26th February 2012
by Hannah-May Wilson, Uwezo Regional Office
It was a regularly warm and pleasant mid-February morning in Kenya’s capital city as I set off for the Uwezo Regional Office. Upon reaching the office, I met my colleague – Hellen from Northern Uganda for our pre-departure briefing. It was not long before we were dispatched for a week’s work in and around the heart of Kenya’s Eastern Province. After a navigating our way out of the bustling and dusty roads of Nairobi, we were out on the open highway and before long we found ourselves in our destination town – Machakos. Our first task was to meet with the District Coordinator – Larry to discuss the logistics for the upcoming week of work with Uwezo. Larry, completing his graduate studies in Computer Sciences, also works with the Great Stars Youth Group. He is continually writing grant proposals for projects in and around his hometown and is heavily involved with mobilizing and inspiring youth. Larry is a virtual celebrity in his home town. When we visited one remote household to witness the assessment process, the elderly lady confessed that she already knew who Larry was from the excellent work he has done in their community. Hellen is equally as wonderful. Aside from being an Uwezo District Coordinator, she works as the Education Specialist for Link Community Development in the Katakwi Region of Uganda. Hellen proved to be a wonderful travel partner and great source of information on Uwezo and all-things-education.
Over two days training that was held in a hotel in Masii, Larry and Hellen managed to successfully train the sixty volunteers that would be carrying out the 2012 Uwezo Assessments in their respective villages. This included dispatching them in small groups to pilot test various households and primary schools, ensuring that volunteers were familiar and confident with the assessment tools that they would be using over the next few days. After these two days training, we had a day off to allow the volunteers to travel the long distances back to their respective villages to begin planning and preparing for the following three days of demanding work they would spend collecting statistics and data for Uwezo Kenya.
During our day off, Hellen and I decided to visit some local primary schools in the region to observe the teaching in a Standard 2 classroom. We observed lessons in English and pilot tested various children in Standard 2, 3 and 4 in the presence of their teachers. Although these statistics were not included in the official 2012 findings, the testing was extremely eye-opening, not just for Hellen and I but for the teachers themselves. In one such school, we piloted the Standard 2 Literacy and Numeracy tests to randomly selected children in both Standard 3 and Standard 4. (By the time we reached this school, the Standard 2 children had left for the day) The results were quite unbelievable. In the case of the literacy tests – the Standard 3 children performed better than the Standard 4 children across the board. With a few of the Standard 4 children unable to read even a basic story, or recognize basic words. The deputy headteacher seemed to be shocked by our findings, admitting that the staff believed the children in Standard 4 to be literate.
The following two days were spent accompanying volunteers in the field who were conducting the official 2012 Assessment Surveys by visiting sampled households and schools in the District and obtaining the required data. The roads in and around the District we were travelling in were precarious to say the least, and while driving between towns and villages, I was often scared for my life! At one point, we rounded a rather sharp hairpin bend as our wonderful driver, Francis, told us “Oh yes. The government planted some trees here because so many Matatus rolled off the side of the mountain…. This way, at least when the Matatu’s fall off the side of the mountain, they will not get very far.”
Travelling along the pot-hole ridden roads of the district, I was constantly relieved once we reached the school or household still in one piece. One of the sampled schools we visited was situated at the top of a mountain where the roads were particularly challenging and precarious. Up until this point on our trip, we had had the good fortune of being blessed with absolutely wonderful hot and sunny weather. Wonderful for me – but not so wonderful for the citizens in the districts where it had not rained for months. At one point on our journey we drove over the bridge of a completely barren river – where, we found a man digging into the dry sand to find water for him and his animals. Hellen, feeling sorry for the animals and the communities with a lack of fresh water, had been continually praying for rain. Well, her prayers were finally answered – but not before we were stranded at the top of the mountain in a primary school! I have never seen so much rain in a short space of time in my life. This was relatively frightening for us, as (having not got a 4×4) the car was stuck at the top of the mountain. Eventually, it was deemed safe for us to start the descent. Using the term ‘safe’ extremely loosely, Hellen and I opted to walk for the first little while, whilst we watched Francis and Larry almost plummet to their death on multiple occasions. When they eventually parked the car to meet us, they were laughing and in very high spirits recounting their little driving fiasco.
We eventually got back into the car, and the next part of the journey crept up on me so quickly it’s kind of blurry (that’s what happens when your life flashes before your eyes.) We got to an area of sandy path that had not recovered from the rain, and was a virtual bog. Now in areas like this, to slow down, means to sink right down into the mud and stay forever. So the answer was to speed right up and coast through the boggy marsh area on the edge of a mountain. Except coast, we didn’t. Skid to the edge of the mountain, we did. My heart stopped. I gripped Hellen’s leg so hard with one hand, and had my other hand on the door opener. Ready to bail. (With the unfortunate situation that my seat belt was still firmly on.) We stopped on the VERY EDGE of the mountain. Larry and Francis were howling with laughter – mainly at the faces of Hellen and I. They were not impressed when they saw that I was ready to bail. So unimpressed in fact, that this was their response:
“If God is calling us to heaven, we are all going together. Not 2 of us, not 3 of us, ALL FOUR OF US. If it is our time to see god, then we are going as a TEAM.
All-in-all our trip to Mbooni District was a great success. It is an absolute testament to Larry’s hard work that the training, piloting and testing ran as smoothly as it did. Two days is a very tall task to train 60 young volunteers, empowering them to do a thorough job which will produce reliable statistics. It is an extremely tough job to then support each one of these volunteers during their field visits over such a wide geographical distance. Yet Larry and the team did so with constant smiles on their faces and plenty of jokes to share.
Thank-you to Uwezo East Africa, to Larry, to Hellen and to our star driver Francis for keeping us safe and entertained. I wait with anticipation for the results of this year’s Assessment.
continue reading ...