Thursday, May 28, 2009

We are on the tube!

Huw PW, son of long time friend of EducAid, and his old school mate Ollie have been in Sierra Leone filming positive stories across the country. Such stories are not as hard to find as you might think, bearing in mind our recent experiences!

They spent several days in EducAid and got some good footage.  One story that struck a chord was that of our head boy.  They put together a short film about him and have added their voice to the others seeking funding for his medical assessment trip to UK.

My internet connection is so slow I can't actually see it but I am reliably informed that it is 'brilliant'!

Many thanks lads!

Curriculum Revolution


Relevant, cutting edge, suited to the needs of the youth of 21st century, post-conflict Sierra Leone.  For once Sierra Leone might not be last on the index for something! A new teacher training curriculum for Sierra Leonean secondary school teachers is being written.

Dr Sean Higgins [British teacher and long term volunteer with EducAid] and I are working with teams of teacher trainers from all over Sierra Leone writing the distance Higher Teachers' Certificate course.  Approximately 40% only of teachers in this country are qualified and trained.  However, removing the untrained remainder for training would obviously leave the schools and students in an even worse situation than they are currently. 

It is a mammoth project and we are swimming in the best and most up to date literature, thinking and resources from across the world for 20 different subjects.

It is like the fulfillment of all that we have been working on in EducAid for the last nine years.  The whole project has the potential to transform learning in secondary schools across the country.  For the first time in many many years, teachers in far flung villages will have good quality materials themselves from which they can provide accurate and complete information.  For the first time ever there will be a course focusing on skills and attitudes not limited to the most terrifying content heavy course as has previously been the case.

Maybe now, more than 40% of students sitting BECE [junior secondary public exams] and 17% of students sitting WASSCE [senior secondary public exams] will now pass!!!!

We are excited.  The lecturers we are writing with are excited.  Well... they are now.  It has been challenging.  Some started quite wary but, almost to a man, they are now really proud of what they are producing. Many from the first batch have been phoning and emailing with tales of already implementing new techniques in their own teaching.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Aminata Kabia [16] RIP

And so the bad news keeps rolling in....

Aminata Kabia joined EducAid last summer when the Women's Project started in Magbeni.  She had been out of school for many years as it had not been a priority or a possibility for her parents for her to continue her education beyond a few years of primary school.

She had however grasped this new opportunity with two hands and was regarded as a real role model to the other girls because of her commitment and her courage with regard to returning to school - she was quite rare in her community where girls' education is very low on the list of priorities.

A few weeks ago she suddenly stopped attending school and after a few enquiries amongst her colleagues the staff at the school were told that she had left school.  A little puzzled at this unexpected turn of events AA [the lead teacher in EducAid Magbeni] went to visit the family and ask what had happened.  He was told that she had severe abdominal pain but that they had not taken her to a doctor or treated her in any way.  He gave them some money to get her some basic assessment and treatment.  Some time later he went back and although he did not see her he was told that she was getting better.  The next day, today, he was passing once more and discovered that this afternoon she had died.  By all accounts, she died of an extreme infestation of worms!!!!  One more completely unnecessary Sierra Leonean death.

What can one say to such pointless losses of life?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

British Volunteers taste the realities of life in the poorest country in the world

It has only been possible to start having volunteers from the UK in the last 12 months or so.  Previously, the situation just felt too unstable and unpredictable to take the risk.  

This term we have no less than 6 volunteers aged between 16 and 22.  They have been thrown in the deep end: arriving just as the school communities were taking in the loss of a particularly lovable rogue, known throughout all the 4 schools, they started work.  Within a couple of days they were hearing about health and life situations that really shocked them.  All the events recorded in previous posts have been their day to day fare just as it is mine.  At first, they did not know what to say to people when they realised they had a difficult story to tell but little by little they are becoming part of the communities where they operate and making real friends.

They are really putting their skills to good use: teaching literacy and numeracy, IT and debating skills.  Their term here will have a real impact on lives on-going.  I believe too their time here will also have an on-going impact on their own lives.  It will be hard to take everything for granted in quite the same way again.

They have really done exceptionally well, adapting to some fairly primitive conditions and still having something to give.  Not all volunteers do half as well!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Citizenship Education Week

Citizenship Education Week is over.  This year the focus was building self-esteem.

All students spent the week compiling their self-portfolios: self portrait collages, CV, my dreams, my hopes, my past, my achievements, my favourite music, poem, pictures, books; how I see myself etc etc


Because 'Self' is undermined in so many ways here.  In western society too, youngsters struggle to find a sense of Self and to get the balance right between self-respect and arrogance and many lack self-belief and self-value but there is much greater consciousness to try and help that develop.  Here, there are the usual struggles as you grow up but it is reinforced by so many things in society and life: e.g. life is cheap [death is so common that it sends the message loud and clear that we are all completely dispensable]; if you have an opinion but it is not shared by your father, grandfather, teacher, boss it is not valid or allowed; poverty breeds more vices than virtues and the unthinking acceptance of corruption all around undermines the thought of maintaining personal integrity and not allowing oneself to stoop into underhand behaviour etc etc etc

While this aspect of personal development and holistic education is not new in EducAid we hope that the activities this week will continue chipping into the attitudes that result from such an environment and try to help our youngsters establish their self value, self-respect, self-belief - call it what you will.  The lack of it so terribly undermines society and democracy.  A little step this week that we will continue to build on day by day in all we do.

Teachers aren't supposed to have favourites but somehow it is hard not to sometimes....
I have one in particular who I find humbling to work with because of how he is despite all he has been through.  He finished his final exams on Wednesday having very nearly lost his life to unspecified abdominal infections a few weeks before he started and it has probably taken the edge of his otherwise certain success.  He had worked unbelievably hard and, for example, was beating his entire class in maths, which as an arts student was even more impressive [the scientists usually expect to take that honour!].  

Two volunteers have started a 'Just-Giving' page for him to see if we can get him to the UK for assessment.

He is a lot better than he was but not well.  There is no facility to test for what he probably has so he cannot be assessed and treatment administered.  The only option would be to sit back and watch him degenerate over time and offer palliative care.  Unthinkable.  Doctors at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge are willing to offer their time for free and to work out a way forward.  We are in the process of trying to get him a passport and then a UK visa.  Impossible to say how desperately I hope it works out.  If there is any justice in this world, it will.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Freetown school building now holds 700 students although things are quite tight.

Definitely progress from under the tree in 2000.

where are we now

Where to start......

Since coming back from the last fund-raising trip on Easter Monday, it has been incredible how besieged and battered we have been.  It feels up close that we have never had such a difficult time since I arrived in 2000.  Maybe it is because we are in the middle of it ...

How in nine years have we avoided the health issues with which we have been beset in the last 18 months?  Where can we start with taking on the corruption issues which we are daily encountering?  I have almost forgotten that it was not health or corruption that brought me out to Sierra Leone.  

I have always maintained that the large picture in Sierra Leone is overwhelming and I have to keep my eyes firmly on the small picture and I wish that were always possible.

This year alone, we have lost 3 students, each time it seems more pathetic and more unnecessary and reminds us of how extremely vulnerable we are in terms of health. We have a number of young British volunteers with us at the moment.  One of them called me from near the Magbeni school [2 1/2 hours from Freetown].  His panicked question: 'Who do you call here in emergencies?'  He had been sitting at the junction when a minibus banged into a 12 year old boy, failed to stop but injuring him seriously. Two days later one of our teachers lost his 1 month old, directly consequent on the mother's ignorance and failure to give her husband key information which could have saved her baby.  The same day one of our classrooms lost its roof when the beginning of rainy season wild winds hit. That night another teacher had his house broken into by armed thieves who removed all their property.  I am dreading tomorrow's news!

Meanwhile - we battle on - actually EducAid runs schools [that is what we really do!] and the quality of the education being provided continues to improve.  The senior students finish their final public exams tomorrow.  The leadership team are developing in confidence and competence all the time.  

more anon....