The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach nor the Namibia Ministry of Education, but rather my personal views.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Why Are You Here?: 2009 in Review

My 12 months as an education volunteer for WorldTeach Namibia has definitely increased my focus on questions and challenges related to policies and contracts governing foreign investment in education. In addition to my association with WorldTeach, I regularly interact with many other foreign aid organizations, mainly through the volunteers sent to actualize their missions. My housemates during the 2009 year were members of the United Kingdom’s Voluntary Service Organization (VSO) and Nigeria’s Technical Aid Corps(TAC). In my town, there are also members of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Peace Corps Volunteers, and VSO members from Kenya and Canada, to name a few. Based on our conversations, my observations, and my general interest, I often wonder how the organizations began their relationship with the host government, what specific mission and outcomes they have or hope to see, and why particular individuals have selected and been selected to join.

While I envision that there are different types of partnerships and missions that guide foreign-sponsored projects, I am somewhat concerned about those that do not appear to have a clear capacity-building component or structure. I have seen at least two volunteer-led projects completely stop once the volunteer departed the country. This seems a bit absurd. Yes, a few individuals benefit from the expertise or leadership that was provided by the volunteer during his/her service; but, this is a short-term fix, and I would argue that it is not a “fix” at all.

These issues appear to be product of incomplete or improperly managed policies and contracts, on the side of the host country government or the foreign sponsor, or both. I would like to explore these theories further over the next few years, hopefully through a doctoral program that can offer the appropriate tools, mentorships, and critical analysis for and of my findings/propositions. In the meantime, I am working closely with my partner organizations to train future project managers, formally document guidelines and operations manuals, and constructively dialogue about my concerns.

The above said, I decided to accept the invitation to continue volunteering in Namibia beyond my initial 12-month contract. I also decided that I will not continue “volunteering” for long; I extended my contract for only six more months. A full-time paid position with the Namibia Ministry of Education may soon be created for which I am aptly suited, however. The position would take responsibility for planning, overseeing, and evaluating computer-based learning centres focused on mathematics and science around the country. Currently, this comprehensive job is simply an additional duty for an employee with other primary duties with which the job must compete. As such, the centres are not getting the full attention they need and deserve to optimally function. It is not likely, though, the job will not likely be created before mid-year.

This week, I officially began work on my extended contract in service to the Namibia Ministry of Education. I have already “left” the “stewardship” of the Kunene Region Directorate and am now in the hands of the national office, more specifically the Directorate of Research, Science, and Technology. For the next 6 months, the national office will be responsible for my living allowance, housing, transportation, and other basic needs.

I felt the difference immediately upon my return to Namibia last week. A driver was there to meet me at the airport and shuttle me to a hotel they secured for my stay in Windhoek – meals included. And I had a direct cool and comfortable ride, not a hike or stuffy van, back to Khorixas. They still need to get their act together regarding my next assignment, though. I’ll either be in the northeastern region of Caprivi (in the town of Katima Mulilo) or in the southern region of Karas (in the town of Keetmanshoop).

In Katima Mulilo, my goal would be to help document, expand, and strengthen the current work of the centre in operation. In Keetmanshoop, my goal would be to reopen the centre, that has been closed for over six months, by marketing the centre’s potential and getting key parties to invest their time and energies in the centre’s planning and operations.

Over the next three weeks in Khorixas, I am focused on being a supportive observer, helping only when asked. I will try my best to not initiate any project-related tasks, such as developing marketing materials/letters, selecting learners, or registering learners. Not taking charge will be extremely difficult; however, I need to know that the individual assigned to run the Centre can actually do it without me. I will also refine the operations manual I authored, and I will gather and review data to evaluate the learners who were registered in the Centre in 2009.

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