People are social. We want to be connected and we want to share and learn from each other. Have you ever been watching a beautiful sunset and run to find someone to share it with? And when my daughter was young, I learned the benefits of talking to other parents at the playground. Not only do you make friends, but you also receive valuable insights into parenting that are not easily gleaned from books or pediatricians.
Recognizing this simple truth about human nature, One School decided not to partner with individual Ugandan schools in isolation. Instead, we chose to partner with schools just a short walk, bicycle, or boda boda ride away from each other. The idea behind this was to create a professional network of schools, all striving to improve their situations, so that these schools could serve as a sounding board, a support, an information source for each other. Outside agencies, NGOs, and visitors come and go. Instead of looking to outsiders for support and information and connection, why not look to each other? And who knows more about the unique challenges of working in the area, and who cares more about the local children than the locals themselves?
When One School officially partners with a Ugandan school, one of the requirements of partnership is that that school provides support and mentorship to the next partner school, thereby building a network of local expertise and empowerment. For instance, a few parents at Partner School #1 became experts in making pressed earth bricks. Those parents then taught some parents at Partner School #2 how to make the bricks. Now, those parents are experts teaching the next partner school.
When Partner School #2 reports at the quarterly partner meetings about parent involvement, the other schools take note. “Wow, how did you encourage your parents to donate funds to pay for five staff members: a cook, security guard and 3 teachers? How can we help our parents to be energized like that?” This gets the other partner schools brainstorming about how to energize and involve their parent communities with the guidance and suggestions of their partners.
At a partner’s meeting this past year, Partner School #4 informed the group that a government health worker had just tested their students for bilharzia and that many had tested positive. The other schools wondered, should we get our students tested too? They shared the contact info of the government health official and now all the partner schools have been tested. Students at two of these schools had the disease. Now they are all working together to advocate for the health worker to return and provide medication to the students to eradicate the problem. (In the interim, One School at a Time has installed or plans to install clean water systems at the affected schools).
Our Program Manager, Hussein, was too busy recently with construction activities to organize the 2014 end of year partner’s meeting. Partner School #4 decided they wanted and needed that meeting. So they took it upon themselves to host the meeting and invited the other schools, providing lunch from produce harvested from their school gardens. At the meeting, each school reviewed how the year had gone. When it came time for Partner School #2 to share, they told their partners that they had just planted 100 coffee trees donated by the government. They got this idea about growing coffee from Partner School #4 which has a large coffee tree project to generate money for the school. The other schools remembered that Kukanga had a mango tree project. What had happened to that project? Well, the truth of the matter was that project was not going so well. The school had not assigned anyone to be in charge of tree care. The original model of the students providing that service had not worked out given that students leave at end of year break for 3 months. They admitted that more than 50% of the mango trees had died. “So”, the partners asked, “Why are you starting this new tree project when you are not able to successfully maintain the mango trees? What are you going to do differently? What is your plan?” This is powerful sharing. Being grilled by your peers gets your attention, emphasizes accountability, and prompts you to think about how to do things better.
The network of schools is building resiliency and fomenting positive sustainable change in this impoverished community in rural Uganda. Support One School at a Time to add another impoverished school to the network- DONATE NOW!