Tag Archives: West Africa

Joseph Kamara – Sierra Leone – abilities not disability

14 Dec

WESOFOD is a Sierra Leonean NGO run by and for people with disabilities. It is an organization that Children in Crisis is proud to count as a local partner. This blog was written by Joseph Kamara, WESOFOD’s Founder and Director, for Children in Crisis’ supporters – to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and to give voice to people with disabilities in rural Sierra Leone. Voices which are being listened to more and more thanks to Joseph and WESOFOD.

The international day of persons with disabilities is a very important day for people with disabilities around the world. For us in Kambia, Sierra Leone, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the year and meet with communities to remind them of their duties and responsibilities in making the world inclusive for ALL abilities.

This year, WESOFOD decided to go farther into one of the hardest-to-reach communities, Bramaia Chiefdom, to raise awareness of the gains to be made from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

T-shirts ready for the day

T-shirts ready for the day

To make this day a success, people with disabilities from all walks of life came from across Kambia district and all over Bramaia chiefdom to its main town of Kukuna. For the first time in the history of Bramaia chiefdom, people with disabilities, as well as their parents, well-wishers and chiefdom leaders filled the major street of their town, singing and dancing and marching to their village hall. Almost the entire township joined the march. They marched with us all the way into the village hall to hear what we had to say. People with disabilities held placards with various messages and during the meeting, described with passion what each of their placards meant. This was what some of them said:

Focus on my ability and not my disability. In his local language and with almost tears in his eyes he said: ‘you always look at our blind eyes, our small limbs, our arched backs, our speech impairment, our disabilities; you deny us opportunities, education, jobs, the right to talk in meetings all because of  our disability. Today I want to say it here loud and clear- we have more abilities than the disability’’.

Focus on my mbility and not my disability

Focus on my ability and not my disability

By promoting Empowerment, real opportunities for people are created. ‘When people are empowered they are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities, they become agents of change and can more readily embrace their civic responsibilities’. ‘Give us education, give us skill so we will be able to look after ourselves, our families and give up street begging’.

Why provoke me? In her presentation, she asked this question three times and concluded, ‘it could be you, you and you’.This question made the entire hall silent. The majority of those present were guilty of this. Provocation is a challenge for many people with disabilities across Kambia district. A lot needs to be done to address the situation.

It could be you, you and you

It could be you, you and you

‘It could be you, you and you’ was a strong message from this child. He was very loud and brief; ‘disability was never a choice for me and I am sure it will never be a choice for anyone of you, it will come when it will come’. ‘Why not join WESOFOD in making Kambia district inclusive for all abilities’?

In the past, it has always been a challenge to bring stakeholders to a meeting that has to do with disability issues. In Bramaia it was a different case. Was it because they wanted to see for the first time people with disabilities singing and dancing? For some people, yes, but for majority, no. By the end of the day I realised why there was such a huge turnout. I saw sincerity in their statements. They were touched by our presentations and especially the presentations from the children. They know these issues were real in their communities and they wanted to do something to help and to support WESOFOD to address disability issues in their chiefdom and the district as a whole. Every section in the chiefdom pledged to donate a piece of land to be developed to empower people with disabilities in their communities.

In his statement, the paramount chief representative assured WESOFOD that they will do all in their powers to make sure that all new public structures are made accessible to people with disabilities in their chiefdom. ‘We are sorry we do not have the resources to make our present schools and public places accessible to people with disabilities but we give all the support within our reach to help WESOFOD correct these past wrongs’.

Magbema Chiefdom's football team

Magbema Chiefdom’s football team

The social inclusion evening also made the day a memorable one. This included a football match between persons with disabilities in Magbema chiefdom and Bramaia chiefdom and a dusk to dawn dance. For the first time in the history of Bramaia chiefdom people with disabilities were seen in the field of play.

For me, the day was a huge success. People with disabilities came out in their numbers. Thirty three children and fifty nine youngsters/adults were registered and have joined the WESOFOD membership. People with disabilities in Bramaia chiefdom saw successful and authoritative colleagues with disabilities from their own district sitting at the high table together with their local authorities, telling them to open their eyes and see ability in disability and appealing to them to make space for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Bramaia chiefdom, Kambia district and Sierra Leone.

Children with disabilities in Bramaia chiefdom for the first time saw more fortunate children with disabilities, who had the opportunity to be cared for by WESOFOD, role-playing the challenges faced in getting an education; the attitude of parents of children with disabilities and communities towards children with disabilities in their own homes and communities. They are happy that WESOFOD has come to their chiefdom and this gives them hope for a better future. Above all, they are very hopeful that these pieces of land that their stakeholders have pledged to give to WESOFOD will in future be developed to better their lives and their communities. Lastly, after almost a year and half of the Ebola crisis, we were able to come out, we were seen and heard, we were able to tell the people of Bramaia chiefdom-one of the hardest to reach and remotest communities of Kambia district – that Inclusion Matters, and that Access and Empowerment are key to inclusion.

WESOFOD staff and members

WESOFOD staff and members

As I reflect on the 2015 theme of the IDPWDs- ‘Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment of people of all abilities. Let us as a section, chiefdom, a district, a country and the world at large reflect on these questions: ‘How many of our offices are accessible to people with disabilities? How many of our health centres are accessible to people with disabilities especially women and children? How many of our schools are accessible to children with disabilities? How many of our mosques and churches are accessible to people with disabilities? How much have we invested in making sure children with disabilities are in school? How much have you invested in women with disabilities to eliminate all forms of abuse and discriminate against them? How much have we contributed to making our communities, our district, our country and our world inclusive for all abilities? How much have we contributed to the empowerment of people with disabilities?’

Written by Joseph Alieu Kamara -Founder and Director -WESOFOD

Joseph Kamara – Sierra Leone – A tribute to a friend

10 Nov

We have lost an outstanding character in the medical profession, full of humour and ready to serve humanity at any time.

All of us at Children in Crisis, and within our partner organisations, feel compelled to acknowledge the heroism of the local health workers who are treating Ebola infected patients in West Africa.  We also wish to pay tribute to nearly 200 health workers who have died from Ebola as a result of their selfless service and desire to help.

Joseph Kamara our Project Officer in Kambia asked that we post a tribute to his close friend Dr. Godfrey Alexandra Jonathan George who became the fifth Doctor who has died of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Our prayers and good wishes are with his family and the families of the other health workers who have lost a loved one. They are national heroes who are an inspiration to us all.

 

Dr. Godfrey Alexandra Jonathan George

Dr. Godfrey Alexandra Jonathan George

 

I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family and relatives of the Late Dr. Godfrey Alexandra Jonathan George, former Medical Superintendent of the Kambia Government Hospital who passed away on Monday November 3, 2014 at the Hastings Ebola Treatment Centre.

Over the years that I have had the privilege of working with Dr George in the Church I attended, I came to admire his humanity. Our relationship became one of brothers.

I am saddened by his death. The late man was an extremely determined and courageous doctor who cared deeply for his patients. His work and dedication have been greatly appreciated by the community of Kambia and will be for many years.

This irreparable loss brought the township of Kambia and staff of the Kambia hospital in an uneasy calm. The late man happens to be the fifth medical doctor now in the Ebola mortality list of doctors who came across their deaths while trying to save life.

Born on the 9th July 1960, Dr. George attended the Methodist Boys High School in Freetown from 1971 to 1976 where he successfully passed the GCE O-Level exams in 1978, and completed his Sixth Form at the Prince of Wales School that same year. In 1978, he entered Fourah Bay College and graduated with a BSc Honours Chemistry. In 1982 he pursued further studies in Medicine at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He held an internship at the Lagos Teaching Hospital between July 1987 to 1988.

On his return to Sierra Leone, Dr. George was certified and accredited by the Medical and Dental Council of Sierra Leone to practice as Medical Officer, and served briefly at the Nixon Memorial hospital in Segbwema. Dr. George worked at the Connaught Hospital Surgical Unit and Operating Theatre in 1998, posted as Medical Superintendent to the Bo Government hospital in 2006, and later promoted Senior Medical Officer in June 2010 and was posted as the Medical Superintendent of the Kambia Government Hospital until his death.

I share this great loss with the medical team in Kambia. He and many others worked tirelessly in building a health service which provided free health care for many communities to access. Something rare within our neighbours in the Sub region.

Above all, I am cognisant of the wonderful long lasting relationship that Dr George has had with the Church congregation all these years. We have lost an outstanding character in the medical profession, full of humour and ready to serve humanity at any time.

I love you and will ever miss your presence, but God loves you best. May your soul rest in peace.

Joseph Kamara – Sierra Leone – Ebola, another setback for people with disability.

13 Oct

Even before the outbreak life for people with disability was hard. They are the poorest of the poor.

Joseph Alieu Kamara Founder and Director of Welfare Society for the Disabled (WESOFOD) in Kambia, Sierra Leone talks about how Ebola is especially impacting people with disabilities, making them vulnerable.

We are facing an outbreak of Ebola virus disease which is said to be the most severe reported outbreak since the discovery of the virus in 1976. In order to curb the spread of this deadly virus, the national government has declared a state of public health emergency. This has greatly affected the normal way of life. People are having to cope with all sorts of changes such as no handshakes, no public gatherings, no social meetings, no travel for people in some parts of the country, and no going to hospitals for usual illness such as malaria or diarrhoea for fear of being diagnosed with or catching Ebola. People are constantly washing their hands, either with ordinary soap and water or, if you can afford it, with chlorine.

Ebola is also hurting the country’s economy in no small measure. Many businesses have closed down, national and international markets have been closed and it has become very difficult for business men to travel. In Kambia district specifically, the international market at Bamoi Luma has been closed. This means that for many in Kambia their main source of income and means of survival has been cut off. Prices of commodities, including food, are rising on a daily basis. Life on the whole has become very miserable for people.  I fear that with Kambia district being one of the poorest and most deprived districts in Sierra Leone, an outbreak will be hard to bear.

 

Joseph (back row, second from left) & children at WESOFOD's home for children with Disabilities

Joseph (back row, second from left) & children at WESOFOD’s home for children with Disabilities

 

Though every Sierra Leonean is affected in one way or the other, I strongly believe that Sierra Leoneans with disability are the most affected for the simple fact that they have a disability. To name but a few are the following ways the outbreak has affected them:

Increase in discrimination and neglect. Even before the Ebola outbreak, these are challenges faced by people with disability from both the community and family members. This outbreak has made it worse. A lot of people with disability are dependent on others to support their movement and general welfare, especially those who require mobility aids but do not have them. Now, because people are afraid to come into contact with other people, they are no longer willing to help people with disabilities get around. This means people with disabilities are now having to crawl on the floor to get around, they get wounds from falling and crawling and have to suffer the shame of toilet systems that are not disability-friendly. People with disabilities in turn are afraid of asking for support as they do not know the whether the other person may have come into contact with Ebola. Immediate family members are confused and do not know what to do. Some bear the risk, others abandon their vulnerable family members.

Exclusion from relevant decision making processes in the name of state of emergency. In our experience, people with disability have completely been left out in the fight to curb the spread of this deadly virus. For WESOFOD the reality and hard fact is that our effort and strides to contribute to the development of our communities is still not recognized by stakeholders. Despite our contributions in making schools and health centers in Kambia district inclusive, WESOFOD and our disabled members are still left out of important decisions. Because people with disability and their families were not represented in planning meetings on the Ebola response, the awareness raising programs do not target persons with disability and therefore, do not reach them.  For instance, a street rally on Ebola using Okadas (motor bikes) will only reach those who could run to see them pass. A radio awareness raising program will only reach those who could afford a radio. A sensitization meeting on Ebola held in a court barry or town hall will only benefit those who could climb the steps to the court barry or town hall. A holistic and inclusive approach is what will help us contain the spread of this deadly Ebola virus disease in Kambia District and Sierra Leone as a whole.

 

A sensitization meeting on Ebola held in a court barry or town hall will only benefit those who could climb the steps to the court barry or town hall.

A sensitization meeting on Ebola held in a court barry or town hall will only benefit those who could climb the steps to the court barry or town hall.

 

Closure of schools. There is a very high illiteracy rate amongst persons with disability. A study conducted by WESOFOD and Children in Crisis in 2011 found that 60% of children with disability who were of school going age in Kambia district were not in school. When asked what would help them most, 80% said ‘education’. Since 2011 WESOFOD have been working hard to make education accessible for these children. Now all that has had to stop because schools have been closed. For people with disability, education is the only hope for a brighter future for both the child and parents. We hope children with disabilities are included in any alternative education projects that are planned during this crisis.

High cost of living. Even before the outbreak life for people with disability was hard. They are the poorest of the poor. Most struggle to make a living and a good number are living on the street as either street beggars, or prostitutes or both. They are unskilled and the majority are unemployed because throughout their lives they have been denied education and opportunity. The Ebola crisis has made it worse. For those who were working- their businesses are closed. For those who were living on the street they are even more desperate now the country is feeling economic strain. This has further pushed people with disability into poverty and vulnerability.

 

Children with disabilities miss play and they miss their friends.

Children with disabilities miss play and they miss their friends.

 

The right to play is being removed. Play is the order of the day for children. It is what makes them happy. Children with disability are no exception. Due to the Ebola crisis (fear of contracting the disease), parents and caretakers try to restrain their children from play. Children with disability are confined on their wheelchairs and in homes. Children in the neighborhoods are also restricted from play. They miss play and they miss their friends.

Without targeting those most vulnerable you will not be able to ensure everyone is protected from Ebola, which is a risk to containing the disease. We very much strongly believe that a holistic and an inclusive approach is what is needed to curb the spread of this deadly virus disease in our communities and country as a whole.

 

Children in Crisis  and FAWE have launched an emergency appeal to help our partner communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia protect themselves from the Ebola outbreak.

Please donate today,  your donation can be matched pound for pound by the UK government.

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Debitia Elliott Farley – Liberia – Preparing to Leave

6 Oct

“The past informs us that if we don’t intervene, no one will.”

 

Debitia Eliott Farley is a Programme Manager for FAWE, Children in Crisis’s NGO partner in Liberia. Here Debbie writes as she and her colleagues prepare to travel to help remote communities in Rivercess County as part of Children in Crisis – FAWE’s emergency Ebola response.

Ebola has attacked our nation, its grip has taken firm control on the fibre of our society, killing people and leaving many traumatized. Rivercess, our project county is of no exemption to this epidemic. Officially there has been eight deaths reported in the county. We believe that now is the time to show our support for our target group- the children, the vulnerable women, the teachers, and the larger community that we work with. Despite being an educational NGO, the question on our lips was how can we be of help to these vulnerable people in Rivercess? What is being done to avoid the further spread of the virus in the county? It came as no surprise to us that little had been done in Rivercess in terms of awareness and sensitization, and the provision of anti-Ebola materials; once again Rivercess had not being prioritized. With this we were further convinced that we needed to intervene.  We did not want a repetition of what happened in Lofa County (in Northern part of Liberia, where the Outbreak first started) to repeat itself, where an entire village was wiped out due to the outbreak, because people failed to take the necessary precautions, because people were not informed, because people acted late.

Jarvis loading the vehicle

Jarvis loading the vehicle

We are very passionate about the work we do and the people we work with. All through our work, the passion to help people in these remote and rural areas can be seen. What can one say about a team willing to cross two big rivers in small canoes for 40 minutes and walk for another 30 minutes just to provide water and sanitation services to a community that had never had access to safe drinking water? Or of a team that will cross precarious, narrow and terrible bridges just to provide training to teachers and community women? It is with such same passion that we again, brave the storm and join the fight against this deadly virus. We don’t want any of our beneficiaries to fall prey to this virus, we want to act now, because if we don’t, no one will. The past informs us that if we don’t intervene, no one will. No one was willing to alleviate the problem of children drowning in the Cestos River, on their way to school. Everyone but FAWE-Children in Crisis saw it as impossible to get a school across that River. We want to assure the people of Rivercess that we are in this fight together, and that we care about their wellbeing.

We have targeted 39 communities, and with two teams of three, including two health workers, we will be out in the field, providing sensitization and awareness messages to these communities. We shall spend one day in each community setting up task forces and community hand washing stations, and distributing anti-Ebola materials.

Hygiene kits and awareness materials

Hygiene kits and awareness materials

We are excited but the excitement is not without mixed feelings. Excited because once again we are reaching out to some of the county’s most marginalized and vulnerable people; excited because we are a part of this fight; excited because together we will overcome this common enemy. However, there are some mixed feelings, mixed because we leave our families and friends behind in the midst of this crisis, trusting that they will be safe in our absence; mixed because most of the time, we will not be able to communicate with our loved ones as we will be in the jungle in areas with no communication network; mixed because unlike other visits to the field, where the team was in the lead, this time the team is lending support to the experts; mixed because even though, the risk of contracting the Ebola virus is low in Rivercess, that thought lingers on…. What if it were to happen? However, in the midst of all this, we are willing to act, to beat the odds, and jump the hurdles. We remain strong and unbended, our drive and force coming from our strength as a team and the fact that many lives will be saved as a result of this intervention. We are not perturbed by the risk involved, instead we are encouraged to move ahead and effect a change. We are committed to this cause, and we will reach out to those communities that others won’t dare or dream of. We will help prevent the spread of Ebola in the country.

 

Children in Crisis  and FAWE have launched an emergency appeal to help our partner communities in Sierra Leone and Liberia protect themselves from the Ebola outbreak.

Please donate today,  your donation can be matched pound for pound by the UK government.

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Rufus Mandein – Liberia – A Voice From the Field

19 Aug

Below is a blog written by our colleague Rufus N Mandein, Education Manager for Children in Crisis’s partner organisation FAWE-Liberia. Rufus gives a harrowing account of the reality of Ebola in Liberia, the terrible effect it is having on him personally as well as on the teachers and students that FAWE & Children in Crisis work with.

I am speaking to you from Liberia, where fear has gripped everyone – small and big, poor and rich, just everyone, due to this terrible Ebola outbreak.

Rufus giving a presentation during a recent forum of Children in Crisis’s partner organisations.

As the number of cases rises, dead bodies are being reported and found all over the place. Health facilities are all closed due to the serious lack of protective gear for health workers and fear of contracting the virus, so common sicknesses are now killing people and no one can tell whether it is Ebola or other illnesses. The current situation is overwhelming for the government – the situation exposes the weak health system of our government and country, and the leadership challenges the nation is faced with.

A state of emergency has been announced by the President for 90 days. Movement in many places is prevented, but those exact places are not clearly known, so the fear of leaving your home or community is high. Some business people who went to transact their businesses in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount were prevented from returning to their homes and kids without prior warning, blocked from passing by troops at road blocks, so everyone is scared to leave home in case they don’t return. FEAR is the order of the day.

The closure of schools throughout the country is another blow to our already weak educational system. Children are kept home with very little or no play. Kids will now have to either sit home or roam the communities as they wait indefinitely for the reopening of schools. Beneficiaries of our projects (students, teachers, women and young girls who missed out on education) will now have to wait until the situation improves before they can continue their training and acquire the skills and training needed to empower them.

For FAWE as a whole, the current situation poses a great challenge as most of FAWE’s work is educational. The entire educational sector is ordered closed. For FAWE-CIC projects specifically, it is a huge challenge. Rivercess, our project location, is one of the communities with cases reported. The project is deeply concerned about the safety of our teachers and students, our target groups. At this crucial time, the need to see how FAWE (through the project) can be of help to these people is a great concern. We need to reach out to our project communities to create awareness, provide chlorine, soap, sanitizers, and hand washing utensils for the people we work with. Our approach must be holistic and show that we care not only for their educational need, but also their health and physical wellbeing.

The 90-day State of Emergency declared on the 6th of August by the President of Liberia is in full swing and ordinary people have started feeling the pinch. The costs of food, medicine, and transportation have gone very high. Market places are being ordered closed to prevent the spread. But some citizens, who are ordinary marketers selling daily (hand-to-mouth business) have complained of the challenge this poses to them. People who have ‘small money’ can be seen crowding up to buy food in preparation for ‘unknown days’ ahead.

Women going out to fetch food for their families have reported the snatching of their hand bags and purses by common thieves while trying to catch a taxi during late afternoon hours. In an attempt to leave the streets before evening hours for fear of the state of emergency – that appears like a curfew in the country – people are being robbed of their valuables, according to some young ladies I spoke with yesterday.

Some state security forces have misunderstood the State of Emergency and started intimidating and harassing peaceful citizens. Yesterday (August 14, 2014) during late evening hours, central Monrovia was a place in panic with two trucks of state securities barricading the street and firing tear gas in an attempt to effect an arrest of a journalist (publisher of the Chronicle Newspaper) for writing a story critical of government. The standoff lasted for more than three hours causing angry citizens to crowd up challenging security forces. This spread another fear in the population that is already battling the fear from Ebola. In fact the action of the state security caused the breaking of one of the guidelines for preventing the spread of the Ebola virus, which warns against large gathering of people.

In the midst of all this, Ebola continues to strike with more than 32 deaths reported in Monrovia alone in the past two days. These include children, health workers, and adults.

As I write this, I have just been informed that Ebola has hit our family. We just lost our cousin. She was attacked in Kakata and brought to Monrovia to the isolation center, but she died yesterday. We were just informed. At this time we are deeply concerned about her husband and kids. What becomes of them? As we all know, this is a sickness that doesn’t allow people to care for their sick ones. How can we be of support and help during this critical time, to those who still have air to breathe? We are praying for the kids and father.

We are trying to take the necessary precautions to keep our families and ourselves safe. The situation is getting worse by the day and everyone is so concerned, but we are trusting God to keep us safe. Our country is in great need at this very challenging time, but in it all we will join forces to create the awareness and fight this attacker.

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

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.