16 May 2013
Uwezo at Twaweza: We are away on Immersion!
Every year we close the office and the entire Uwezo/ Twaweza team goes off on immersion. Immersions can enable staff–accustomed to working in the capital cities, and in offices with strategies, plans, budgets, indicators and communications- to come face to face with the realities their activities are supposed to address and the people whose lives are supposed to change. It is not a research exercise; it is a “deep dive” into one particular part of the country. The purpose is not to administer questionnaires or conduct focus groups, but to challenge our assumptions, and get a better sense of our context, particularly about how and which citizens make things happen.
Our approach involves staff from Uwezo and Twaweza spending three nights and three days with a previously identified host family, sleeping in their homes, sharing meals and life as it is lived, having long conversations often late into the evening. Staff members participate in community living unencumbered by normal professional roles and hierarchies, with no pretense to profer solutions or help ‘bring development’. This type of participation offers a chance to scrutinize our personal and professional assumptions about development and the lives of ordinary citizens: a chance to listen to people’s perspectives and observe the mechanisms people employ to thrive and survive. In our experience so far, families respond with great generosity and curiosity, as interested in our varied lives as we are in theirs. Our internal note with further details is attached below.
And somehow, we hope, that the immersion will complement our other monitoring and evaluation activities to help us better think through, adapt and evaluate our work.
Our offices in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda will be closed starting 18 May and reopen on Monday 27 May, 2013. During this time we regret that we will not be able to respond to emails, process contracts and payments, and so forth. Please bear with us. If absolutely urgent please contact respective staff on their mobile phones.
To download the internal memo regarding the immersion, please click here
May 27th 2013
By Sara Ruto, Regional Manager, Uwezo East Africa
Education advocate Sara Ruto knows first hand the challenges many children face in getting a good education. Since 2010, she’s worked as the regional manager for UWEZO, a four year initiative that aims to improve literacy and numeracy among children in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
UWEZO is a member of Women Thrive’s Global Parnerships Network, and we were thrilled to enable Sara to attend an education conference organized by Save the Children, the African Union and UNICEF in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia earlier this year. Keep reading for more about the children UWEZO helps and Sara’s reflection on the conference and its impact.
Irrespective of the country, district or village, a recurring feature we see when conducting the Uwezo assessments across East Africa is the power of ‘taking formal education’ to the household. Over time, we have come to anticipate the reactions of many parents. If, for example, a child is reading at the expected level or above, we are met with a shy smile, acknowledging with pride the skill the child has acquired. If, on the other hand, a child is slow, stumbling or incoherent, parents are impatient. They will start to blame the teacher, the school, or the occasional researcher from Uwezo. However, these surface frustrations actually underline a much deeper concern, and if you are patient enough to listen, the depth of parents’ helplessness will emerge, as it did one hot and dusty afternoon in Kitui North District, Kenya.
After the mother had demonstrated her proficiency in being able to read a short story, her daughter Maria followed suit. Both were flawless, especially when reading their Kiswahili texts. Then it was Hamisi’s turn. You could almost feel the mood change. You see, Hamisi, who is 11 years old, is in Standard 2, the same class as his sister Maria who is just 7 years old. Hamisi cannot read. At the gentle insistence from the volunteer that he try and read the same short story as he has just seen his mother and sister narrate perfectly, his eyes got moist. His mouth was quivering. You could sense his anguish. Annoyed, the mother announced ‘this is how he is. When you ask him to read, he begins to cry’. Despite gentle reassurance from the volunteers, his tears started to flow like a burst dam. When did reading become such a saddening, joyless affair, I wondered? I intervened and asked if he wanted to attempt the numeracy tasks and he happily agreed.
Hamsisi’s road to becoming a school dropout is slowly but surely being carved out for him.The tell tale signs of an education system that has failed to cater for Hamisi’s needs means that his future, at age 11, has already been written for him. His mother, concerned, has tried to follow up with his teacher but is received with irritation and labeled a troublemaker. Hamisi has been made to sit at the back of his classroom. Often when he is asked a question and fails to respond, he is caned. The teachers have labeled him a fool. In return, Hamisi feigns sickness, plays truant and will do anything to avoid going to school. He is frequently absent from school (yet his sister attends daily). I begin to wonder, has his mother given up on him? Has the school given up on him? Is he therefore giving up on himself?
VOICE can be expressed in various ways. Here, the VOICE of the child is expressed via tears. The VOICE of the parent is expressed through the conflict of inert anger at the child, posed against her own helplessness to meaningfully respond to the learning gaps her child has exhibited. As I leave the household, I find myself questioning our approach. We often ask parents to visit their schools, but have we given adequate thought to how difficult this must be for a parent, particularly one disempowered by the combined effects of illiteracy and economic instability? What should be done to make schools receptive?
While we negotiate through power dynamics, I am clear about one thing. We should not allow Hamisi to become another sad statistic of our ineffective schooling. To borrow the United Negro Fund’s motto, ‘a mind is a terrible thing to waste’. The simplest solution is to give Hamisi the power to read. It is within the ability of the teacher, the ability of the school and of the State and definitely within his own ability.
These are the reflections that accompanied me as I attended the Post 2015 African Education Consultative Workshop organized under the auspices of the African Union Commission in February 2013. The meeting had brought together representatives from various organizations working in primary, secondary and tertiary sectors across Africa. My contribution, I felt,, ought to be to ensure that Hamisi, whose story represents many, influenced the tone, direction and emphasis of the meeting.
The quality of the discussion did not disappoint. The keynote address from Save the Children’s Country Director set the tone of the meeting, reminding us of the underlying principles of peace and equality of humankind… values that have withstood the test of time, and triumphed when adhered to. He celebrated the strides made in education, singling out the pride many nations identify with – that of access. Yet he warned that the rate of change and of access is stalling.
I felt I was in the right company when he lamented that children are failing to learn, that even though we celebrate access, we forget to mention that overall literacy rates are declining. He reminded the meeting of the essence of measurement, and how informative it is in shaping progress.
The message I got from him, which resonated for me as I attended the meeting, is that we must focus on learning and embrace those at risk of being left behind. The African Union reiterated a concern that reverberates throughout the continent; decisions that touch on Africa are sometimes made in the non-consultative manner. One could sense the resolve that we need to take charge and influence what goes on around us; instill the Africa focus in the global agenda.
The challenges plaguing the education sector are vast. As the discussion progressed, there was a strong sense of opportunity to use this moment to reform school systems, address the huge question of language of school, poor transition levels to secondary and tertiary institutions, school leadership, the list was endless.
Others felt that without addressing the whole question of ‘Education for What’ we would not move anywhere. In short, an argument could be made to focus on the entire spectrum of education, to (re)focus on the elusive quest for quality of education. But as was voiced during the meeting, ‘when you aim for everything, you can end up with nothing’.
With this in mind, we sought to make a deliberate effort to concentrate on concerns that benefit most from international prioritization and reframe unmet targets in ways that make them less elusive. In the end, the meeting moved forward three priority areas:
- Focus on learning outcomes across the levels;
- Equitable and inclusive access and focus on literacy;
- Numeracy and skill development.
It was a befitting conclusion, one that accommodated Hamisi’s need for all types of skills and competencies, including the basic right to read. The idea was not to ‘ghettoize’ Hamisi to a basic education; the promise that he could transition through the entire schooling pipeline was pronounced.
If we focus on learning, measuring learning and using indicators that are inclusive and well understood not only by educationist, but also by parents, we should surely be able to rejuvenate formal education!
12th April 2013
Uwezo Regional Office
In the mid afternoon humid heat of Morogoro, a group of twenty five people sit in three rows in a tightsemi circle, taking in the little solace that the overworked overhead fans can offer from the heat.
It is a mixed group, where digital immigrants are interspersed with digital natives. For in this group are people who played out their childhood in the decade of independence in Tanzania, when optimism was high, and there was a spring in people’s steps. In the same group are people born in the late seventies and early eighties, when we, as a continent, were already disillusioned with the failure to launch.
What unites these people is the desire to improve education. They have chosen to work with Uwezo, a citizen led initiative, to promote learning in East Africa. Uwezo Tanzania, in building even better working systems, has engaged thisgroup, now referred to as regional coordinators, to coordinate the activities of Uwezo in various clusters of districts. They are to have oversight, and offer support to district coordinators in implementing the annual assessment.
To say the group is eager would be an understatement. They are like wet sponges, ready and willing to soak up any drop of dew, which can quench their thirst for knowledge that will help them to competently carry out their mandate.
A young man is invited to take charge of the next session. He shyly stands up and makes his way to the front. As soon as he opens his mouth to speak, a great transformation occurs. His shy demeanour instantly melts, and he comes alive. He is passionate, engaging, and ‘knows his stuff’. He confidently responds to questions, and when participants’ brows crease in deep reflection on some of the tasks, he easily and readily reassures them that this is a task they are up to, a task that they can ably carry out. He pacifies, and infuses a sort of soft and unseen power that completely energizes the group, and opens their eyes to immense possibility.
But who is this young man? His journey in Uwezo is a story which warms the heart, and speaks of the power that opportunity can offer. Like many a young man in Kenya, Francis completed his form four, but was unable to proceed to higher schooling. You see, his grandfather, who had always worked hard to take care of his schooling, died before Francis could share his dream of going to college. What was he to do?
After taking stock of his loss, his enterprising spirit kicked in. He ran odd errands to earn a living. Along the way, he bought himself a bicycle and a camera. The bicycle transported him to the odd birthday party, the once-in-a-while wedding, and to the numerous village paths in his village and ridges beyond, where young couples sought to immortalize their love digitally. He took photographs. In time, he had saved an amount of money that was only enough to enrol himself into a driving school, and also throw in a few computer packages.
With these newly earned skills, he got a job as a driver. As fate would have it, Uwezo Kenya outsourced its transport needs to the company where he was employed. This was in 2009 when Uwezowas in its pilot phase. Francis drove various members of the team to various destinations countrywide. He remembers trips to the districts of Kitui, Kericho, Narok, Bureti,Sotik, and others in those early days. He interacted with Uwezo work, and liked the spirit of enthusiasm he encountered with the leadership and the rest of the Uwezo fraternity.
When Uwezo Kenya was able to purchase an office vehicle, a driver was needed. The vacancy was advertised. Francis applied, went through the interview process and was accepted. Now, he could begin re-writing his dreams in earnest. As Francis says “In my mind, I knew that driving was not the end of my life. I just had to do something”. He continued with driving, but was also very resourceful. He learnt by observing and being involved in other duties, beyond his job description. Spurred by the commitment to education that he saw both in the work of Uwezo, and in his colleagues, he went back to school and studied for a certificate in Management. Gradually, he was able to attain a higher diploma in both management, and purchasing and supplies. He soon got a promotion to the position of program assistant for logistics, and later moved to administrative assistant in charge of logistics, a position he still holds.
Being part of the meeting that Francis was addressing, I could not help but have a mix of emotions. I have known Francis since his days as a driver in the transport and tour company, the early days when Uwezo, was still largely an idea that was birthing. I was therefore experiencing an array of emotions. I felt like a mother hen-protective, like a proud parent-showcasing a talented child, like a believer-embracing an answered prayer and finally, the vain spirit in me also nudged for space, and I felt like a king maker-part of the stable of elders that produced the king.For here was Francis, facilitating a session with an international audience, and he was perfectly holding his own.
To whom and to what does he credit his achievements? First is self belief. Francis says “I can do anything. As long as I am shown, I will work it out, and get my way to the end”. Secondly, he credits Uwezo. In Uwezo, he found an organization that gives employees a chance for growth, and encourages the pursuit of higher education-Colleagues supported him and answered his questions as he struggled with homework, and his country manager ensured he had the time to attend class after work. He also gained confidence in the participatory staff meetings held weekly, where everyone’s views are respected. In his words “You prepare yourself well for the meeting, so as not to present nonsense”. Lastly, he credits the Uwezo idea on improving learning outcomes, as it spurred his imagination and re-energized his ambitions. He certainly has leant a lot, and still going.
In the next five years, he hopes to complete his bachelor’s degree in Strategic/Project management. His is a story of change, happening right in the Uwezo office.