Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Peter's Reflections on Africa (Pt. 2)

In our last post, we shared some reflections from Peter Wentworth about his trip to Africa. Here is the continuation of that post...

Rwanda - Lead Farmer Project
Rwanda, called the land of 1,000 hills, is a beautiful country, humbled and energized by its recent horrific legacy.  Kigali, the capital city, is exceptionally clean (and I mean zero litter), and visually appealing - built on dozens of hills with tree-lined roads - and a blur of major construction – commercial and residential.  The economy is strong.  Twenty five miles outside the city in the Bugesera District is the Mayange cluster of villages.

Prior to visiting the first Lead Farmer, we met with the Millennium Promise team overseeing the project.  That gave us a good overview of the status of the project, the structure of resources, and the progress against goals in terms of technology uptake, learnings transfer, and crop yield.  2015 is the final planned year of this project, so the visit provided a good opportunity to assess both progress and sustainability of the effort.

My impressions: 
  • The Project has set up a disciplined and repeatable structure to transfer knowledge from EPN-funded extension agents to Lead Farmers, who in turn pass on the information / skills / agricultural techniques to other farmers within their assigned villages. 
  • The Lead Farmers are implementing the new techniques, some with significant outcomes, as evidenced by the demonstration plot of cassava we visited.   
  • One of the Lead Farmers (Tedeo) has demonstrated strong entrepreneurial skills and built a successful business, expanded his land, increased his number of fruit trees from 40 to 400, prepared videos to share his methods with others, sells cuttings, experiments with grafting, etc.
  • The program is teaching the Lead Farmers to be leaders among peers.
  • The program is providing process and tools/technology (e.g., cell phone app) to help farmers evaluate their progress.
  • The program is enabling a transition from subsistence to income-generating farming.

Looking forward:
To help ensure the success and sustainability of the program, more “Tedeos” need to be identified and supported to ensure there is a critical mass of Lead Farmers with the initiative and entrepreneurial spirit to sustain the effort when structured support ends.  This is possible with strong local leadership, clear and realistic goals, increased leveraging of the successful Lead Farmers as role models, and continued funding.  Work is underway to gain government support and resourcing of these agricultural efforts to offset the potential reduction in NGO and private funding sources as the Millennium Promise demonstration timetable nears its end.

Kenya – Little Rock School
To visit Nairobi is to sit in your car in what seems like endless traffic.  After a short distance and long time, we pass through the outskirts of Kibera, experiencing a feast for all the senses resulting from the squalid coexistence of trash and humanity.  The car bumps down a street and we approach a neatly landscaped wall.  A solid gate opens to a courtyard in bright primary colors, silly over-sized Disney-like characters painted on the walls, and a rich learning haven for children all of whom come daily from indescribable living conditions.

My impressions:
Lilly Oyare has established an extraordinary learning community which is inclusive, non-judgmental, nurturing, loving, and laser-focused on maximizing the students’ future potential.
  • The preschool teaches all children English – the language required for entry to the public school system. 
  • The school accepts physically and learning disabled children who otherwise would have no access to education (30% of the school’s children), and mainstreams as many as possible (hence the sign language for all students/teachers)
  • Focus on nutrition – for many, the school is their only dependable source of food
  •  Focus on values – rooted in kindness, hope, hard work and self–confidence – the last two of which are core objectives for the older students, particularly in the after school and mentoring program
  •  The teacher-student ratio is 1:20.  Compare with up to 1:100 in Kenya’s public schools.
  •  The teachers, therapists (occupation/physical) staff are all very aligned with the school’s vision and mission, highly motivated, and nurturing.  Teacher retention is very high.
  • The school continues to support primary school students through an after school tutoring and mentoring program funded by EPN, to ensure they perform up to their capabilities on the national standardized tests which determine eligibility for secondary schools (high schools).
  •  The performance of EPN-sponsored Little Rock scholars in secondary schools has been very strong – ranking solid to very high among their classmates.
  •  What started as a simple preschool quickly gained momentum as a local intervention and catalyst for community-driven education for children of the slums – key to shaping their outlook on the world, building hope, expanding horizons and providing options for the future.

Looking forward:
Little Rock is an exceptional example of one person’s vision becoming a reality and then growing at an ever-accelerating pace.  Lilly, John, Pete Ondeng (EPN Advisor and first Board Chair of Little Rock) and others recognize that thoughtful management going forward is required for Little Rock to retain its essence and core elements of success.  The challenge is scalability, and significant additional resources are required to successfully expand.  This is a good problem to have.  The school is now on the radar of the Ministry of Education, Save the Children, and numerous other organizations as a model of inclusive education to be emulated throughout Africa.

In summary, the Africa trip was a wonderful in-process look at the work of Eliminate Poverty NOW and the impact being made by the EPN team and its supporters.  I was impressed by the emphasis on local empowerment, accountability, and ownership, and John’s relentless focus on outcomes, ensuring that EPN resources – both time and money – are being wisely utilized.

No doubt that Peter had a great experience, and had plenty to share. Now we'd like to hear from you! What thoughts do you have on Peter's reflections? Do you have a similar story from a trip to Africa that you'd like to share? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Peter's Reflections on Africa (Pt. 1)

A few months ago John took a trip to Rwanda and Kenya to visit several of the projects that EPN funds. He took two friends along with him, one of whom was Peter Wentworth, one of our newest board members. Here are Peter's reflections on the trip to Africa.

John Craig made a simple enough request…would I summarize my impressions of my visit to the Lead Farmers program in Mayange, Rwanda and the Little Rock School in Kibera, the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

Descriptions of the two projects we visited are available on the EPN website, so I’ll spare the details here and focus on my impressions. What is most difficult to capture in writing are the warm smiles, open hearts, rough hard working hands, dusty earth-between-the-toes, robust cassava plants and luscious mangoes, and the entrepreneurial spirit and optimism in the farmer’s fields in Rwanda – just 21 years after the genocide of 20% of the country’s population, bringing it to its knees.

And in Kenya, rising out of Kibera, one of the worst slums in the world, and home to an estimated one million people with no running water, electricity or sewage system, is an oasis of joy, hope, and infectious laughter of 380 bright-eyed children, somehow impeccably dressed in school uniforms, learning together in an inclusive environment unmatched in the US.  They all learn sign language for the benefit of their deaf classmates, and giggle at my attempt to sign my name.  It makes me smile as I write this.

Context makes the ordinary extraordinary. 

……To read more of Peter’s thoughts, be sure to check back with us early next week, as we post part 2 to Peter's reflections!