Today was hard. By mid-day I was overwhelmed by just how challenging it will be to reach HOPE for Ariang’s goal: to transform Ariang students through quality education.
From the beginning, I knew that achieving this goal would not be easy. One “quick fix” will not magically change Ariang School into a center of learning where students receive quality education. But as James Baldwin writes,
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
So with the goal in mind, we set our first priority and established a clear plan this year: Empowering Educators Initiative. As a teacher myself, I am convinced that a central way to transform Ariang students is through effective school leaders who will develop a positive school culture, engage students in stimulating lessons, and guide students towards mastery. We called in “teacher development experts” in East Africa, Dignitas Project to offer what we believe will be the BEST training the teachers can receive.
But today I was reminded of the divide between the goal and reality. Ariang Primary’s reality is that our teachers are undereducated, untrained, and face many of the same injustices that Ariang students do. They are from the same community that has suffered from decades of war and where signs of development are nearly non-existent. This is evident as you drive through the nearest town to see an abandoned teaching hospital, an unfinished school, and a dirt road that is inaccessible during rainy season. Seeing change is not easy in Ariang.
Today marked the third day of our first Teacher Training Institute. Throughout these two weeks in Nairobi, the six selected Ariang fellows are in training sessions from 8:00 – 4:30 pm daily, with additional work to complete in the evening. They are saturated and immersed in all things pedagogy. But by mid-day today, I was overwhelmed with what seems to be the long road we have to eventually realize our goal.
A Wave Of Reality
The waves of reality hit me during a session on positive framing, which is essentially how teachers guide students to do better by inspiring them with positive tone and feedback. As I sat with a small group of three as they tried to dissect a text on positive framing techniques and strategies, I observed that the teacher fellows struggled with the texts’ language. They had such limited background knowledge on the topic, making it difficult for them to grasp and understand the subject. They. just. weren’t. getting. It. At all! I felt like a failure. What do I think I’m trying to achieve? Why did I think I could bring them to a training and change anything? These teachers can’t really transform their classroom and school. The facilitators must feel like this is a waste of their time. Negative thoughts continued as the gap between the teacher’s understanding and the content seemed to get wider and wider throughout the session. Thankfully I was not alone. Dignitas facilitators observed the same realities. Even though we discussed that less is more during the early stages of planning for this Institute, today they recognized that even LESS than LESS is more.
A Quick Debriefing Session With The Teachers
During the lunch break the facilitators did some quick debriefing and revising to take a new direction in the afternoon. We spent the afternoon going over the same content again, but this time with simplified language and a condensed one-page handout with the main ideas of each technique. Each positive framing strategy was reviewed, many examples were given, and the facilitators modeled, modeled, and modeled again. At the end, teachers worked in pairs to choose a positive framing strategy and model what it looks like in action. The teachers quickly fell back on what feels “natural” or how they typically curve behavior in their classroom. But they were encouraged to try again, and again, and again. Feedback was provided. And then… it happened. Small little glimpses of change. Don’t misinterpret; it wasn’t a hallmark moment or anything. Even still, the teachers were modeling the new strategy in their practice scenarios. They. Were. Starting. To. Get. It. Not perfectly, still with misconceptions, still with much practice needed. But there was a small shift in how they addressed student behaviors before and how they address student behaviors now.
Transforming a rural community school in South Sudan doesn’t have any quick fixes. It is naïve to think that after these first two weeks classrooms will be transformed. I may return to Ariang next month to find the same quality of teaching and learning happening as what took place before the institute. These teacher fellows will require ongoing support to implement the ideas and concepts they are learning in Nairobi. It’s likely they won’t succeed at first. They will need constructive feedback. They will need strategies modeled again. They will need commitment and motivation to keep working towards change and growth as teachers and school leaders. This is the reality of development, especially in a developing country that exists in fragile peace. We may have a program planned that looks wonderful on paper, but in reality we are in the “business of people”, and people don’t change overnight. Growth takes time, energy, resources, and practice.
HOPE for Ariang’s goal to transform Ariang students through quality education will take time and it certainly won’t happen after this first institute. We need to be ready to shift gears, revise the plan, or try again. It will certainly take long-term commitment and hope in the face of challenges and injustices.
I am reminded of some of the Community Builders that the facilitators begin each day with, these activities are designed to help teachers foster community and ease into the day’s work. Today we did the Human Knot where everyone stands in a circle, holds hands across the circle with two people, and then they must try to untangle the knot and make a whole circle again (without letting go of each other’s hands). When the teachers first tried, many mistakes were made. Lack of communication or a clear plan make the task difficult. In their first attempt they were completely unsuccessful. The knot was too complex and too hard. Everyone gave up and let go of the others’ hands. In a sense, they failed. But then they tried again. This time, using their prior unsuccessful experience, they communicated better, some people assumed a leadership position, and they discussed ideas before making the next move. It was after this second time that they were successful.
Transforming Ariang students through quality education will not be easy and can’t be fixed with one simple solution. We will fail along the way when implementing new projects and ideas. We will learn many hard lessons. We will face setback. We will have try again and again. But if we don’t face these challenges, then certainly nothing can ever change.
I’m thankful that our HOPE for Ariang supporters understand the complex context in which we work and that they choose to journey with us on the sometimes long and difficult road towards growth and development. You believe in our mission and propel us forward towards our collective goal. And when we succeed, you get to share in our joy that all students are being transformed by quality education at Ariang Primary School.
Dear Friends of Ariang,
I am excited to report how HOPE is growing in Ariang, South Sudan!
This year is off to a wonderful start because of your generous support. Let me recap some of our accomplishments thus far that were only possible through you!
- 675 boy and girl uniforms were made in Kenya and transported to Ariang. A uniform is a powerful tool of establishing community, equality, and pride among students.
- 650 pairs of sturdy shoes were distributed as a result of our special appeal last December. With donations ranging from $5 to $2,000, we were able to purchase quality shoes from the non-profit, Because International. These Ethiopian made shoes are designed for rough African terrain and expand as the child grows.
- The school received new soccer balls and pumps to promote healthy exercise.
- We equipped the school with needed school supplies for this academic school year: exercise books, pencils, pens, geometrical sets, and teacher planning books.
- All teachers received new professional clothes and five bicycles to be shared among those who live a long distance from school.
It is a privilege and honor to be able to give these gifts on your behalf. I wish I could accurately share with you their smiles and gratitude expressed! The morale at the school has been lifted in the midst of daily suffering in the village. The students and teachers at the school know that they are not alone in their pursuit of education and that there are friends over 10,000 miles away who are supporting and cheering them on! Thank you for helping Ariang community to carry on in their pursuit to reach their fullest potential.
These supplies and materials are surely making an impact in Ariang, but what HOPE for Ariang Foundation is embarking on starting next month is even more exciting. It has the potential to have a greater impact for many years to come. I am so excited to share about our Empowering Educators Initiative (EEI) that begins in May!
EEI focuses on improving the quality of education in South Sudan through teacher training, starting at Ariang Primary School. The program will:
- Begin with a cohort of six Ariang Primary school teachers (fellows) who, given proper training and tools, can be effective teacher-leaders.
- Fellows will come to Nairobi, Kenya during their school holidays in May and August 2018 for intensive training institutes led by our partner, Dignitas who has trained 569 educators in Kenya since 2011.
- In between and after institutes, fellows will receive one-on-one coaching from Elizabeth Deng to help them implement the new skills.
Empowering Educators Initiative will equip Ariang teachers to improve pedagogical skills and methodologies, meet the learning needs of their students, and ultimately transform the quality of education at Ariang Primary School.
After our first cohort of teachers, we hope to grow and expand the program to empower more teachers at Ariang Primary as well as other local schools.
Will you join us as we roll out this exciting new initiative? Uniforms, shoes, and materials are important to address “the needs of now”, but equipping teachers with new knowledge and skills is what will have a long-lasting impact on student learning for years to come.
Please consider giving towards our Empowering Educators Initiative today!
- $50 will cover one teacher’s visa to Nairobi, Kenya.
- $100 will help cover one teacher’s transport to the training.
- $300 will cover the training resources for one teacher.
- $3,500 will cover all expenses for one teacher to fully participate in the program.
Read more about our six selected fellows here! Each one is committed teacher at Ariang School. I am excited for EEI to unlock their potential to be great teacher-leaders. You can donate specifically for this program by following the donate link and writing the name of a specific teacher or just “Teacher Training” in the designed “special instructions” box at Pay Pal checkout. You may also make a donation by mail to the address below.
Thank you for partnering with us to make an even greater impact in Ariang!
Dear Family and Friends,
At the beginning of December, I had the privilege of traveling to Ariang village to visit the school and meet with the community. It had been six years since I last visited and I was eager to reconnect with teachers, students, and community members as I begin my new role as Executive Director. I went with a very simple purpose: to listen. I wanted to hear from as many teachers, students, and their parents and understand the successes, challenges, and dreams for Ariang Primary School.
During my last visit in 2011, South Sudan was a newly independent country. Optimism and hope were evident in the community and throughout the new Republic. Since 2011, South Sudan has been devastated by its own civil war that has had a significant impact on the country’s security and development. While Ariang School is located in a region of the country that is removed from the frequent violence, they still feel the economic impact resulting from the war.
Throughout my conversations there were two overarching themes that appeared:
- Ariang community as a whole, which includes teachers, students, and parents, has a deep understanding that education has the transformative power to change the course of an individual, family and community.
Students wake up before dawn to get ready and walk two hours to school, because they know that an education will provide a better future for them.
Teachers continue to teach while earning a meager salary because they believe that education is the key to lift up their community. Even with limited teaching tools, they desire to guide young boys and girls in their learning so that they can be the future change in Ariang.
Families are recognizing the importance of school and more are sending their young girls to Ariang School. When the school began, less than 25% were girls. This year, there were almost even number of boys and girls.
- Ariang community faces numerous daily struggles of survival that extends to Ariang Primary School. Teachers, students, and community members are crying for more support and help to build up their school and community.
Students are in need of new uniforms, shoes, and basic school supplies; items that are difficult for most families to buy.
Teachers come with varied levels of education and training. They are desperate for more training to improve their teaching practices.
Teachers also come long distances to school, making it difficult for them to arrive early or on-time for lessons.
The school is showing signs of deterioration due to the lack of a schoolyard fence to secure the building and students. In addition, the chalkboards are in need of repair.
I left Ariang with an overwhelming awareness that there is a lot of work ahead, to achieve our mission of providing educational opportunities to all South Sudanese—One village at a time.
This trip will help guide HOPE for Ariang Foundation’s work in 2018. We are working on a few short-term immediate projects as well as long-term investment projects. Three specific projects that I am most excited for are:
- New Uniforms and Shoes for our students
A uniform is a powerful tool for establishing a sense of community and belonging. When a student has a uniform, he or she walks to school with pride and dignity, showing others in the community that they are part of Ariang Primary School. It creates equality among students. Students feel more equipped and ready to learn each day. Currently, most students at Ariang School do not have uniforms or proper shoes to wear. Students, teachers, and the community asked over and over for more uniforms for students.
Our goal is to raise $15,000 to be able to give out 700 uniforms and shoes in 2018.
- Bikes for Teachers
Teachers face similar challenges to students and have to walk long distances to the school. With added family responsibilities, it becomes even more challenging for them to arrive at school early or on time for lessons. With a bicycle, they will be able to arrive at school early enough prepare their lessons for the day.
Our goal is to raise $5,400 for 18 bicycles.
- Teacher Training
The long-term investment in Ariang School is in equipping our teachers with the best teaching tools possible. There isn’t a quick fix for teacher training. It will take time, resources, and consistent follow-up to help develop our teachers. However, the impact of it is significant. When the quality of teaching improves at the school, it impacts student learning and performance.
We are partnering with Dignitas, a Kenya based organization that has been doing teacher training in community schools throughout Nairobi’s informal settlements (slums) for the past seven years. They have refined their program to successfully transform schools through investment in teachers. We are excited for the ways that they will help develop and grow our Ariang Primary School teachers in 2018.
Our goal is to raise $30,000 for teacher training.
I invite you to be part of these three exciting programs and others in 2018. You can donate online or mail a donation here. Your support allows us to keep doing this important work of transforming a community through one little school. Thank you for enabling us to do so!