On the back of the teacher’s T-shirts, a simple but striking message: “Helping the student to learn how to read and write is my goal”. This strong image reflects the presentation “We are all in this together _Ministry, School and Community Actors working together for Improved Literacy in Cote d’Ivoire” delivered last week by Elly Bahati at the conference “Problematizing (In)Equality: The Promise of Comparative and International Education”, organized by the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) in Atlanta. AVSI Education Officer and Program Manager of the “Integrated Support for Sustainable School Canteens and Early Grade Reading in Ivory Coast”, Bahati came to the US to present the first results of this five-year project funded by the McGovern-Dole FY 2015 program of USDA. AVSI is carrying out literacy promotion activities in the project schools, while the World Food Program increases the availability and quality of school meals for 125,580 children.
“We are happy to have participated at the CIES conference as it benefits the project and allowed us to share with other implementers and partners the experience in the implementation of similar projects for reading and writing”, reflects Elly Bahati.
The main project’s goal is to improve the literacy skills of children attending primary school in Ivory Coast by assisting the Ministry of Education with the implementation of its new early grade reading curriculum including training teachers and facilitating parent and community involvement in literacy-related activities. In his presentation, Bahati went through the first results of a robust baseline assessment of schools targeted for the project. In 2016, AVSI brought on board the services of IMPAQ International, a DC-based firm with plenty of experience in education evaluation, to test the reading skills of students in 100 primary schools in Ivory Coast. 1,181 students went through the testing—a combination of a reading assessment and school and household surveys. The main goal was to understand how many students can read at grade level at the beginning of the project.
“We found out that very few students can read at a good level, reading skills are low in all the classes assessed, girls demonstrated less reading skills than boys in all classes, regional differences are significant in the percentages of students who have demonstrated reading proficiency at a good level and that, despite the rare presence of books at home and the rare involvement and commitment of parents to reading, 3 out of 4 students said they liked to read if they found books,” explained Bahati. “Thanks to this assessment, we were able to adjust teaching and learning materials, understand better the training needs of teachers and confirm the need for mobile libraries in schools and communities.”
The Ministry of Education in Ivory Coast shows great interest in the project and has been engaged during the first year to understand the results of the assessments. The Ministry of Education passed a reform in 2014 to start changing the school curriculum and choosing the syllabic method as a more effective way to teach how to read. This project, with AVSI’s implementation and activities, reinforces the efforts of the Ministry of Education and helps guide them towards improving reading and literacy in the country.
During Bahati’s presentation, the audience was fascinated with the mobile libraries, one of the activities of the project. The mobile libraries respond to the lack of books found in schools and in the community. With the collaboration of the Ministry of Education, AVSI bought 55,170 books, mainly from 3 publishing houses that provided books for the different levels recommended. Local artisans constructed the mobile libraries and each library can hold between 30-100 books. Schools receive three mobile libraries according to the reading level and types of books it contains. As of today, individuals and companies from the European Francophone community have also donated 37,000 books, contributing to the libraries. These books are distributed to 613 villages to constitute community mobile libraries. The presence and diversity in the types of books offers the students, schools and the community the access to books, to improve reading and promote a culture of reading.
Inspired by “From vulnerability to resilience: Promoting graduation in orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) programs”, organized by the OVC Task Force and AVSI-USA last year in Washington DC, AVSI Uganda has realized a similar event on March 15, 2017, at the Speke Resort Munyonyo. At the event, named “Experience sharing of the graduation and resilience model”, AVSI presented the most recent results of the Sustainable Comprehensive Responses (SCORE) Program for vulnerable children and their families model to 190 participants including the USAID mission, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, local governments, academia, other development partners, civil society and activity participants/ beneficiaries.
“At AVSI Foundation, we recognize that vulnerability of children and their families is a major impediment to the attainment of a balanced development. Whenever we talk about vulnerability, key concepts such as inequality and inequity become common words, ” said John Makoha, AVSI Uganda Country Representative. “To us, therefore, tackling child and household vulnerability is not just a social but also a political imperative - a way of gaining social fairness and economic efficiency of the community.”
Funded by USAID, this program is currently implemented by AVSI Uganda together with FHI360, CARE, and TPO Uganda, as well as hundreds of local partners. The program uses an integrated graduation model that is reaching over 31,000 households. To date, roughly 7,000 households have proudly graduated, while another 5,800 are in the pre-graduation stage. Thanks to SCORE, household income tripled, child labor and child abuse were reduced by more than 80%; malnutrition decreased by 74%; school enrollment increased by almost 20% while school absenteeism was reduced by 70%.
“74% of the beneficiaries who graduate remain resilient,” added Rita Larok, Chief of Party SCORE, AVSI Foundation. “Graduation corresponds with happiness as beneficiaries get out of the program, they are excited. Through tailored and individual family responsive interventions, we have been able to extend needed services to beneficiaries.”
During the event, Mark Meassick, USAID Uganda Mission Director, said that it was a great occasion to celebrate the evolution of a successful model, “a model,” he described in his speech, “developed in Uganda for Ugandans that makes a very valuable addition to the global effort, to empower poor families to become more resilient and better equipped to deal with shocks.”
Meassick also described Uganda’s current situation. The country is in the midst of a “demographic tsunami”. It is the fastest growing population of its size on the entire planet. Only 10% of Ugandans are over 45 years old; 52% are under 15. The average Ugandan is a 14-year-old girl. She is one of six children, living in a rural area. Her family is poor and her survival depends on agriculture, casual labor and remittances. Her family is likely to be food insecure in some way. She is vulnerable to economic, political and environmental shocks. Within this country context, 2.7 million Ugandan children are orphaned, almost half as a result of HIV/AIDS.
“SCORE is addressing this issues. By mapping families’ individual needs and aligning specific resources and services with a household plan, SCORE has not only successfully lifted families from vulnerability, but also helped them to build levels of resilience that protected them from falling back from the depths of vulnerability,” said Meassick. “USAID is proud to have partnered with the Government of Uganda and AVSI Foundation in building an evidence base for more responsive and sustainable development programming for orphans and vulnerable children.”
The message seems simple: “Bom bagay lekol”, which in Haitian Creole means “School is good”. But in a country where there are an estimated 816,000 children and adolescents engaged in child labor, including domestic work and agriculture, keeping boys and girls in school is not always that simple. That’s why AVSI staff in Haiti has been visiting schools in the North promoting ‘sensitization’ activities on children’s rights, child labor and the negative effects of children working. The initiative is part of the project “Let’s Work for our Rights!” funded by the US Department of Labor.
“Children were excited to receive visitors and cheer about the importance of education. They understood that working at their age brings more negatives than anything,” says AVSI-USA Business Development and Partnership officer Marie L’Hermine, who had the opportunity to visit Ecole Presbyterale St Dominique, a primary school in Cap Haitian with AVSI Haiti staff. “Children were excited to say that working is bad and that their main responsibility is to stay in school and learn. They received some flyers and we hung posters in the classrooms so that the message of the importance of education can be a constant reminder.”
A consortium led by Catholic Relief Services implements “Let’s Work for our Rights!”. AVSI focuses on the activities in 5 communes of the North of Haiti: Cap-Haitien, Milot, Grande Rivière, Limbé and Limonade. The project aims to reduce the prevalence of child labor, and improve working conditions and workers' rights through a package of integrated interventions that engage government, civil society and the private sector. In the communes targeted by AVSI, households have been identified, including the children, to approach and improve the economic status of the whole household, with a focus on workers’ rights.
The project has a four-pronged approach to reducing child labor. The first approach was to identify the children and start working with specific schools to rehabilitate the infrastructures and compensate school fees. L’Ecole Nationale Grand Gilles is one of the targeted schools. The director of the school, Mr. Saint Lois Chener, is open and welcoming of the project, and understands the need for bathrooms and infrastructure reparations: the leveling of the ground is necessary for the school to be safe and adequate for its 447 students. Thanks to the project, 60 students are now able to attend the national school because they have their schools fees paid. Their progress will be followed during the project.
“AVSI is always welcomed”, says Chener. “They are helping us improve the school and support some of the children in the village in most need of guidance in order to be able to attend school.”
Beneficiaries of the project, who are older than 15, may choose to go to professional schools for vocational training. Going back to school after a certain age can be hard to accept, but it does not mean that education is off the table. AVSI has paired with different vocational schools in the communes to allow the youth and young adults to choose a program such as construction, mechanics and sewing. After the training is complete, the beneficiary will receive a start-up kit to begin working or even to start their own business using their new skills.
The second approach is on the household, which is identified and accompanied through different interventions. Training on life skills, starting micro finance groups, and distribution of start-up kits to improve their economic status are some of the interventions households are offered. In Grand Gilles, one of the women in the program, whose children are supported by the project, received a capri, a little goat common in Haiti, and was excited to share that the animal was pregnant. Another women who attended the meet-up does not have a child in the project but she follows a little orphan boy, one of the beneficiaries that now is able to attend school.
“It’s important that he knows that he is not alone. This is why I am here today, to thank you for helping him and to make sure that he knows that there is more than one person looking over him. A lot of us in the village make sure that he’s looked after,” said the mother of three.
Legal assistance is also given through reference to the correct office, the creation of Councils of Protection in the different communes and responding to problems of documentation of school children and household families. The creation of Councils is an important activity as it allows for the efforts of the project to continue after the end of the initiative. Recently created in Milot, the Council of Protection, for example, has as its main goal to observe the real situation of school children and be able to bring up cases in need of attention to the correct authorities. By involving all the local authority, child labor prevention is more prevalent.
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