Tag Archives: schools

Sarah Rowse – DR Congo / Burundi – A report from a little known crisis

20 May

“There was something particularly undignified at seeing teenagers – on the cusp of adulthood – forced to sit on makeshift benches more akin to what one would find in a nursery school.”

I’m not long returned from a trip to eastern DR Congo where I was visiting Children in Crisis’ work with young Burundian refugees.

These teenagers, many of whom are unaccompanied minors – separated from their parents and siblings – have fled an unfolding and worsening crisis in their country.

It’s a lesser known crisis, one that hasn’t hit the headlines. Indeed, Burundi is a lesser known country that few have heard of, but what’s abundantly clear to me, from visiting the refugee camp and spending time with the young Burundian refugees with whom we’re working, is that this unfolding humanitarian crisis is no less important.

Since the crisis in Burundi first erupted two years ago, ignited by the unconstitutional and deeply divisive decision by incumbent President Nkurunziza to run for a third term, Burundi has been thrust into political and economic turmoil. Government crackdowns against opposition movements, suppression of the media, an increase in violence and extrajudicial arrests – have resulted in upwards of 260,000 refugees (the majority women and children) having fled to neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania, DR Congo and Uganda.

Those that have fled to eastern DR Congo, some 16,000 of them, are living in a refugee camp on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Lusenda is already home to over 16,000 Burundian refugees who have fled increasing violence and extrajudicial arrests. © MONUSCO

Lusenda is already home to over 16,000 Burundian refugees who have fled increasing violence and extrajudicial arrests. © MONUSCO

Since November 2015, Children in Crisis alongside our dedicated local partner, Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI), have been working predominantly with young people from this camp and with head teachers and teachers from the surrounding Congolese secondary schools. These schools, whilst doing their best to accommodate the young refugees, are struggling.

To this end, we’ve thus far supplied much-needed teaching and learning materials to the host schools to accommodate increased enrolment. We provided just over 1,000 school kits and uniforms – responding to the very real needs of these young Burundians who have fled, literally with the clothes on their back. We’ve applied our extensive pedagogical expertise to provide much-needed training to Congolese teachers from the host schools to help them respond to the changed classroom environment that the refugee crisis has brought, and we’ve established drama clubs for refugee and non-refugees alike, helping young people to express themselves and make sense of the situation they find themselves in.

We have supplied over 1,000 school kits and uniforms. What became clear during our conversations with Burundian students is that, apart from the clothes they were wearing when fleeing their homes, these uniforms are the only other clothes that they now have. Photo credit: a photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

We have supplied over 1,000 school kits and uniforms. What became clear during our conversations with Burundian students is that, apart from the clothes they were wearing when fleeing their homes, these uniforms are the only other clothes that they now have. This photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

Children in Crisis’ focus on education – both formal and non-formal – in this emergency context, is essential; it is also a mammoth task.

It is essential for the following reasons:-

  • At a time when young people are facing the toughest of times, uprooted from friends and family , going to school and maintaining their education provides some precious normality and stability in their lives.
  • In refugee situations, as has sadly been played out time and time again, young people are far more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation; the risk of recruitment into militias is a very real one, and girls in particular are at greater risk of sexual violence. The protective function that going to school plays in such situations can’t be understated.

But the task, as I mentioned, is a mammoth one.

With the crisis in Burundi showing no signs of abating, refugee numbers are predicted to increase.

The host Congolese secondary schools, even before the refugee crisis, were woefully under-resourced.

School buildings are small, cramped and dilapidated and there is a need to construct new schools and classrooms to cope with the doubling, in some cases, trebling, of enrolment.

In one of the schools I visited, Institute Lokololo, the head teacher had taken the initiative to rent an additional building to accommodate increased enrolment of refugee and non-refugee students, but the school lacked the means to furnish the school and, as a result, students were reduced to sitting on planks of wood or on upturned bricks on the dirt floor. There was something particularly undignified at seeing teenagers – on the cusp of adulthood – forced to sit on makeshift benches more akin to what one would find in a nursery school.

The planks which make for benches used by teenage students at one of the host Congolese schools.

The planks which make for benches used by teenage students at one of the host Congolese schools (photo taken by Burundian students).

A school toilet.

A school toilet (photo taken by Burundian students).

DSC_0815

Temporary classrooms have quickly fallen into a bad state (photo taken by Thea Lacey).

And these teenagers – like teenagers the world over – are bright, articulate, creative, intelligent, proud individuals.

Each that I spoke too had ambitions and hopes.

Each were clearly deeply anxious and troubled by the situation they find themselves in.

Each had harrowing stories to tell of what forced them to flee.

Children in Crisis and EMI are the only organisations responding to young people’s secondary educational needs at this time. We can and must do more to respond to the plight of these young people; with over 10 years skills and experience working in the region, in the field of education and with displaced communities, we know what to do and how best to do it, in response.

A photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

A photo taken by Burundian students who borrowed our camera to show us their school and friends.

If we are able to secure the necessary support, this is what we will do:

Increase the secondary school premises available in Lusenda as the current situation is untenable. We are currently drawing up plans to construct a new school building.

Address the gap in out-of-school activities for young people of secondary school age (both in and out of school) in a way that combines several different goals, such as :

  • boosting intra-community cohesion
  • providing young people with positive ways to spend their free time (reducing the risk of them being attracted to anti-social and harmful activities)
  • creating ‘edu-tainment’ opportunities through which important public health and protection messages relating to early marriage, sexual and reproductive health can be communicated to other young people and the wider community.

In addition to additional teacher and school management training provide support to schools to establish enterprises; enabling them to generate a school income & increase resources such as classroom furniture and learning materials (which are currently at a very low level and which will need maintaining into the future).

The establishment of school enterprises would also enable young people to learn enterprise and business skills. Such skills would be highly relevant to young Burundians at this time, helping them to offset any dependency created as a result of their refugee status.

Advocacy & support

We need help in order to sustain our activities in the longer term. We need advocates and supporters to raise awareness of the plight of these young people and of this little known crisis that is unfolding in this little known country on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch or donate online if you think that you can help today.

Amy Parker – DR Congo – This school is merely the tip of the iceberg

29 Apr

‘‘If we don’t have peace, life is empty. We will lose everything again if we don’t live in harmony. Children of Tulambo, this is your future.’’

These words, spoken last week at the inauguration of Tubangwa Primary School by a local chief were met with a huge round of applause by all those present to celebrate their new school. This Primary School is the 15th to be built on the Mid and High Plateau region in South Kivu, DR Congo, by Children in Crisis and our local partner NGO Eben Ezer Ministry International (EMI). Tubangwa School sits in Tulambo village. Nestled deep on the Itombwe Plateau, with no telephone coverage and several days’ journey by foot to the nearest centres, Tulambo has long suffered from inter-ethnic conflict. It is a region inhabited by two communities, the Banyamulenge and the Babembe. For many years, peace reigned and the communities lived happily side by side. However, the years of conflict from 1996 onwards saw the two groups pitted against each other. Former friends and neighbours found themselves entangled in a fatal conflict, driven by rumour, jealousy and manipulation. Today a fragile peace has been reinstated, but it is a peace that needs nurturing.

Approaching Tubangwa Primary School, with the rusty , leaking roof of the old school building to the left.

Approaching Tubangwa Primary School, with the rusty , leaking roof of the old school building to the left.

‘If we don’t have peace, life is empty. We will lose everything again if we don’t live in harmony. Children of Tulambo, this is your future.’  - Tulambo's community leader

‘If we don’t have peace, life is empty. We will lose everything again if we don’t live in harmony. Children of Tulambo, this is your future.’ – Tulambo’s community leader

When talking about what makes them sad, the first thing that the men, women and children of Tulambo spoke about was war. In my personal world, death is not something that I think about regularly. It is not something that I’m faced with regularly. However, for the group of 11 and 12 year old pupils with whom I chatted, the first thing they told me they didn’t like to see was death. The thing they most hated to hear was news of people being killed by war. These sentiments were echoed by the men and women I talked to. Men spoke about not wanting to hear people talk about inter-ethnic killings, they don’t like to hear news about war and they are sad when they see people fleeing and the destruction that war causes. Women spoke of the sadness of widows and orphans left behind following conflict. They hate to see friends become enemies and are scared when they hear news of fighting.

Sylvie is one of Tubangwa's pupils who I spoke with at the school opening.

Sylvie is one of Tubangwa’s pupils who I spoke with at the school opening.

Three women who were part of the school construction committee.

Three women who were part of the school construction committee.

The construction of a school is seen as a symbol of a brighter future. The building itself is merely the tip of the iceberg. In all of Children in Crisis’ schools-construction projects, we work closely with the community to ensure they are ready for the job at hand – the investment of the local population is enormous. Whilst we transport building materials from the lowlands and provide a skilled team to lead the project, the community will work together to provide stones for the foundations, sand for the cement and water on a daily basis over eight months of construction. Being so invested-in and integral to the project, they also scrutinise the quality of construction throughout, and become ambassadors for education within the wider community.

Esther Nyakaguju, a mother of eight children who spoke extremely powerfully about the power of the school to unite everyone and the hope it gives for the future.

Esther Nyakaguju, a mother of eight children who spoke extremely powerfully about the power of the school to unite everyone and the hope it gives for the future.

As is often the case, for the communities of Tubangwa Primary School, the construction project also provided a neutral platform for previously warring communities to work together for a common goal – more important than any lingering mistrust or suspicion.

Children sat at comfortable desks, in their new school.

Children sat at comfortable desks, in their new school.

The resulting, bright spacious school is not only a place for Tubangwa’s children to learn and prosper. It is the best chance we have to put an end to the spectre of death that haunts people of this region on a daily basis. It is the hope for a future without conflict.

Click here to learn more about constructing schools on the remote Plateau of South Kivu and the work that could benefit from your support. 

Amanda Jones – Sierra Leone – it’s all in the percentages

12 Feb

” ‘some’ soon becomes ‘all’ and ‘get through’ fast becomes ‘reach their full potential’.”

I’m nearing the end of this trip to Sierra Leone and, in meloncholy at the thought of leaving, I am taking the opportunity to reflect upon another month spent in the beautiful Kambia district.

And ‘reflect’ is quite the apposite word to choose, since ‘reflection’ has characterised the theme of my visit to the FAWE team this time, with whom we are implementing a UKAid-funded primary education programme.

This current project began in January 2012, and has targetted 45 schools with teacher training, school governance and management training, adult education support, and establishing community groups who are responsible for supporting the school.  The end of the project is nigh and so we have been talking to key individuals who have been involved throughout the initiative, to illicit their views on the gains made and challenges faced so far.

Before I go on, let me first set the stage.  As all good project teams do, we’ve been assessing ourselves as we go and, so far, our findings have been encouraging.  I will draw upon end of year class test scores as an example.

Looking at the 24 schools targetted in the first year of the project (target schools), the percentage of children who passed their end of year class tests last June increased by 9.4% compared to results from the year before we started our work.  Amongst those who passed the tests, 27.5% scored more than 70% (the pass mark is 50% so scoring 70% or more is a good result), compared to only 11.6% of children who scored more than 70% the previous year; so an increase of 15.9% here.

The percentage of children who passed their end of year class tests last June increased by 9.4% compared to results from the year before we started our work

The percentage of children who passed their end of year class tests last June increased by 9.4% compared to results from the year before we started our work

We compared all of these test results to those from the 21 schools with whom we are working now (new schools), and had not worked with before the tests were taken.  This is where things get really interesting.  Now remember that in our target schools the percentage of children who passed increased by 9.4%.  Well the corresponding figure for the new schools was only 4.1%.  Likewise, the percentage  of children in new schools who scored more than 70% increased by only 0.3% from the previous year, compared to the 15.9% increase seen in the target schools.  I’ve included a table that might explain the findings better than I can put into words… too many ‘%s’ perhaps?

Table1 v2

So, tick.  Remembering that test results don’t capture the full extent of learning, and can themselves be flawed measures of progress, the findings suggest that learning is improving, and that our work is contributing toward this positive change.

"Flip charts have been flying, pen lids popping, and  stones (for voting) scattering."

“Flip charts have been flying, pen lids popping, and stones (for voting) scattering.”

So, motivated by these reassuring findings, we are of course eager to continue.  Now, we know there are still many challenges faced by the 45 schools, and education is still not at the quality that it needs to be to enable children to reach their full potential.  So who better to consult on next steps, but the people with whom we’re directly working?

So, over the past week or so, the FAWE office has been full of Head Teachers, parents learning to read and write, and community group leaders.  Flip charts have been flying, pen lids popping, and  stones (for voting) scattering.  Its been hectic, and a real tell on my Krio (the lingua franka) skills, but the results are now in and they are interesting to say the least!

We asked 12 Head Teachers if they wanted to continue working with us and all 12 said yes.  Great!  So we asked them what they would like us to do directly with the school.  83% said more teacher training, whilst 67% said more School Management Committee (SMC) training and 50% asked for more training for themselves.  Reasons given included:

 “I will prefer H/Teacher training because I am not opportune to be trained by MEST [the Ministry of Education].  I was just an assistant teacher that have been promoted to Head Teacher.  So I need to be trained as H/Teacher” and The teacher training will be very much important because most of the teachers are not trained and cannot afford to go to college because of financial constraint’”.

But we wanted to know how they would like to go about this training.  We suggested training options – would you like to have refresher training workshops, much like the approach we used last year, or would you like to try something new, and have Teacher Trainers placed in your schools longer term, for more 1-2-1 coaching and mentoring, and training workshops designed more specifically to meet your needs?  Two thirds of the Head Teachers interviewed opted for the more traditional refresher training approach (perhaps we’re onto a good thing here), whilst a third suggested the Teacher Trainer placement scheme.  Why refresher training?  The most frequent reason given was that training content is easily forgotten, and who cannot attest to that?!  What an insight into the need for continuous in-service training, even for qualified personnel (of which there is a severe shortage in the schools with which we work).

We asked members of the community groups that are supporting schools about the support and training they’d received through the project. From this we learnt that people wanted more training in book-keeping, and project proposal writing, so that they are able to access funds from other avenues (e.g. government grants, or grants from embassies).

With adult learners, we learnt that they have very differing aspirations for their own learning.  Some parents are eager to read books (one woman said she wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in telling her children to finish their education if she had not finished her own), whilst others are happy to learn just how to write their name as they do not have time in the day to progress past this level.  This has implications for the design of the adult education programme, as we need to be flexible to people’s  aspirations and availability.  We were also told that adult learners wanted to learn more about business skills (receiving 36% of a vote to prioritise topics suggested by the workshop participants), agriculture (23%), planning daily activities (23%), and family planning (18%).  We also learnt that the main problems facing the adult learning groups are the time constraints of the learners themselves as their other responsibilities make them late for classes, if they have chance to come at all, and means they have little time to study at home.

"back to the flipcharts, back to the priority matrixes, and focusing on planning..."

“back to the flipcharts, back to the priority matrixes, and focusing on planning…”

These are just a few highlights of our findings, all of which are currently being spilled over as we plan our follow-up support programme.  Of course we’re reflecting critically, and not taking things at face value.  Debate is raging in the FAWE/Children in Crisis office at the moment, I can tell you!

So we’re now back to the flipcharts, back to the priority matrixes, and focusing on planning activities that will bring this learning to life.  It’s fun and exciting and I am led to revel, once again, at incredible privilege I have to work alongside the innovative and inspiring FAWE team, school personnel and community members who despite all the odds, succeed in getting some kids through.  I take very seriously my responsibility to support these groups to build on what they have already achieved, so that ‘some’ soon becomes ‘all’ and ‘get through’ fast becomes ‘reach their full potential’.

Thank you for reading and if you have any ideas or questions, please feel free to contact Children in Crisis!

info@childrenincrisis.org / 020 7627 1040

Dru McInenrey – Summer Intern

24 Jul

Hello, Dru here

I am Children in Crisis’s summer Intern! A little background on myself, I am a Government and International Politics Major from across the pond at George Mason University near Washington DC. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to London for the summer, and even more fortunate to land an internship for an outstanding charity. Naturally, the first thing I wanted to do upon my arrival was to orient myself with the astounding work Children in Crisis produced over the past 20 years. This is when I discovered the vast photo library.

The Children in Crisis photo library has thousands of pictures of children and communities spanning over four continents and numerous countries.  Going through some of our most recent photos, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share some pictures of where we have been and where we are going this year. Posted are photos from some our programme visits to communities in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Democratic Republic of Congo. I’ve highlighted just a few of many programs that have positively affected these hard to reach communities. In addition I have added pictures of the marginalised Batwa communities of Burundi that Children in Crisis plans to begin working with in the near future. Hope you enjoy the optimism depicted in these photos as much as I did.

Cheers

-Dru McInenrey

Burundi, Batwa

The children of Burundi are just as curious as we are optimistic about Children in Crisis’s vision for education.

Burundi, children, batwa

It is evident the children of Burundi don’t lack imagination. With proper schooling the future is bright!

Burundi, Batwa, children

Girls from the Batwa community perform a dance in front of their friends and family.

burundi, batwa, children

It’s the boys turn! Batwa boys are excited to perform in front of their community.

Sierra Leone - Children in Crisis trained 159 Teachers in 2012.

Sierra Leone – Children in Crisis trained 159 Teachers in 2012.

Empowering Women in Liberia!  337 women participated in our Vocational Training Programme in 2012.

Empowering Women in Liberia! 337 women participated in our Vocational Training Programme in 2012.

Democratic Republic of Congo . In 2012 Children in Crisis built a permanent, weather-proof, durable school to give 269 children a place in which they can sit and learn.

Democratic Republic of Congo . In 2012 Children in Crisis built a permanent, weather-proof, durable school to give 269 children a place in which they can sit and learn.

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.

Charlotte: Liberia – The River is boss

8 Nov Children in Crisis FAWE trained teacher crossing river on rickety bridge

when we reached the community people just threw up their hands and thanked God that we found them, thanking us over and over for coming so far, where nobody else had come before, to help them” 

Having recently joined Children in Crisis as the new Programme Manager for Liberia, I was excited to visit our programmes in Liberia and get to know our local implementing partners, FAWE Liberia. As I have only just returned from two years in Liberia with another large International NGO, I was very interested to see how Children in Crisis and FAWE fare in comparison – and I have to say, I was impressed. Not only are Children in Crisis and FAWE delivering world-class programming for children – we are also practicing what we preach – reaching the most remote and hardest to reach communities.

After arriving on Sunday evening in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, on Monday morning we set straight off to River Cess – the county where Children in Crisis and FAWE are working. River Cess is a remote county in Liberia’s south eastern region – a region which is widely recognised as an area of huge need, but which is also notoriously remote and hard to reach, so that few NGOs venture there (Children in Crisis and FAWE are currently the only NGOs delivering teacher training in River Cess, and the Children in Crisis/FAWE Vocational Training Centre is the only vocational training institute in the entire county providing skills training and adult literacy for vulnerable women).

The road conditions travelling to River Cess were incredible – a slalom of red mud, rain and river crossings, making it a perilous journey only passable because of the skill and courage of the FAWE driver, and the powerful new four-wheel-drive vehicle we were lucky enough to procure thanks to generous donor support.

Children in Crisis / FAWE vehicle stuck in mud in Liberia

The Children in Crisis and FAWE vehicle gets stuck in the mud on the road between Monrovia and River Cess, trying to pass a truck which has been stuck in the mud for days. The team had to winch the vehicle out of the mud – this is a frequent occurrence whenever travelling to River Cess.

This is not something new for the team here – with such difficult road conditions, particularly during Liberia’s heavy rainy season from April to October each year, the Children in Crisis and FAWE vehicle regularly gets ‘hitched’ in the mud, as Liberians say! However, this is only the beginning. Once the team reach Cestos City, the capital of River Cess County (which is more like a small village than a ‘city’!), they have a much longer journey ahead, and one where the trusty 4-wheel drive can’t go. From there, they brave the motorbikes in pairs – and on these roads, it’s not for the faint hearted!

The FAWE Teacher Trainers regaled me with stories of slipping and sliding their way through narrow jungle pathways, or hauling their motorbikes over their heads to wade through rivers waist deep which intercept the thick jungle pathways. And then there is always that inevitable point where the ‘bush’ (the jungle) gets so thick even the motorbike can’t get through, and our FAWE colleagues continue on foot – often for up to 4-5 hours, and with numerous perilous river crossings along the way, forcing the team to wade through shallow waters, travel in dug-out canoes, or cross tentative bridges made of single tree trunks on their hands and knees because there was nothing to hold on to. The River really is boss in River Cess, as the name implies.

The Cestos River and its many tributaries branch across the county, paying little heed to roads or bridges in its path (or houses and schools, for that matter!). But FAWE have been working in River Cess for years, and the team know the terrain, and are familiar with the determination of the River – but their determination is even greater, and it’s truly inspiring to see the lengths they go to, to reach these remote communities.

So many of the communities we are working in are so remote and so far from the road, no NGO has ever ventured there before, let alone Liberia’s under-resourced government – during a recent baseline assessment (which Children in Crisis and FAWE undertook to identify the most vulnerable schools to target for the project this year) one of the Children in Crisis/FAWE Teacher Trainers described how “when we reached the community people just threw up their hands and thanked God that we found them, thanking us over and over for coming so far, where nobody else had come before, to help them”. She quoted one community leader who told them “no NGO has ever reached us before. We are so happy. Thank you for finding us.”

So, why do we do it? Because Children in Crisis and FAWE believe that every child has the right to education, no matter where they are – we are committed to ensuring all children receive the education they need for their flourishing and wellbeing and to help transform their lives. Where resources are few, where education is needed to heal the nation, and where it is too remote for others, we are determined to support children to read, write, think, pursue their life goals and contribute positively to their communities and their countries – and this means ALL children, not just those who are easy to reach.

Gallery of photos (click to enlarge and browse):

We also do it because equitable access to quality education and development opportunities is essential for maintaining Liberia’s peace. The brutal civil war, which tore Liberia apart between 1989 and 2003, was triggered by the frustration caused by the stark inequality between the few who ‘had’ and the vast majority who ‘had not’, and widespread poverty and exclusion in Liberia’s most remote rural areas left thousands of people (particularly disenfranchised young men) frustrated and vulnerable to being mobilised by warlords and militia groups. This is just one of the many reasons why it’s so important that Liberia’s post-conflict transition and recovery includes development for all, not just development for those who are easier to reach – not just to ensure Liberia’s growth and development, but also for lasting peace.

But doesn’t reaching the most remote mean spending more time, energy and resources, I hear you ask? Well, it’s not so much a question of how much you invest, as a question of what return you get from that investment, and I’ve seen first-hand that when you go the extra mile (quite literally!) to reach the hardest to reach, you get that effort back tenfold from the communities.

For example, while in Liberia, I was lucky enough to observe our fantastic Teacher Trainers in action during some Parent Teacher Association (PTA) training. Children in Crisis and FAWE are not just committed to improving access to and quality of education through training teachers and school administrators, building and rehabilitating schools and distributing school materials – we’re also committed to empowering and mobilising communities via PTAs to take their children’s education into their own hands to inspire lasting, sustainable change – this PTA training helps to equip PTAs with the knowledge and skills they need to do this. During the training, I witnessed first-hand the commitment and dedication of the parents and teachers in the remote communities where we work to grab this development opportunity with both hands and make life better for their children. Like our FAWE colleagues, they too are determined, no matter how long and perilous the journey they have to take to get there (to minimise the distance participants have to travel, make the most of limited resources, and so PTA members can learn together and share their experiences, we cluster the training into groups of communities, to get as close as possible to the schools, but with such sparse and remote communities, this still means a long journey for most).

Martha J Waye is a Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) member from Yarnee District in River Cess. She is pictured here, presenting group-work back to her fellow participants at the recent Children in Crisis/FAWE PTA training in Cestos, River Cess, in September 2012. She walked for 4 hours and crossed the Cestos River for another 2 hours in a dug-out canoe to reach the training, but she was delighted to be there – Martha told us how happy she was to be part of the training, and how she would have walked even further to be there, because she is so happy that now she knows how to be a good PTA member and how to make the school better for children. She said she would carry all the good lessons back to her school and do everything the trainers taught her. She thanked FAWE and Children in Crisis for everything they are doing for her community, and for not forgetting their community because they are too far.

Children in Crisis and FAWE Parent Teacher Association Trainer

Martha J Waye – small in frame, but big in passion and determination – who walked for 4 hours and travelled for another 2 hours by canoe to reach the PTA training.

Children in Crisis and FAWE work hard to reach the furthest and most remote communities, who are often forgotten and miss out on basic services like education, but when we get there, the passion and commitment of community members like Martha make the journey worth every step. Their determination, passion and commitment to make the most of every training opportunity or resource provided and work tirelessly to improve their children’s education means that any investment we make is magnified and has a massive impact of the most vulnerable children. So, even if the investment of time, effort and resource we have to make is slightly higher to reach the hardest to reach, the return on that investment is so huge, and the impact on children so great, it’s worth it.

I will leave you with a single image of Principal Kofa Nagbe from Boboe Public School (he was trained by Children in Crisis & FAWE in 2011), who we met along the road one day on our way to Logan Town School. Unfortunately, we reached a point where the bridge was impassable (a heavy-duty log-bridge had been transformed into a raft-like structure, barely clinging to the banks of the swollen river below), so we had to bid farewell to Principal Nagbe, who has a long journey ahead on foot, through rivers and jungle, to reach his school and community. But he won’t give up – he will keep walking, no matter how far and no matter what the weather, because like so many of the teachers, community members and children we work with, they are determined to rebuild their lives and look forward to a brighter future.

Children in Crisis FAWE trained teacher crossing river on rickety bridge

I left Liberia feeling incredibly proud to work for Children in Crisis and in partnership with FAWE. It is truly inspiring to see the lengths the team are willing to go to reach the hardest to reach, and even more inspiring still to see how far communities are willing to go to improve education for their children. With such passion and determination among Liberians, whether beneficiary communities or our dedicated local partner colleagues, I have no doubt that Liberia will recover and re-build, even if it is a long road ahead…

Sarah J – Sierra Leone – Launch and REFLECT

3 Aug

“The REFLECT approach links adult learning to empowerment, which is especially important when working with marginalised groups such as women…”

It has been a while since I updated this blog and as always plenty has been happening so I will share with you a couple of key things that have been very exciting.

We officially launched the project . . .

At the end of June we launched the project that Children in Crisis and ABC-Development are implementing together in Kambia District at community and district level. Although the project has been running since mid-April we waited until June to officially launch because the communities, with support from their facilitators and the ABC team, had completed their social maps and come up with actions (and budgets to go with them) to address the problems in education that they have identified. This meant that at each launch it was not just ABC, Children in Crisis, District Council, and other NGOs that spoke about the project and the need for the work in Kambia. Instead, community representatives, nominated by the communities, were also able to address those attending and share what they have been doing to develop their proposals.

Kontha Community Social Map

Kontha Community Social Map

The community voices were heard. The communities brought their social maps to the District Level launch and proudly displayed them on the walls for everyone to see. This was an important opportunity for engaging with others in the district to start to show what the communities can do with our support, and to show what we have done so far so that we can continue to bring people together in this way to have open discussions and demonstrate the results as the project goes on.

Social Maps

ABC Team and facilitators putting up their Community Social Maps for the district launch.

We brought together local partners to have training of REFLECT Trainers…

I mentioned in the first blog post that a key element of the project we are running with ABC is REFLECT, which is an adult literacy and community development methodology. In fact the RELFECT approach is an important component of both the projects Children in Crisis is working on in Kambia –the other one being in partnership with FAWE Sierra Leone which you can read about here.

The REFLECT approach links adult learning to empowerment, which is especially important when working with marginalised groups such as women.   REFLECT builds on what people already know rather than what they don’t know through its use of participatory methodology and is therefore a continuation of what has already been done on the ABC project with the communities.

REFLECT Training

REFLECT Training session outline

We brought the ABC and FAWE teams together at the start of July to attend training in RELFECT delivered by a new local partner organisation called the Baloya Development Foundation (BALDE). This training was to equip the teams to be able to train the literacy facilitators that will be selected by and working in their communities to run literacy circles, which will then meet weekly (usually more than once). Issues that are important to the learners and the community form the centre of the circles, so that these issues are discussed and words relevant to them learnt. By the end of each meeting learners agree on an action (no matter how small) they can take to address the issue(s).

The training has been very valuable, enabling the teams to develop their knowledge and skills, equipping them to share these with the facilitators so they can work for their communities, and also bringing local partners together –ABC, Balde and FAWE- to share their strengths and learn from each other.

Below is a snapshot in pictures of that training:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.