Archive | November, 2013

Sarah Rowse – Liberia – The fruit of collective endeavour

26 Nov

As logic dictates, the infrastructure of a school has a significant impact on a child’s education. No matter what the standard of the teacher, children’s education is compromised when classrooms aren’t fit for purpose

Together with Children in Crisis’ dedicated partner in Liberia, FAWE, Children in Crisis UK joined hands with our colleagues from Children in Crisis Italy the week before last, to celebrate the opening of a newly constructed School, Logan Town Primary.

The School, which is located in the heart of River Cess County, was constructed with funds raised by Children in Crisis Italy and is an impressive nine classroom building. On the day of the inauguration, the pupils and their teachers proudly showed us around their new school, pointing out with great pride the whitewashed walls, sizeable classrooms and wall length blackboards; it stands in stark contrast to the small, cramped, makeshift school that stood before it.

When Children in Crisis and FAWE first undertook an assessment visit to Logan Town School in 2012, the learning conditions of the children in the old school were deplorable. Despite the valiant efforts of the teaching staff and parents of Logan Town to maintain and repair the makeshift classrooms, Liberia’s extreme of climate meant that they faced a constant uphill struggle. During the wet season, the thatched roof of the school and its mud walls failed to stand up to torrential rainfall.

Within just a few months of my visit, Logan Town's old school had collapsed

Within just a few months of my visit, Logan Town’s old school had collapsed

Conversely, during the dry season, when temperatures rose, cramped classrooms were hot and uncomfortable for children and teachers alike. There was no safe water-point for the school from which pupils could drink. Nor were there any toilet facilities, so children would simply do their business in the bush. For girls, the lack of hygienic toilet facilities at the old school made it especially embarrassing, uncomfortable and difficult for them to attend school when they were having their period. As the Principal of Logan Town School explained at the time, this in part contributed to the disproportionally high drop-out rate of girls (60%) compared to boys (40%) recorded over the course of the 2012/13 school year.

Logan Town's children outside of their old school.

Logan Town’s children outside of their old school.

As logic dictates, the infrastructure of a school has a significant impact on a child’s education. No matter what the standard of the teacher, children’s education is compromised when classrooms aren’t fit for purpose – when children are exposed to the elements on account of a leaking roof, holes in the walls and dilapidated school furniture. This is what compelled Children in Crisis UK, Children in Crisis Italy and FAWE to work together with the community of Logan Town to build a school that is worthy of its name.

And this, I am pleased to report, is what we’ve achieved. The new nine classroom School includes a library, school canteen, water pump from which to draw safe drinking water and two latrine blocks, separate for girls and boys. It took 12-months to construct, at a cost of £81,084 in building materials and labour, and was the result of impressive collective endeavour. The contractor and workforce, for example, were fed and accommodated by the community of Logan Town throughout the construction period as part of the community contribution to the building. Also, of particular note, was the contribution made by the County Authorities of River Cess to rebuild a dilapidated bridge so as to ensure that the building materials could be transported to site. This investment will bring longer term gains to an otherwise isolated, inaccessible rural community as it will facilitate better vehicular access to Logan Town and the surrounding villages, and with it, benefits such as increased market opportunities and services.    

Logan Town's new school has two latrine blocks, separate for boys and girls

Logan Town’s new school has two latrine blocks, separate for boys and girls

Water pump

A water pump at the new school, providing drinking water for the children

On other levels too, the multiplier effect of rebuilding the School are significant. The building will serve not only as a Primary School for upward of 300 children in the morning, but, with support from the Ministry of Education of Liberia, will soon serve as a Junior Secondary School in the afternoons. This will make Logan Town one of only four other Junior Secondary Schools in the entire county of River Cess, which is a significant development for the education and learning opportunities of children and young people here. Not only this, but parents will also be able to attend adult literacy classes in the evenings. Evening classes have been made possible thanks to the donation of a generator by the building contractor, Mr Dee, which will enable classes to run after dark. When Mr Dee announced this at the inauguration, he timed it so that all the lights came on in the school with a well-orchestrated nod of the head. It was impeccable timing on his behalf, and was met, understandably, with great applause by everyone present. In a rural community such as this, where there is no mains electricity, this will be a source of great community pride for years to come.

Evening classes have been made possible thanks to the donation of a generator by the building contractor, Mr Dee, which will enable classes to run after dark.

Evening classes have been made possible thanks to the donation of a generator by the building contractor, Mr Dee, which will enable classes to run after dark.

For the past 5 years, Children in Crisis have been working in Liberia, a country deeply affected by the legacy of war, to support schools and communities to rebuild the countries shattered education system. Our work in rural Liberia, in River Cess County, has focussed principally on teacher training and skills training for women. It has, as yet, comprised only a small construction component, with Logan Town representing the sixth school to be rebuilt by Children in Crisis in partnership with FAWE. However, learning from this and from our in-depth understanding of educational needs in the remote interior of the County, presents a compelling case for why Children in Crisis will continue its programme of school building in the years to come.

Watch this space as we monitor the progress of pupils from Logan Town School in the year ahead.

Read more:

A news piece on Children in Crisis’s website with videos from Logan Town.

Koy Thomson – Sierra Leone – Trustee’s visit

26 Nov

Dignity more than anything else was what Trustees brought to Isa. Priceless and Isa knew it.

Foreword:

Sometimes it is easy to forget that it is the Trustees who are ultimately responsible for the charity and ensuring that it achieves its mission, and that staff are delegated by Trustees to deliver the work. A critical part of a well governed charity therefore is for the Trustees to actually see the work on the ground. The experience of a recent Trustee visit to Sierra Leone was that Trustees weren’t just being shown, but contributed, provoked and provided critical comment. Immediately upon return they found themselves far better able to represent Children in Crisis at fundraisers, and could make even more effective decisions in Board meetings. It cost the Charity nothing, since they all paid their way.

My blog:

I was most surprised. Isa, a young man I had spent time with in my previous visit to Sierra Leone, wanted the whole Trustee gaggle to visit Pailap, his village in the bush. Of course being blind he wasn’t aware of what a sight we were. Actually my Trustees looked pretty good. I cannot recall recommending white slip-ons, subtly-shaded linen and delicate white blouses in our briefing notes, but as one trustee said “we are visiting people’s homes. They will dress up for us, and it is courteous that we dress up for them”.  She was right, and I felt scolded in my walking boots and functional outdoor trousers.

“we are visiting people’s homes. They will dress up for us, and it is courteous that we dress up for them”

“we are visiting people’s homes. They will dress up for us, and it is courteous that we dress up for them”

Previously I had sat alone with Isa as the sun went down and he had taken me by the hand to guide me round his village. Looking back over my notes I had written the following:

Aged 12, Isa woke up blind and retreated from the world. “I felt ashamed to come out and play with my friends. I stayed out of the sun”. He pulled back his shirt to reveal pale skin “I am a black man” he exclaimed. “I stopped going to school because my parents thought I was worth nothing”. “I used to like football and to walk long distances to watch films. Even when I was married and had three children I was full of fear. Mr Kamara from Wesofod met me in my village and spent a long time trying to persuade me to come and be with other people. I refused many times because I could not see. But now I understand that I am disabled and that we must help one another, and we can use the organisation to help others. Now I am ready to work”.

"now I understand that I am disabled and that we must help one another, and we can use the organisation to help others. Now I am ready to work”.

“now I understand that I am disabled and that we must help one another, and we can use the organisation to help others. Now I am ready to work”.

Now one year later I was back at the Village of Hope with the Children in Crisis Trustees, and for many of them this was their first time in Africa. I must say I was very proud of them. They were warm, attentive, respectful, and moved. They were also quick to grasp that although abject poverty and destitution is visible in people’s bodies, clothes, homes and manner – people who have given up and have accepted that terrible fact, much of what makes up poverty is invisible. People with disability know this better than most. It is the way that your parent looks at your wasted limbs or sightless eyes and calls you useless and stops you going to school. It is the way that you are humiliated by discrimination and excluded from work. It is the way that others disable you, denying you opportunities. It is grinding anxiety and worry about holding things together for yourself and your family, for the next day, the next week.

Much of what we call poverty is invisible because people make it invisible. Learning to endure the bad things that happen is critical to wellbeing. You keep smiling and hoping. And when the children and adults from the Village of Hope rush out to greet you, the warmth overwhelms. Our Trustees learned very quickly that understanding the reality of people’s lives takes sympathetic listening, gentle interrogation, and careful research. Crafting solutions is even harder. This is more akin to the negotiations that many of them experience in their professional London lives: how much will the community put in; how much will the government put in, and; how much will Children in Crisis put in? These are not hand-outs but hand-ups.

Children in Crisis Trustees Dr Anthony Wallersteiner (left) & Alasdair Haynes (right) visit Isa's village

Children in Crisis Trustees Dr Anthony Wallersteiner (left) & Alasdair Haynes (right) visit Isa’s village

But back to Isa: he was undoubtedly more confident – “Koy” he shouted as he heard my voice amongst the many new voices across the room “my friend”.  Before I had only heard him whisper. Already he was plotting for all of us to visit his village. ‘Why?’ I thought. We weren’t going to take anything. We wouldn’t be planning, building, planting, digging anything. We would just be a rabble that temporarily doubled the village population (nearly), wander around scattering chickens and knocking over bowls, and gossip with whoever we encountered. But an invitation is an invitation.

Sure enough, we arrived at Pailap and scattered across the village, even excelling ourselves by scaring the sacred vultures off a sacred tree. A couple of toddlers ran off shrieking at the ‘walking corpse-like’ look of white people, but generally the villagers of Pailap were entertained by our presence.

Isa held my hand tightly. “Koy” he said, “I am so happy. Now all you important people have visited me from faraway, people in this village will know I am really something. Now they will treat me well”.

This was a bit of an ‘aha’ moment for me. Dignity more than anything else was what Trustees brought to Isa. Priceless and Isa knew it.

Further reading:

Children in Crisis Trustee Dr Anthony Wallersteiner has written his own blog on the Trustee’s visit to Sierra Leone. Read it here (on the website of Stowe School, of which Dr Wallersteiner is headmaster).