Training for Transformation (TfT)


In 2013, TfT celebrated its 40th birthday. Of all organisations doing popular education in South Africa, this must be the longest surviving one!

TfT was born in the seventies and the theories, codes and exercises of the TfT approach were developed and have been used since 1975. TfT is often associated primarily with the set of handbooks first published in 1984, and revised and reprinted many times, over the years. They have also been translated into many different languages and form the basis of various training programmes. Essentially, TfT is an approach to doing transformative education inspired by Paulo Freire, African philosophies (in particular Julius Nyerere, Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko), extensive readings about India and China and the Grail, an international ecumenical women’s movement. Anne Hope and Sally Timmel had met in Boston in 1969 while studying adult education and group process methods and got more and more engaged with social-political analysis and, as they say, in many discussions with Freire we eventually put these participatory and creative processes together.

Early beginnings of TfT was the DELTA river training programme (Development Education and Leadership Teams in Action) that combined the key principles of Freire, models of social-economic-political analysis from INOPED (Institute for the development of peoples) in Paris and the CELT (Christian Education and Leadership Training) insights on group dynamics. Initially, it was designed for a national literacy campaign to be run by SASO (South African Student Organization, lead by Steve Biko). It targeted groups of trainers rather than individuals as teams hold each other accountable in the work and can foster greater creativity.

Given the context of political repression and mass arrests of BC members at the time, the campaign never saw the light of day. Anne left South Africa and travelled to Tanzania and Kenya. DELTA was developed and tested in Kenya in the seventies, and lead to a 4-phased training programme for ‘training the trainers’. It lead to many small practical projects to improve food security, health, water and sanitation, and the like. To boost the participation of women who were mainly responsible for food production and all the care work in family and community, DELTA was offered as a phased three-week women-only programme through WINDOW (Women in the National development of Women).

By 1977 there were approximately 35 experienced TfT trainers in Kenya and DELTA expanded beyond Kenya and became an international training programme with participants from India, Liberia, Ireland and Portugal, and expanded into a 6-week advanced programme. In 1980, Anne Hope joined Partners in Ireland, and in 2001 they ran a two-week gathering with over 60 participants from 25 countries.

Since 2002, TfT is offered at the Grail Centre, in Kleinmond, as a one-year Diploma Course in four phases. Residential phases 1 and 3 are interspersed with 2 months at home where participants put into practice what they learned on the course and the diploma ends with a 4 month application / practical project back home. In this way, education and production / action are closely connected. Due to demand, a Certificate course with shorter residential phases and practice was designed in 2010.


TfT aims to develop participants’ ability to critically analyse the world and make connections between power and interests, people and positions, economics, the social fabric of society and politics – what Freire called ‘conscientising’ participants. TfT takes a stand against capitalism as a fundamentally unjust order, and advocates for democracy based on a deep sense of the common good. TfT recognizes the need for alternative visions and structures and advocates for women to take the lead in building alternatives, as they are the ones who take leadership roles in managing households and caring for communities. TfT advocates for radical shifts and transformation, rather than simply change.

The new generation of leadership developed using a participatory methodology of Paulo Freire to enable people to “read their reality and write their own history” and developing more in-depth analysis and skills to ensure local communities are skilled towards greater self-sufficiency. Their training also leads to a transformation of organisations to build and/or use more effective interventions locally and social movements that have impact on local/district governments to meet local needs. Programmes focus on mainstreaming gender equality and community development in the fields of mitigating conflicts, HIV/Aids, Sustainable Food Security, Livelihoods, Environmental issues or participation in government structures, including practical positive impact with simple tools for building unity, planning and implementing local initiatives to tackle poverty in local communities. 

Target participants

In the early days of the seventies, participants in TfT programs were from six dioceses of the Catholic church in Kenya.

In the 10 years since the Diploma Courses started in South Africa, more than 400 trainers from 21 countries of Europe, South America, Asia, India, Indonesia and Africa have participated. Some of the participants work in organizations that reach out to millions of people in their countries. For instance the United Church of Zambia has a membership of 3 million. Catholic Commission for Justice Peace and Development in Nigeria reaches out to more than 2 million people in its programmes.

Focus area

A key principle is the ‘power of connecting’: people, concepts, ideas and insights.

Initially, the programme’s residential phase was made up of the following topics:

  1. Developing a learning community,
  2. Developing trust and core values of leadership,
  3. Organisational development and how one’s own leadership affected the organization,
  4. Social-economic analysis of the area and national context.

Now, the Diploma course at the Grail Centre roughly follows the topics outlined in the 4 volumes of the handbooks, that is, it includes foci on organizing and mobilizing, gender, the environment and transforming governance.

TfT trainers in other parts of the world select those topics that are immediately relevant to them from the handbooks and supplement these materials with their own resources and tools, depending on the groups they work with and problems identified. This is consistent with the advice given on ‘how to use these books’: volumne 1 outlines the roots of the approach, explains how to identify generative themes and prepare problem-posing materials. Without a clear understanding of the philosophical, spiritual and theoretical roots of the approach attempts to conduct education for liberation and change would be doomed.


The originators of TfT and authors of the 4 ‘handbooks for community workers’, believe that the roots of the approach lie in the spiritual dimension: We believe the spiritual dimension is essential in the process of breaking through the apathy and discouragement, even hopelessness, which groups often experience as they try to face the hard facts of reality and engage in social analysis. The experiences of living and working in Africa, and the Christian perspective inform the approach.

Hope and Timmel believe that what has made TfT attractive is the integration of social-political analysis, inclusive and participatory methods, and tapping into the commitment that arises from a deep spiritual rooting’. This integration of theory and participatory processes in very down-to-earth, practical, and accessible lamguage is the reasons why the books have been so widely used.

TfT is an adaptation of Freire’s key principles of education for conscientisation and action, namely:

  • The human vocation to transform our world which is informed by values such as cooperation, justice, concern for the common good.
  • Education must be relevant; therefore, it begins with generative themes turned into ‘codes’, that move a community to take action and claim their own power.
  • Dialogue is a process in which all participants are both learners and teachers who combine ‘social’ knowledge and ‘scientific’ knowledge to arrive at ‘transformative’ knowledge.
  • Searching for the causes of problems in a ‘problem-posing’ way involves asking ‘why’ and this process is contrary to ‘banking education’ in which an ‘expert’ deposits information in learners who are considered ignorant.
  • Praxis is the cycle of theory and practice, and only ongoing reflection and action can lead to sustainable change.
  • No education is neutral and like Freire, TfT demands programmes to take sides and support participants in becoming critical, creative, active responsible and free.

Tools and processes

Generally, each session builds on participants’ existing knowledge, skills, interests and concerns. Therefore, facilitators would begin by surveying the themes of concern to participants and analyse them in order to develop an outline for sessions to follow. Secondly, they would create problem-posing materials by making ‘codes’ such as pictures, short performances, role plays, metaphors and discussion outlines. Thirdly, they would design practical projects that are developed in response to new understandings and connections.


An example of how reflection and action, or praxis, is realised through TfT is in the following description. A trainer from Malaysia outlined the efforts of creating a workers centre in a context of criminalization of trade unions. She told the story of the slow process of developing women’s agency that started with building genuine connections of care. Working ‘through the body’ , that is, acknowledging how knowledge and connections are produced with ‘head heart and hands’ participants worked with breathing and physical movement and exercises as much as role plays and discussions. This process built deeper solidarity amongst the collective, as they began to connect with each other as people, and not simply around the problems at hand. The process of creating interest in the centre was integral to creating a safe space for consciousness raising by asking questions, challenging assumptions and building confidence. Once sufficient agency was built, women started taking responsibility for tasks within the centre and further developed a commitment to struggle beyond the centre.

All the while, the trainer noted the importance of allowing women to move in and out of different levels of commitment to their struggle as life circumstances changed and they had to grapple with internal, personal processes. Thus a stance of compassion and tolerance was adopted rather than one of suspicion and punishment.

Understanding of popular education

One TfT trainer describes TfT as one form of popular education. PE is such a wide basket of different tools and approaches. (…)What makes it popular education is it’s inherently political nature: TfT is highly political because it’s all about how you are dealing with power and how you are shifting power from a certain level to another level.

Another trainer identified the continuous co-creation of knowledge through the capacities and creativities of ordinary people, not ‘experts’ of TfT- and this has clearly been recognized as one facet op popular education. Furthermore, TfT

is grounded in our humanity and the values of popular education, described as: “the value of mutual care … a shared vision … social justice, not discriminating, care and concern, compassion, mutual care, equity and equality … recognition of our vulnerabilities … and woundedness”.

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