The scale and depth of poverty in Sierra Leone is almost unfathomable. Sierra Leone is abundant with opportunity: rich natural resources; the deepest natural harbour in Western Africa; fertile agricultural land, yet the nation still resides amongst the lowest in wealth per capita. Those in the elite hold much of the wealth, most of which has come from selling off natural resources to international buyers at a price beneficial to the deal-broker, but not to the local community or the country as a whole. In Sierra Leone very few ‘have’, whilst the rest ‘have not’; the manner in which those that ‘have’ achieved their wealth does not set a good precedent for those looking to raise themselves out of poverty. However, coming from a context of subsistence – living for survival – there is no clear contempt for those who have gained wealth, through whatever means. Despite that much of the money in Sierra Leone has come from questionable activities, there is still admiration and aspiration amongst citizens to be like those that ‘have’.
These sentiments can lead to a very dangerous outcome for those running educational programmes. EducAid’s vision is a democratic, dignified and prosperous Sierra Leone, where poverty is eliminated by educated citizens who are able to develop their personal, social and economic wellbeing. This vision focuses firstly on Sierra Leone, and then on its citizens. Through personal experience, and wider observation, we have recognised that if education is simply a foundation for people to raise themselves out of poverty, but they are not brought up to challenge the status quo, then these individuals can easily move from being the oppressed to being the oppressor. At EducAid this outcome does not satisfy our vision. To combat this disparity we work to ensure that our students, staff and partners are taught about citizenship values, and demonstrate citizenship behaviour through their actions.
Actions count, not money
Developing citizenship behaviour begins in our schools. As recipients of a free education, students and their families may not have to hand over money, but the students are expected to pay their fees: Excellent Attendance, Excellent Behaviour and Excellent Effort. This is a demonstration of the very first way EducAid stands against the reliance on aid in Sierra Leone.
Going further than our fees, EducAid asks all students to commit to two weeks of community service during their school career. This can range from teaching in community schools to working on other EducAid projects.
Ubuntu is a term which, in direct translation from Zulu, means “humanity”. It is also translated as “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” Ubuntu is something that we teach within our schools: a fundamental respect and love for each other, and humans all around the world. This is essential as it forms the basis of our anti-discriminatory learning as well as a starting point to educate students in their own rights, expectations and actions as citizens.
In the QEP
Personal sacrifice for public gain
Instilling citizenship behaviour in the QEP has some overt interventions as well as some more subtle efforts, both of which have a huge impact. The format of the QEP is such that we have the opportunity to influence many thousands of people, so getting this right is absolutely paramount.
At the outset of on-boarding any partner school we ensure that both the community and the staff are completely engaged in the programme. In many other teacher-training interventions, head teachers are often invited to a meeting and provided with hefty travel allowances and substantial, meat-based lunches to provide an incentive for attendees to join. At EducAid, we believe this to be in direct contravention of what we are aiming to do, and to our citizenship values. We are known for using our funds effectively and efficienty, and we believe that if a Head Teacher or school representative is attending any meeting with the secondary purpose of materially gaining personally, we would prefer not to engage with that school. Even though this is a small difference in financial terms, it sets the tone for accountability and engagement from staff which we believe delivers greater results further down the line. At the end of the day, citizenship is about helping the many rather than yourself; sacrificing the usual benefits of an internationally-funded teacher training programme is a small personal sacrifice that we expect our partners to make.
The carrot, not the stick
Too many times we see the cane being used in schools, and we believe that if you discipline children with violence you will teach those children to be violent. We see huge and demonstrable changes in attitude and performance by engaging students in their own behavioural management; we see this is as restorative behavioural management rather than retributive.
By consulting with the students, and drawing up reasonable agreed expectations, classes create a set of positive behavioural management objectives by which they hold themselves accountable. Failure to live up to these expectations results in positive, productive tasks around the community. Our partner schools have told us that students are far more likely to behave in a positive manner, attend school and participate more in classes. We believe that this way of behavioural management will have a drip-down effect throughout communities as these young people develop in the Sierra Leone’s next generation.
In the PSS
Help a sister out, brother
The EducAid Alumni Network (EAN) is built entirely out of individuals hoping to help and be helped by others. The raison d’être of the network is to provide opportunities for past students: engagement, providing opportunities, sharing knowledge, and to support each other in maintaining, promoting and role-modelling good citizenship values, thus moving the country towards the EducAid vision. This is the very best of citizenship: using your own skills, knowledge and contacts to help others in to a productive future, and to help others role-model the values learnt at EducAid in a personal and professional contest. The brilliance of this programme is that it is community-led; the planning, management and strategy of the EAN is funded by EducAid but driven by staff and past-students to serve it’s own purposes.
Of course, running 8 school sites across the country, a national teacher training programme, as well as our first stride in to tertiary education means that we have lots to say about our programmes as well. You can find out more about these by visiting our Programmes page.