Initially I was worried that we would have difficulty getting the parents to commit to going to their schools every morning to check attendance. Most of them are farmers, which means that they often take advantage of the cool morning hours to work on their shambas. Yet, when our Education Field Officers presented the idea the parents were excited to begin as soon as the very next day. As happy as I was to see their eagerness to participate, I asked them to wait one additional day so that I could meet with all of the head teachers one-on-one to make sure that they understood what the parents would be doing at their schools.
The next day I set out to meet with every head teacher in our sub-location. I tried to explain that the main purpose of the new monitoring system was to get the parents more involved in the daily activities of the school. A few head teachers were very supportive of the new initiative, affirming that the new policy could even be a useful tool for them when trying to enforce punctual attendance of their teachers. Yet, a handful of other head teachers and their staffs were very resistant to the prospect of uneducated parents coming to monitor their attendance in schools. As if the prospect of Nuru checking teachers’ attendance wasn’t uncomfortable enough, the fact that the people doing the monitoring would be uneducated farmers was highly insulting to some teachers.
At a meeting with some concerned teachers this morning one teacher suggested that Nuru establish at least a basic education requirement for selecting all parent representatives, such as having graduated from secondary school. While I could understand the discomfort the teacher felt at the prospect of having his attendance monitored by parents, I tried to explain that it was exactly those parents who are the least educated that we wanted to work with the most. Parents play an integral role in ensuring a child’s success in school. One of the largest issues we face in these rural areas where Nuru works is the rampant illiteracy of the populations we are trying to serve. Because so many of the farmers we work with never received a formal education, they are much more vulnerable to being exploited by corrupt government officials, complacent community leaders and greedy foreign corporations. Because their literacy is limited, they are more likely to find themselves powerless in situations where they are being treated unjustly. They are less likely to know the avenues they need to go through to fight for their rights. And they are more likely to find themselves in desperate situations without any way out. If this cycle of illiteracy doesn’t stop, the generations that follow will be no better off than their parents who are struggling to lay the foundations for a brighter tomorrow. These people are Nuru’s top priority. In every program we work in it’s the same: the hungry, the uneducated, the handicapped, the orphaned, the hopeless, they are the ones we seek out to work with first and foremost.
As I continued to explain this overarching policy to the teachers, a few began to understand. They assured me that Nuru’s policies are good and that they would try to cooperate fully. Yet, others continue to feel very strongly opposed to the idea of illiterate farmers coming to monitor their schools. After speaking at length with our field officers and Francis, my counterpart on the CDC, I have decided to continue the new attendance policy as planned. Yet, as we move forward I recognize that we shall have to tread very carefully. I am only beginning to understand how radical this notion of parent empowerment truly is. I am excited by the prospect of providing these farmers with the tools and knowledge they need to improve their children’s futures through education. But I must keep my eyes and ears open to the concerns and criticisms I hear in the community, educated teachers and illiterate farmers alike. After all, there is still so much I have to learn.