it isn’t every day that someone leaves behind a page in their diary in a cafe *and* it happens to be related to your work… thought some of you would enjoy this entry by an anonymous do-gooder.
I am happy to report that I have successfully changed the face of primary education in Kenya. Three days back, I set off from Nairobi on a mission with three of my colleagues towards the eastern part of the country. Do note, towards Somalia – I literally risked my life in traveling that side and I only had a air-conditioned Land Cruiser and an armed escort for about half the distance on my way up and down. I know these cost donor $$$ but this is but a small price the development world has to pay for my technical expertise.
Of course once we reached our base station and checked into the best hotel in town, I sat down with my colleagues planning for the day ahead. I was really annoying that we were advised not to consume any alcohol, keeping in mind cultural sensitivities, but thankfully, there was plenty of great food and fresh juices to go around. Of course with my healthy per-diem, I did not have to worry much. So much delicious mango and water melon was consumed and enjoyed!
As we set off for a school, over fifty miles away, I was excited. The semi-arid landscape was exciting. Of course it was too hot for me to consider living there, but it made for some great sights and camera clicks. As is to be expected in Africa, I spotted monkeys, camels and antelopes on the way, which kept me sufficiently occupied till we reached the school.
At the school, there was a mix of community members and parents waiting to meet us. Our partner organisation had all this arranged, which was great. I was confident I was going to make myself useful there and educate them all on the importance of education. I started with the school head-teacher and a few members of the teaching staff. I hung on to every word they said, waiting for a pause or a slip to make my successful intervention. I think I made a definite impact there when I advised the head teacher that he should know more accurately, the enrollment numbers in his school and that he should make sure his teachers are in class and teaching. Of course on the issue of shortage of class-rooms and teachers, I wisely avoided saying much – since I know that I should not make any comments that may be construed as promises. I did the same, when we spoke about the shortage of food that the school got as part of its school feeding programme.
Next, were the groups of community members and parents. I was a little disappointed when they seemed to say that they already were aware of the value of education and how they wanted their children to study so they could get jobs and have a bright future. They even said they would send all their children to school – not just the brightest ones and not just the boys. This was unexpected. Nevertheless, I knew my mission – I made myself very very clear: “Education is very important, especially primary education; it improves their chances of earning a better livelihood. And of course, they should send all their children to school, especially their girl children”. I was quite happy I was able to open their eyes, even though I may have repeated some of what they already knew – but no harm in reinforcing some key messages – right? And I am sure it works even better when an outsider, especially a foreigner, comes all this way and transmits this message to them. I knew that learning outcomes were important – so I did mention to them that they had a responsibility in holding the school authorities and the government to account. Of course, as nomadic people, it would have been extremely hard for them to really make much of a dent in the management of the school – but that’s a challenge they had to sort out at their level. My mission was about primary education and not about suggesting alternate livelihoods to the community.
At the end of my one-day trip to the school, I was confident I had learnt enough to advise my partner organisation regarding their strengths and weaknesses in the field. On the debrief session held the next day, I was able to explain to them how they should re-model their programme so that it fit my logframe better. I was also able to convince them that they would be able to make the necessary changes within the agreed time-frame and budget, since there was no chance that the donor would make any concessions.
In between, I also had an opportunity to meet with the government official responsible for education in that county. I listened to him sympathetically as he explained to me, the challenges his administration faced in increasing enrollment and quality of education. I explained to him my specific intervention, which he seemed only partially aware of. We also then discussed how donor-coordination and achieving government buy-in was critical to the way development projects were launched and run. Once again, I avoided questions regarding sustainability of our intervention beyond the period for which we had funding, as I was not there to make any promises of any kind. I emphasised that he and his team needed to go out to the field a lot more to make sure these schools under their watch are functioning well.
Overall, I think this was a highly successful trip. I was able to influence not just the community members and school authorities, but also my implementing partner and the government official. I think after this field visit, I have definitely made a significant impact on the future of the education system in Kenya – and made a start towards changing the face of education in Africa, thereby changing Africa itself. When I am back home and writing about my experience, I will have this to show how I am a true ‘game-changer’ in the development world.
And having written this down for the benefit of the world, I think I have earned a good night’s rest…