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.