Today morning, the first issue we had was finding fuel. There was a fuel shortage and we desperately needed to fill up the car tank or we would not be able to make it for our meetings. We ended up at a petrol station that looked like the back of someone's house. A huge jerrycan came out of nowhere, we filled up and left for our meetings.
Previously we had distributed surveys that needed to be filled out by 3 people at each school - one by the teacher of CP1 (standard one), CP2 (standard two) and the Koranic pre-school teacher. Today, the head of the teachers' association was joining us as we went to pick up the surveys. Heads would roll.
School one - Not a single survey had been filled in. We patiently sat as they started to fill them out. The head of the teachers' association had to explain some of the French to the teachers.
School two - The School Director is not around. None of the teachers are to be found. Head of teachers' association asks for directions to the school director's home. He is at home fast asleep - from what I gather standing outside his house with my extra survey copies. Our guy - who I shall now call - The Terminator - yells at him. Orders him to get in our car and take us to find the other teachers. On our way there, The Terminator sees one of the teachers we need on the road. You can tell from his disheveled look that he's heard trouble is in town. The surveys! Where are they? He sheepishly hands us blank surveys. The terminator gets out of the car gives the guy a dressing down and orders the director out of the car. He tells them that they must get the surveys back to our hotel by end of day.
I am now so exhausted from all the unavoidable drama. It's lunchtime and we haven't yet had a chance to eat. We need to drive a few hours to our next meeting. On the roadside, we stop by a coconut plantation. The Terminator calls some young boys from the roadside and asks them to climb up the tree and get us some coconuts. I'm still trying to figure out if he knows these kids - as they obediently climb up the trees. This is not the first time i've seen people stopping random people and asking for favors that back in Kenya would get you looked at as if you have totally lost it. I guess it's beneficial when there are few degrees of separation between people in a country. Anyone could easily be your relative and as such the only thing that is important is seniority. Kind of similar to how in Kenya upcountry, anyone can send anyone's child - because if you refuse to be sent - you know information will get back to your parents....Try that in Nairobi....Woi!
Why did I refer to the day's drama as unavoidable? So many factors. One - the project I was working on was the evaluation of a program that had funded a major revamp of the curriculum in Comoros and provided tools that were used throughout the country. The Terminator felt that it was a personal insult to the funder for the beneficiaries to not even spend 5 minutes to respond to a nationwide survey knowing well how the education system in the country was underfunded and how much it really depended on external funders.
Two - did I really blame the teachers for sleeping when they should have been at work or farming? Would you keep going to work if your boss didn't pay you for 3 months? Then why do we expect the same of teachers and some other civil servants. They are human too. If they can't pay their bills by doing their job, are you going to stop them from dedicating more time to their farms - at least there they can earn a living.
Finally though, due to all these problems is it fair for children to not have the same chance to excel in Comoros as in other countries because they spent a significant amount of school time without teachers, materials etc? In the long run, it is these young children who suffer when systems fail them. I was a young African child once. Where would I be if my teachers more often than not were on strike. Don't get me wrong - teachers went on strike a lot when I was growing up in Kenya - including the year of my high school examinations. Even then these were fortunately exceptions. I was also fortunate enough to be from a family that could afford to pay for holiday tuition to strengthen my skills when schools closed. Textbooks were expensive, but we had them. We had power blackouts too, but again these were the exception - not the norm. Teaching at that time was still viewed as a profession to be admired - as such we had qualified teachers. We were therefore positioned for success. When conducting this project and another one in Kenya that had me visit informal schools in Kibera and under-a-tree type schools in Turkana, I realized that for so many children - going to school is a privilege, having the resources to survive there is a dream, thriving is a miracle. I remember the kids I saw in Turkana who studied under a tree with only a very thin sheet above them - hearing stories from the teachers about how sometimes some of them passed out due to heat exhaustion....We should do better for the next generation.
It's very easy to get caught up in politics - in whichever country we are in, but I want us to think of the real lives that are affected when systems fail.
This picture above gives me hope. Little girls in school - something that most of us take for granted. Millions of children around the world will never get the opportunity to step into a classroom and most of those children are the ones who stand to benefit the most from accessing the great equalizer that is education - marginalized children from impoverished communities in poor countries - triple jeopardy. When I look at Nimroh and Hanissah I am hopeful about the future of my continent. In this little girls I see future Nobel prize winners, agents of positive change in this world, I see hope cloaked in the body of a 5 year old girl from a village no one knows exists but whose name she will one day put on the world map.