A year after the massacre in Garissa that killed 148 people and injured 79 or more, security in the northern area of Kenya remains fragile. The terroristic group Al-Shabaab, which took responsibility for the shooting, constantly attacks military and civilians while it aims to recruit the youngest, even in Dadaab. In the world’s largest refugee camp, AVSI Foundation is working to give the inhabitants of the camp an alternative to violence through various educational projects.
AVSI main goal is to train 600 primary school teachers through classes in Somali language approved by the Ministries of Education of both Kenya and Somalia. The project is financed by the EU and is implemented by AVSI in consortium with Save the Children UK, and LWF.
Support to Education for Refugees in Dadaab (SERD) is one of the first projects in the area of the voluntary reentry program of refugees to their homes in Somalia, in accordance with the Tripartite Agreement among the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the UNHCR.
By Andrea Bianchessi
Translated by Victoria and Gianpiero Ianelli
A prolonged humanitarian emergency: this is how experts describe the situation in Dadaab, for more than 25 years the most populated refugee settlement in the world. The camp is the product of conflicts in the early 1990s and of repeated periods of drought that have always affected this area.
Here, in northern Kenya, in a semi-desert area on the border with Somalia, live 350,000 people, mainly Somali, but also Ethiopians, Congolese, Burundians and South Sudanese. They are surviving thanks to the help of the international community: they are forbidden to leave the camp and only some manage to earn income with some odd jobs or trade.
Dadaab is a very inhospitable land that so many call home because they were born and raised here and they feel that this is where they belong. And yet, for quite some time, the Kenyans look upon the inhabitants of Dadaab with fear and suspicion, mainly because Al-Shabaab, the terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, recruits their soldiers in Dadaab and periodically attacks civilians and military personnel.
Al-Shabaab outreach in the area is so strong that the road that connects Nairobi with Dadaab is considered one of the most dangerous in all of Africa: it’s possible to cross only with an armed military escort. According to the Kenyan government, on April 2, 2015, exactly one year ago, the commandos who killed more than 140 young people at the University of Garissa, just 100 kilometers away, came from Dadaab.
In Dadaab, the militia finds fertile ground for enlisting new recruits. In a reality where only one out of every two young people is able to go to school, extremism becomes an ideal to cling to, capable of offering something to believe in for those who have only ever known misery and humiliation. There is a great risk that these radical groups in the camp become the only model of life for many young people who are often still children.
Since 2009, AVSI Foundation has promoted educational projects as an essential instrument in the fight against radicalism. AVSI believes that a holistic education of the person is the remedy through which it is possible to propose a way of looking at reality as something positive and to promote the desire for growth, justice, love and truth that are innate in each person. It is this kind of schooling that can and should be supported in order to build a peaceful coexistence.
The SERD Project
The Support to Education for Refugees in Dadaab (SERD) project, financed by the EU in a consortium of AVSI with Save the Children UK and LWF, has as its goal the training of 600 primary school teachers through courses taught in the Somali language and recognized by both the Kenyan and Somali Ministries of Education. SERD is one of the first projects in the area of the voluntary reentry program in Somalia in accordance with the Tripartite Agreement among the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the UNHCR. Reentry into Somalia will be neither suggested nor promoted: the intention is simply to provide skills that can be used in the country of origin and therefore it will be up to each refugee to evaluate whether to adhere to the UNHCR program for voluntary reentry. The security conditions in Somalia are still critical in spite of a newly formed government and increased investment in reconstruction.
The project was born from the experience of AVSI with teacher training in recent years in Dadaab. Today, some of them, like Ali and Mohamed, teach in schools in Mogadishu and in southern Somalia. In Dadaab, they had the opportunity to learn English, but now they need to be able to speak and teach in Somali and to have an understanding of the history, geography and culture of their country. This is exactly the objective of the new SERD project: to provide in-depth knowledge about Somalia for a “Somali” education. Particular attention will be paid to the formation of women, who in the Somali tradition, do not work outside of the home, but who demonstrate a great passion for teaching. This formation will take place throughout the year of 2016, at an overall cost of about 150,000 Euros (250 Euros per trained teacher).
The Experience of Boy and Girl Scouting
There is more than just school. The values of friendship and brotherhood can be promoted in many different ways, starting from the positive use of free time even during school vacations. In recent years, AVSI has created groups of Boy and Girl Scouts in Dadaab.
This is another way of promoting the values of friendship and brotherhood among children and teenagers, and of fostering a positive use of free time, especially during school vacations when Al-Shabaab recruitment activity is more intense. An unexpected positive outcome became evident, when the boy and girl scouts began to convince their peers who had abandoned their studies to re-enroll and continue their education.
AVSI in Dadaab
AVSI has been operating within the Dadaab refugee camps since 2009. The NGO has renovated and built 327 new classrooms in primary schools and is the leading organization in teacher training. Since then, AVSI has been able to train more than 1,250 teachers thanks the close collaboration with the Kenyan Ministry of Education, and to the financial support from the European Union and the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration (BPRM).
On Thursday, March 10, 2016, AVSI organized a panel discussion entitled “Teacher Motivation and the Impact on Learning: Getting to the Heart of the Matter,” within the Comparative and International Education Society Conference (CIES2016) held in Vancouver, Canada.The panel featured presentations of three papers, each offering a different case study related to the topic.
Jackie Aldrette, Managing Director of AVSI-USA, moderated the session and set the stage by framing the question. “The vision we have is clear and shared: we want motivated, passionate and engaging teachers who have the commitment to deal with constraints and to reach all children and help them to learn and grow at their potential. How we go about achieving that is not so clear or straightforward,” posited Aldrette.
The issue of teacher motivation was front and center for this panel because the fundamental role of teachers in delivering quality education is indisputable, and teachers are needed for any changes to teaching practice that researchers and policy makers aim to implement.
Yet still, many communities and education systems struggle with issues of absenteeism, lack of innovation, burnout, turnover, and corporal punishment.
Recognizing that education is a complex endeavor and that teachers are shaped by a whole range of factors such as personal and academic background, salary and benefits, social norms, school conditions and resources, systemic factors, the discussion honed in on a narrow yet essential pivot: factors of intrinsic motivation of teachers to change and perform at potential.
Teacher as Educator: Case of Mexico
Rossana Stanchi, AVSI’s Country Representative in Mexico, described the two relatively young projects which AVSI Mexico is implementing with and for teachers in Mexico (2013-2017). Rossana described how the difficult educational environment in Mexico, and especially in states such as Oaxaca, has effectively paralyzed teachers. As a result, teachers have few options for meaningful professional development and little room for creativity and change. Through meetings with professors from the teacher colleges and teachers themselves, AVSI understood the need for a fresh approach to education. AVSI Mexico proposed a “new pedagogy” drawing on the principles of the Italian educator, Luigi Giussani. Together with the professors and teachers, AVSI Mexico designed a number of training courses, complete with practical exercises and tutors, that were accessible and relevant. What was new about these courses was the starting point: teachers were looked at holistically, as persons, and were invited to begin a process of self-reflection, while working together with others to probe fundamental questions around the meaning of education. Education was presented not only as a technical discipline with a curriculum and set of techniques that must be mastered, but as a dialogue and a journey which involves the teacher as a whole person. About 300 teachers have been trained to date through the two projects.
The projects have been evaluated using self-assessments done by the participants, as well as a review carried out by the donor consisting of consultations with stakeholders and participants. Results have shown a high level of enthusiasm, commitment and completion rates from participating teachers. The majority of teachers stated that their way of relating with students has changed. Other teachers reported a new found confidence and sense of freedom to be oneself and creative at school. Stakeholders from the teachers’ college gave the feedback that even in a short time, the teachers who had completed the courses were already having a positive impact on the school environment. Overall, Rossana concluded that the process—careful listening, sharing of experiences and building something together—was essential to the early success of the project. Rossana ended by summarizing, “In all the cases we have seen that it is essential to recuperate the value of the person in the spaces in which the work of education is carried out, where parents and teachers can grow within a sincere and profound dialogue, where they are helped to discover the human aspects of teaching and to appreciate the importance of relationships. This is the possibility that the joy of teaching and the joy of collaboration can emerge, making a common work possible.”
Teacher as Continual Learner: Case of Uganda
Mauro Giacomazzi, Executive Director of the Luigi Giussani Institute for Higher Education (LGIHE) in Kampala, Uganda, explained the approach to teacher professional development that LGIHE delivers in Uganda and elsewhere, as well as results from a recent impact study carried out with Notre Dame University. LGIHE began informally training teachers and social workers through its relationship with AVSI in 2003. Today, LGIHE is an institute for higher education recognized by the Ministry of Education and Sport and authorized in Uganda to deliver Certificates and Master’s degrees in addition to the core service which is a school-based teacher professional development course with two parts, Risk of Education and Educate while Teaching. Similar to the approach used by AVSI Mexico, Mauro described the importance of the first phase of the training as an opportunity to awaken the heart of the teacher to see and feel more clearly what they want to gain from their teaching career and from their life. The training touches upon the issue of how students learn, the role of affection in the learning process, and the importance of the teacher-student relationship. Only in the second phase of the course are techniques introduced and worked on in practical exercises.
Mauro shared the quasi-experimental evaluation approach which assessed the impact of the training on teachers’ attitudes and behaviors in 36 schools, divided between rural and urban schools and including a control group of schools which did not receive the training. Treatment schools received either a full package (two modules, teacher observation and coaching support) or a light package (one module). The data collection instruments used were teacher surveys, student surveys, observation reports, and qualitative tools including interviews and focus group discussions. Despite a short intervention period of only one year, statistically significant changes were detected on areas such as trust between student and teacher, teacher understanding of child development topics, and freedom of students to ask questions in class. The evaluation did not measure student learning outcomes, although Mauro explained that the second phase of the project which is on-going presently will tackle that question.
Teacher as Part of Learning Community, the Role of the Headmaster: USA Case
Jose Medina was Principal of Cristo Rey High School in Boston from 2006-2013, a school which serves exclusively low-income students who are not on track for college readiness. During his tenure at Cristo Rey, Jose set in motion a transformation of the school, engaging teachers in a deep reflective and collaborative process that considered all aspects of school life. At the end of those seven years, 100% of Cristo Rey graduates were consistently accepted to college. Jose spoke about a few disconnects which he saw clearly when he stepped up to the helm of the high school. First, teachers generally have a perception of their ability to positively influence their students’ learning (around 85% of the time) while at the same time having the perception that a relatively small group of students can actually learn according to the standards (35% of students). A second issue was that teachers, like people in all walks of life, demonstrate a “status quo bias” which is an emotional response to change which is often disconnected with the rational response. So, even when teachers agree on a change or new policy, this rational response does not very often translate into change of behavior in the classroom.
Jose briefly described a few aspects of the change process he guided at Cristo Rey which focused on the collection and use of relevant data concerning students’ perceptions of teachers and learning outcomes. It was necessary to introduce the data collection tools and analysis carefully so as not to create a backlash and negative reaction among teachers. Data was analyzed together, shared openly, and collected regularly. Jose shared how teachers slowly got behind the idea and began to grow, personally and professionally, using this new way of looking at reality and facing it together as a group. Jose concluded that inspiring greater motivation in teachers might not be a matter of new training methods, per se, but about creating a community of educators who have a common vision and shared dedication to personal and professional growth. For this, leadership of the principal is essential.
In conclusion, the audience agreed that the panelists had hit on an essential element within the panorama of quality education and the ambitious “learning for all” agenda: engaging teachers in a holistic way and not avoiding the profound questions of meaning and purpose is necessary to motivate teachers to work towards common goals and reach their potential. Three modalities of addressing the issue were presented, and both advances and continued gaps in evidence were discussed. While no magic bullet solution emerged, there was a sense of hopefulness that from the seeds being planted in each of the three cases, something beautiful can grow that can influence beyond the garden walls.
In 1339, the Italian painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti finished one of his most famous masterpieces, The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, a series of three fresco adorning the walls of the Council Chamber in the Palazzo Pubblico of the city of Siena, Italy. Large scale reproductions of these frescoes will be on display until June 3, 2016 in Oaxaca, Mexico in an exhibit entitled Cor Magis. The Common Good. Frescoes of the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena. The exhibit is organized by AVSI Foundation in partnership with the Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca Foundation and is sponsored by the Peace and Reconciliation Council of Oaxaca, the Italian Embassy and the Italian Institute of Culture in Mexico City.
Prominently displayed in the colonial complex of the San Pablo Cultural Centre, in Oaxaca, one of the artistic and cultural capitals of southern Mexico, the exhibit was inaugurated on March 5 by the Italian Ambassador to Mexico, Alessandro Busacca, along with the AVSI Foundation country representative in Mexico, Rossana Stanchi, and representatives of the Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca Foundation.
The choice to display these frescoes in Oaxaca is far from arbitrary. The main purpose of the exhibit is to convey the idea that peace and social unity are the result of every person’s involvement and participation in society. Lorenzetti’s work has a clear message in this regard. He contrasts the allegory of good government, where citizens live in order and harmony with that of bad government where the forces of Cruelty, Deceit, Fraud, Fury, Division, and War reign and the city comes to ruin.
As part of the project, a team of young volunteers from Oaxaca will train to become tour guides. They will learn how to guide local visitors, school groups and tourists, and teach them how to appreciate one of the most important artistic productions of 14th-century Italy, which still has something to say to our times.
The event is part of the "Year of Italy in Latin America", an initiative sponsored by the (Italian/Mexican?) Foreign Ministry in partnership with the Ministries of Culture and Tourism, Economic Development, the Italian Trade Agency (ICE), the Conference of Rectors of Italian Universities. Various businesses have also contributed to make the exhibit possible.
Over five days, more than 80 staff members from AVSI country offices and projects around the world gathered together in Italy for the AVSI Annual Meeting 2016 (AAM16). This year’s theme was “Living an epochal change. The person’s good, the common good” and the main goal was to exchange experiences from the 30 countries where AVSI carries out humanitarian and development projects and to learn more, meet specialists and discuss new ways forward.
The common work was planned so as to facilitate dialogue at two levels: first an exchange of field experiences and reflection on the work done over the past year, and second a deepening of its collective understanding of the world and its role in it. These two dimensions constitute what is original in AVSI, an NGO with 40 years of history, still eager to learn even in situations of poverty and crisis that would discourage the strongest among us.
Participating staff members came from countries and regions in crisis, like the Middle East, seriously wounded by the Syrian civil war, or from the Far East, in particular from Myanmar which has experienced severe environmental emergencies in recent years. Others traveled from sub-Saharan Africa, where hunger, war and migrations generate hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and refugees, and from Latin America, where the economic crisis is dramatically increasing levels of poverty.
During AAM16, AVSI staff had the opportunity to participate in working groups on different themes which are highly relevant to AVSI’s mission and programming (Education in Emergency, Urban Development, Family Approach and Agriculture and Food Security, Energy, Communications, relationships with institutions, such as USAID, EU, etc) and to attend lectures given by professors, specialists and journalists.
Among its guests, the AAM16 had Dr. Silvano Petrosino, professor of Theoretical Philosophy at University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, who explained the theme of the meeting from an anthropological point of view; Riccardo Readaelli, professor of Geopolitics at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the Catholic University of Milan, who spoke about how we need to change the lens we use to read the current international situation; and Roberto Rho, of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, who talked about the media revolution.
During the weeklong meeting, AVSI also organized the public event “NGOs and businesses: realism and boldness for a new cooperation”, with Bernardo Bini Smaghi, Director of the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti; Maria Cristina Papetti, Head of Sustainability Projects and Practice Sharing at Enel; and Gian Alfonso Borromeo, Outreach Director of Grella SpA. The event was organized as an opportunity to understand how NGOs can work more effectively in partnership with private institutions.
The AAM16 theme was inspired by Pope Francis’ speech last November in Florence, when he said that "we are not living an epoch of change so much as an epochal change." "We wanted to find out what is really happening and what it meant by this epochal change," explained Giampaolo Silvestri, Secretary General of AVSI. "We can only face the challenges that this epochal change presents if we accept that we have to change as well. Even for those who deal with international cooperation it is possible to see a crisis as an opportunity for growth and development for us, but also for the developing countries. The one who doesn’t change dies slowly. What keeps us going is that the dawn of this new era is already here, we can glimpse its brightness."
The Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon, Ambassador Maciej Golubiewski, and Anwar Daou, advisor to the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture, handed out certificates to 140 Lebanese and Syrian students last month. The students had completed the second course for agricultural workers in Lebanon as part of the European Union funded project “Peaceful and Comprehensive Education in Seven Districts of Lebanon” (PEACE). The graduation ceremony took place at the National School of Administration (ENA) in Beirut.
This project, which is funded by the European Union with a €700,000 grant and implemented by AVSI Foundation, aims to support the seven Ministry of Agriculture vocational schools to provide educational opportunities for aspiring agricultural technicians. It will assist the Ministry of Agriculture to develop its curricula and provide the schools’ teachers with an opportunity to further enhance their skills. The schools in question will benefit from rehabilitation support, and Lebanese as well as Syrian students will have access to vocational training specific to needed agricultural skills that will help increase their livelihood and job opportunities. Ultimately, Lebanese farmers should see an increase in the yield from their land.
A short documentary entitled “New Horizons”, directed by Philip Bajjaly, was shown during the ceremony. It reflects the positive impact that the initiative has had on the lives of the students, teachers, and directors, as well as on the Ministry of Agriculture officials in charge of the “Extension and Education Service Department”.
Marina Molino Lova, AVSI’s Project Manager, highlighted how important education is to foster mutual knowledge and peaceful respect between Lebanese and Syrian students. “They share the same challenges that all young people around the world face nowadays: to find a place in society and a decent job,” said Marina Molino Lova.
“This is a very important project, and we expect that these technical degrees will have a positive impact on the environment as well as on the creation of new employment opportunities,” agreed Ambassador Maciej Golubiewski.
On behalf of the Minister of Agriculture, advisor Anwar Daou said that he is very proud of the students. “We want to continue to give priority to agricultural schools because they represent an investment in the future of these young people. I would like to thank all partners and the European Union who continue to support our country through several projects,” added Daou.
The course ran from July 23 to October 2, 2015 at the seven Ministry of Agriculture vocational schools in Lebanon.
Director of Fondazione Minoprio's technical school, Dr. Anna Zottola, has followed the teachers since May 2014, through a twinning arrangement in Italy and via training sessions in Lebanon. She helped them to elaborate practical exams for the students for the first time, avoiding the traditional theoretical written exams, as well as exercises in grafting, transplantation and sowing.
Through this course, students also had the opportunity to participate in five cultural workshops elaborated by the Lebanese NGO BILADI. This workshops included discovering aspects of the shared rural heritage among Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian students, as well as culinary, music and dance activities.
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