Ryan Hathaway and Visions in Action

By Ryan Hathaway, MA IED, May 2011 (hathawar@yahoo.com)


I recently completed a six-month position as Emergency Education Adviser for Visions in Action in Harper, Liberia. Visions in Action is an international NGO based in Washington DC, with field offices in Liberia, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa. VIA implements development programs in education, food security, HIV/AIDS, and international exchange. VIA has been active in Liberia since 2002, and is currently implementing programs there in education and food security. From January to June 2012 I managed a UNICEF-funded emergency education project that provides support to early childhood education, primary education, and non-formal youth education for Ivorian refugees and the Liberian host community in Maryland County.


The Ivorian refugee crisis followed the disputed presidential election of November 2010 in Cote d’Ivoire, after which incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power to challenger Alassane Ouattara despite international recognition that Ouattara was the winner. Violence between forces loyal to either side led thousands of Ivorians to flee into eastern Liberia during 2011, and as of May 2012 there were still nearly 60,000 registered refugees living in camps and host communities in the four counties along Liberia’s border with Cote d’Ivoire. These refugees have received support from the Liberian government, UNHCR, UNICEF, and various NGOs, addressing needs for shelter, food and clean water, healthcare, and education.


Starting in July 2011 Visions in Action has partnered with UNICEF to provide emergency education support to the refugee population in Maryland County, as well as the Liberian host community whose resources have been strained by the refugee presence. The Liberian education system has considerable needs as the country continues to recover from its own conflict that ended in 2003. In the host communities the Liberian Ministry of Education allowed us to conduct early childhood and primary classes at Liberian schools, employing a double shift system in which Liberians attend in the morning and Ivorians attend in the afternoon, receiving instruction in French using the Ivorian curriculum. At the Little Wlebo refugee camp we erected UNICEF tents to serve as an all-day school for the children living there. Because there is not yet support for refugee secondary schools, we started non-formal education programming for youth, including vocational skills training and literacy classes.


I managed the daily operations of our education project while coordinating with UNICEF and other partners to ensure effective and quality programming. Beyond providing material support such as textbooks and school-in-a-box kits, and erecting tents to serve as learning spaces where necessary, we conducted various capacity building workshops for both the Ivorian and Liberian communities. These workshops included topics such as early childhood development and the role of parent-teacher associations. Because most of our refugee teachers are not certified teachers, we also conducted a one-month series of teacher training workshops at the local university, which covered topics including lesson planning and classroom management. One of our more recent activities has been collaborating with the Ivorian and Liberian governments to prepare for the end-of-year exam for the refugee sixth graders, which will officially certify their completion of primary school and allow them to access secondary school back in Cote d’Ivoire. Given the difficulty of certifying education obtained in a refugee context, I see this as one of the most important outcomes of our project.


Debi Spindelman and Connect to Learn

Read a blog post that Debi Spindelman (MPA in Development Practice Candidate 2013, SIPA/Earth Institute) wrote for Connect to Learn. She collaborated with the organization “to lead a brainstorming session and poetry workshop with Connect To Learn scholarship students about identity and the way the opportunities surrounding them have shaped their dreams.”

You can read the rest of Debi’s blog about her summer field work in Tanzania with Millennium Village Project-Mbola at http://deborahintabora.wordpress.com/.  Debi can be reached at debi.spindelman@gmail.com.

Tales from Tanzania: Exploring Poetry and Identity in Mbola

Students Writing Poetry

Making the long and bumpy ride out to Ibiri Secondary School for the first time, I was rewarded by the sight of bright happy faces and the smart maroon-and-white uniforms worn by MVP Mbola’s secondary students.

Armed with my camera, a ream of paper, and translated copies of poem samples I set out on my task: to lead a brainstorming session and poetry workshop with Connect To Learn scholarship students about identity and the way the opportunities surrounding them have shaped their dreams.

We began by brainstorming all of the labels associated with who each student is–daughter, brother, pastoralist, Muslim, student, scholarship recipient and more. Students impressed me with the variety of ways they see themselves within their family and beyond. We moved on to what it means to be those things in their village, as well as the ways they interact with technology in their lives.

Students brainstormed the role education played in shaping their dreams for the future, and their reasons for reaching toward educational attainment in secondary school. I was impressed and interested to learn that all the students present that day dreamed of becoming doctors, all for very different reasons. We concluded by discussing where students look to find hope for their future and how they wish to be seen in the world, both now and in the future. The students were both insightful and comfortable opening up about their family backgrounds and the challenges they have faced in their journeys thus far.
Here is Rozalia, in her own words:

Rozalia Pastori

I am Rozalia Pastori
I am from Ibiri village
I am fifteen years of age
The first born in my family
We are only two children still alive in my family

I smell food crops growing
I hear the voices of birds, people, and cars going past
I see birds, cars, trees, and livestock animals
I eat ugali, beans and fruits
I sense things on my body like insects, the heat of the sun, and cold

I have seen phones and computers
I have used a radio
Also solar lanterns, cars, motorcycles and bicycles
I have seen so many different things
Things like trees, people, and birds

Phones make my life better because of the communication they offer
Solar energy is used to produce light
Light which is used for studying and charging our phones
Computers are used in my life for storage
To store materials and notes for future generations and eyes

I am taking three subjects
Because they are the ones I understand
Those subjects are biology, chemistry, and physics
I also learn the laboratory rules
I learn to provide the first aid

I am studying to become a doctor
In order to help people
Also to get higher education
And to get a good job
So I can earn money easily

I get support from our teachers
I also get support from my parents
Also support from different relatives
Like my sister who is a nurse
And support from myself

Students Brainstorming

Spaghetti for Breakfast: Sarah Muffly in Haiti

By Sarah Muffly, M.A. International Educational Development (Expected February 2013) contact: smuffly@gmail.com

This summer, I spent five weeks in southwest Haiti, as part of an internship for the Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Projects. I worked in the Millennium Village site of Port-à-Piment with the Education team led by our partner organizations, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

In the news, stories about Haiti often discuss the devastation of the 2010 earthquake and the cholera epidemic that followed it, and they often include the phrase “poorest country in the Western hemisphere.” While Port-à-Piment and the area surrounding it certainly experience poverty, the region was not as badly affected by the earthquake or by cholera as other parts of the country.


Upon landing in the capital, Port-au-Prince, what struck me first was the intense heat and humidity; after all, I was in the Caribbean in the summer! Port-à-Piment is about a day’s drive from Port-au-Prince, so right away I was treated to Haiti’s beautiful coastal landscape during the drive. There is an old Haitian proverb, “behind these mountains are more mountains” and one look at the landscape explains its origins.


In Port-à-Piment, I worked in a bustling office with employees of UNOPS and CRS, as well as other interns from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. I was lucky enough to live with one of my colleagues during the majority of my stay. My room and board included two meals a day; lunch was usually goat with rice, and breakfast was often bread and fruit. About once a week, however, we had the typical Haitian breakfast dish of sautéed spaghetti with Spam, onions, and ketchup for extra flavor. Yum.

Exploring Haitian cuisine was also a part of one of my professional projects in Port-à-Piment: analyzing the school meals program organized by CRS. In this program, which had only begun a few weeks before I arrived, schools are given a certain amount of money per student. With these funds, school directors and parents’ committees purchase local foodstuffs (often potatoes, yams, carrots, and other root vegetables) to use in the meal served to children. I conducted interviews with the school directors, parents, teachers, and children, to gauge the early performance of the program. While some of those interviewed described problems relating to paperwork and the practical challenges of running the program, all interviewees said that they were happy that the program had started and that they wanted it to continue. At the time of the interviews, school directors had noticed a marked increase in attendance, and teachers said that their students were able to focus much better after having eaten. For many children, the school meal is their first of the day, so the program has nutritional advantages as well as educational ones. It remains to be seen how the program will continue benefit students and communities, but I am confident that there are positive results in the future.



The other major project I worked on involved piloting a literacy assessment method. The unique aspect of the process was the way in which test results were collected and organized using Android mobile technology. My colleagues and I went to several schools in the area and assessed a total of 50 children in the 3rd year of primary school. The tests, which involved reading aloud text in Haitian Creole, were administered to children individually in the presence of a parent or family member and the school director. Students were marked at one of 5 levels: no reading, letter level, word level, paragraph level, and story level. Students’ scores, along with basic information such as name, age, and sex, were recorded on survey software developed by the Earth Institute for Android phones. Once I was in a Wi-Fi zone, I was able to send the scores to a colleague in New York, who created a spreadsheet of all the data. What was especially useful about this process was that the software allowed the test results to be organized and analyzed virtually instantly. For me, it was also exciting because my concentration within International Educational Development is Language, Literacy, and Technology, so this project was an ideal example of the intersection of these three elements.