is so often the case with research projects, we conclude this phase of our investigation with a new set of questions. If one views higher education as the opportunity to broaden one's worldview and challenge taken-for-granted assumptions, then how does the rural university provide this experience? For example, when, if ever, are the students challenged to explore and evaluate a diversity of philosophies of education? Do they examine different power arrangements and political parties? At what points are they asked to define for themselves "community well-being" and "human spirituality"? And when, if ever, are they encouraged to reflect on the varied approaches they might take in teaching? Is the rural university primarily an economic and social "self-help" fix, or does it also enhance the peasants' social and political power? These are the questions we plan to ask in the next stage of our research on the rural university of Colombia.


We wish to thank Phyllis Cunningham, L. Glenn Smith, Jorge Jeria, Martha Strickland, Michael Gonzales, Christian Ong, Debra Currere, Alex Blackson, Vinitha Joyappa, and Betty Lahti for reading early drafts of this paper and making helpful suggestions.


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