Tag Archives: Learning

Anne Leinonen – Kabul – Education gives a direction in life

7 Oct

Anne Leinonen is Children in Crisis’ newest recruit and will be volunteering her considerable communications and advocacy skills at our UK office for the next few months. As she was working for an organisation in Kabul, we couldn’t let Anne leave Afghanistan for Children in Crisis HQ without taking the opportunity to visit one of our Community Based Education Centres in the city. Below is her account of the visit. How wonderful to have a fresh perspective on the work of these Centres and a volunteer with such great experience of our work!

 Samir, a proud leaner, offered a friendly welcome.

“Welcome! We are happy that you are here,” a friendly voice greets me when I enter a classroom. I am immediately surrounded by shy laughter and hushed voices. The nervous giggles do not put off the friendly greeter.

“Hello. My name is Samir. How are you?” he continues in English and laughs, along with boys with whom he shares a desk at the back at the classroom.

I am visiting a Children in Crisis Community Based Education Centre (CBEC) in Kabul. Here, out-of-school children can cover an entire primary school syllabus at an accelerated pace. In Afghanistan, forty per cent of children do not go to the school.

Just 18 months ago 13-year old Samir was among the unfortunate forty per cent, as he spent his days on the streets of Kabul. One day, Children in Crisis teachers visited his parents to talk about CBEC in their neighbourhood. After the visit, Samir’s parents let him go.

The neighbourhood might be a short drive away from the city centre of the Afghan capital, but it is still far from being prosperous. Many struggle to provide for their families. Education is not a priority. It is not unusual that parents are illiterate and did not go to school either.

“I like it here. I will go to a state secondary school after this course, and I will study even after that. One day I will become a police officer and will make sure that my neighbourhood is a safe and peaceful place to live in,” Samir tells me proudly. His ethusiasm is contagious.

CiC school in Mariam's neighbourhood makes the school runs easy.

Mariam loves going to school. Having a CBEC in her neighbourhood makes the school run easy.

The school next door

Mariam, also 13, has been coming to the Community Based Education Centre for six months. The school is close to her home, so it is easy for her to come here. She loves Dari and art. At first, most of the words felt too long and a bit scary. It was pure joy and laughter when she learnt to read some of them. The importance of going to the school gets her serious.

“With education you get a direction in your life. Without education one doesn’t know even God,” she says and turns her head away shyly.

Mariam, too, hopes that she can go all the way to a state secondary school. But she does not want to talk about that. In a year or two, school might not be an option for her. In Afghanistan, the drop-out rate for school girls is unfortunately high, as the girls marry young. When they reach puberty, the parents feel staying at home is safer for the girls and their reputation. This makes the primary school education that Mariam is getting at Children in Crisis’ CBEC and the efforts of her teachers to advocate for her further education that much more important.

Open doors

In Afghanistan, the government is unable to provide schools for all. Organisations like Children in Crisis bring education to these deprived neighbourhoods. Thanks to an agreement with the Ministry of Education, the children completing primary school education are guaranteed a place in a state secondary school – girls and boys.

“We research which neighbourhoods need our support most and where people would be keen to attend the classes. Then, we meet with the community elders to discuss our project,” says Timor Shah Abid, the Country Director of Children in Crisis in Afghanistan.

Open doors policy is part of the close ties with the community. Every community member can visit the Centre to see what happens there. That also brings security. When people trust the Centre and its staff, there have not been any problems with security. The communities make even sure that the girls can walk to their lessons without being disturbed.

Currently Children in Crisis runs two Community Based Education Centres in Kabul. The demand for quality education, however, exceeds the two neighbourhoods…

Advertisements

Tom Tyler – Liberia – The Art of Driving

11 Jun

‘My experience of Joe before this trip was seeing the line for ‘Driver’ when looking at the budgets for the projects back at my desk in South London. I had always assumed that someone has to drive the vehicle, but it seemed strange that it needed a skilled, permanent employee. That assumption has been wiped clean this week.’

The Art of Driving

I am writing this in our guest house in Cestos City, the capital of River Cess County in Liberia. ‘City’ is a loose term here, there is one un-tarmacked road forming the high (and only) street, a small number of permanent concrete structures, and a large number of wooden-framed and mud-walled homes (which require rebuilding every year after Liberia’s long rainy season).

I’ve been in River Cess now for three days visiting the projects that Children in Crisis is delivering with our long-term partner FAWE Liberia (Forum for African Women Educationalists), a local education charity.

Typically foreboding rain clouds gather over Cestos City.

Typically foreboding rain clouds gather over Cestos City!

As a member of the small fundraising team at Children in Crisis (there are six of us based in our office in South London), my primary role is to write the proposals requesting funding for our work and the update reports on the progress of the projects. This has been a week of firsts for me: my first field visit, my first trip to Liberia, my first trip to Africa for that matter, and my first real appreciation of the amazing lengths that my field colleagues and FAWE will go to reach the most isolated and remote communities.

I arrived in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, late on Sunday and was immediately hit by the humidity and luscious green surroundings (Monrovia, I would learn, is the wettest capital city in the world. In July alone, it receives double the amount of rain that London receives in a year!). After spending a couple of hours on Monday morning meeting with our FAWE colleagues, the rest of the day was spent on the road to Cestos City. Before starting the journey, I asked Charlotte (my field colleague), who has lived in Liberia for two years, for an indication of the likely travel time. Six to eight hours was Charlotte’s response. It was not the traffic that would determine the final length of the journey, as it might in the UK, but rather the state of the road. The first three hours’ driving would be on a tarmacked road all the way to Buchanan, Liberia’s second city. Beyond Buchanan it would be the dirt road.

April and May are the change-over months from the dry season to the rainy season in Liberia, so bright blue skies and 28 degrees in the morning, then three hour thunder storms in the late afternoon and early evening. If the rain over the last couple of weeks or so had been hard enough and soaked through into the road, we would be looking at the full eight hours (which rises to a potential 10 hours at the end of the rainy season when the road is truly saturated).  As it was, even with a stop off for lunch in Buchanan (rice and ‘cow-meat’ soup), we reached Cestos in five and a half hours.

Tragically, on the stretch from Buchanan to Cestos, we saw a small amount of commotion at the side of the road, surrounding a car that had crashed into a divot. Given the lack of traffic, it was most likely that the brakes or steering had given out, or that the driver had made a mistake. One body was still in the car, and another had been covered up with a blanket at the side of the road. It was a sombre sight.

Within this context, for the remainder of our journey I was incredibly thankful for two things; the sturdy 4X4 vehicle we were travelling in, and the skill of one man. Joe Cappard, the FAWE driver, has been working for FAWE for over 15 years, and driving on Liberia’s challenging roads for 30 years. We’re pretty sure that Joe has literally driven on every one of Liberia’s roads. Before joining FAWE, Joe worked as a mechanic in one of Liberia’s few medical facilities, the JFK Hospital in Monrovia. To pay his way through high school, Joe worked for a mechanics firm during the holidays. Both Joe’s brother (now living in the United Sates), and his father were also mechanics. Joe’s four daughters however, all of whom are still in education – his eldest will soon be graduating from accountancy college – do not share their father’s love of cars and oily engines!

Joe Cappard, FAWE driver.

“It is the most important thing that my daughters are educated, so that they can stand on their own and make a future for themselves and their children. I will make sure that all my children are educated because that is the best way to have a good life.” Joe Cappard, FAWE driver.

Reaching Cestos City in good time was just one leg of the journey to visit the communities that we are working with. Indeed on our second day in River Cess we travelled to a community where even Joe’s skills were of no use. In 2011, with the help of our supporters, Children in Crisis and FAWE constructed a brand new primary school for the community of Neegbah. The amazing thing about this building project, and the reason that Joe could not be of assistance, is that there is not a single road that leads to the community. To reach the school we took the same route that every single bag of cement, steel rod, nut and bolt also had to take; the 25 minute crossing of the vast Cestos River in a hand-built wooden canoe, followed by an hours’ walk through the bush.

Mardia, one of the mothers we spoke to in Neegbah proudly described how the whole community had worked every day from 6am to 12pm for six months to transport the building materials. While the funds were lovingly provided by our supporters in the UK, and the construction work was completed by skilled professionals, the transporting of the materials (including locally contributed materials such as sand from the riverside) helped to create a real sense of ownership amongst the community. 18 months on from completion of the construction, it was clear from the highly maintained state of the school that this sense of ownership was bearing fruit.

Mardia explained that she and the other parents were scared for their children when they attended the old school during the rainy season. Pieces of the roof used to fall on the children, and snakes (yes snakes!) would often fall from the roof into the classroom!

Amazingly, after completing the new school, the Children in Crisis and FAWE team decided to go yet further into the depths of the bush to reach an even more remote community. Beyond Neegbah, Jarstar community is a further 25 mins on the back of a motorbike (as I was fortunate enough to travel), or a two hour walk (almost three hours from the riverside). The women of Jarstar are now benefitting from the piloting of our Vocational Training Outreach Project, whereby our training team live in the community for four months, delivering lessons in locally relevant skills such as pastry-making, tailoring, and hairdressing, as well as adult literacy and business skills classes.

Women attending a VTC bakery class. I was lucky enough to try one of these very tasty fish pastries.

Women attending a VTC bakery class. I was lucky enough to try one of these very tasty fish pastries.

Today, my last day in River Cess, we visited two other communities involved in this pilot project (we hope to turn the pilot into a wide-ranging three year programme benefitting thousands of women in the near future), which were about a four hour drive from our guest house. For this journey, we had to cross two of the most rickety, dangerous-looking ‘bridges’ I’ve ever seen. At one of the bridges, to reduce the weight, Joe asked us to get out of the vehicle. After checking the bridge, and looking for the strong and weak points, he skilfully manoeuvred the vehicle across. We jumped back in on the other side.

Joe Cappard, FAWE driver, and the FAWE team assessing the bridge before crossing in the vehicle.

Joe Cappard, FAWE driver, and the FAWE team assessing the bridge before crossing in the vehicle.

Our timetable for the day, given the amount of travelling involved, gave us about an hour and a half at each community. It became apparent that the women involved in the Vocational Training are so proud of their new skills, and so thankful for the support provided by Children in Crisis, FAWE and our supporters, that the joyful conversations, the meetings, and demonstrations of their new skills were going to play havoc with the timetable.

As a result, by the time we finished at the second community, the early evening rains were coming down heavily (at a force I’d never experienced before!), and daylight had all but run out. I was a bit nervous at this point – the road, strewn with holes and ditches, was difficult enough to navigate during the day when it was dry, let alone at night and in the rain. What was this journey going to be like? And more importantly, given that mobile phone coverage doesn’t extend to the remote parts of River Cess, what would happen if Joe misjudged a divot, or if the vehicle let him down?

As it was, I had no need to worry. Joe drove in the pitch black with only his headlights for guidance (there is obviously no road lighting), handling all that the road had to throw at him. It was an amazing piece of driving. We arrived back at the guest house about 45 minutes ago. Ironically, the generator is broken, and so I’m typing this in the dark. I’ve made more mistakes in the last ten minutes than Joe did in four hours!

My experience of Joe before this trip was seeing the line for ‘Driver’ when looking at the budgets for the projects back at my desk in south London. I had always assumed that someone has to drive the vehicle, but it seemed strange that it needed a skilled, permanent employee. That assumption has been wiped clean this week.

Learn more about Children in Crisis’s work in Liberia.