SET: Supporting. Empowering. Trusting.
SET takes its promises seriously. To donors, SET promises that a director will visit its schools once a year. With the exception of one year during the pandemic, that promise has been kept. In 2022 SET President, Don Barclay and SET Director, Simon Carette made the 30-hour trip to Lomé, the capital of Togo.
The two board members had several key objectives.
First. To participate in the evaluation of the literacy levels of CP1 (grade one) and CP2 (grade two) students who have been part of the SET literacy initiative. That initiative began in 2019 with Teach the Teacher workshops on effective literacy instruction. (PLEASE CLICK HERE to read our October 2019 Blog entry “SET’s Investment in Teacher Training). This was done with 17 teachers who, with their pupils made up the body of the SET literacy pilot project.
To continue to reinforce literacy instruction and encourage and coach teachers SET hired Jean-Paul Mlope in 2019. (PLEASE CLICK HERE to read our October 2019 Blog entry “SET Hires Teaching Mentor). Highly experienced in teaching children and in training teachers at the Togo Teachers’ College, Jean-Paul has proven himself to be invaluable in implementing the pilot project.
Second. To inspect the SET school buildings to determine their condition and the need for potential repairs. The first SET school was built in 2011.
Third. To meet with SET school principals, teachers, and parents’ committees to discuss progress and challenges for the schools. As Simon says, “We are there to help the villages meet their objectives for their schools. SET wants to be a hand up, not a handout.”
To accomplish all this in ten days meant following a tight schedule created by Jean-Paul. Getting to all thirteen SET schools, the threesome drove an average of 175 kilometers a day. Roads were typically unpaved and sometimes disappeared into farm land. Don and Simon named Jean-Paul ‘the Master of the Pothole Maneuver’.
A typical day began at 6:30 am when Jean-Paul picked Don and Simon up at their hotel. Already the temperature had hit 28 degrees Celsius with 95 percent humidity. Leaving that early and avoiding dense Lomé traffic allowed them enough time to visit several schools each day.
Within one day of beginning their program, the SET threesome ran into an obstacle. The Togo Minister of Education ruled SET could not continue its evaluation of kids in the literacy pilot project without his written permission. A lot of red tape tangled before Jean-Paul announced he would not leave the minister’s office until he had the letter in hand. Late afternoon, June 28, 2022 Jean-Paul received the letter commending the project and expressing “distinguished regard” for those involved.
Off again, Simon and Don observed the three or four senior teachers Jean-Paul had hired to do the evaluations with him. Close to 600 kids were evaluated.
“Not only did having external, objective evaluators make the results more reliable, but it meant Simon and I could talk to principals, teachers, and parents’ committees,” Don says. “However, we did spend some time observing the evaluation process which went smoothly. The kindness shown by the evaluators impressed us. At one point Jean-Paul left his desk to take a little fellow out to pee.”
Not surprisingly, discussions with principals, teachers, and parents’ committees showed a varied commitment to the children’s education.
In Avedze the school principal, M. Wotodzo, spent his own holidays ensuring repairs were done to the school. Among many things, floors were repaired and a ramp up to the Kindergarten classroom was built. In Asso the parents’ committee built an outdoor classroom with a metal roof to expand learning space. With government support Amoussime parents created a canteen where a simple lunch was brought in for the kids.
In a meeting with Democracie parents, they proposed that SET replace the 30-year-old roof on a government-built school. After a tour of the other school and a heart-to-heart about villager involvement and ownership, the idea was put forward that SET fund the materials if the villagers provided all the labour.
For years external agencies have decided what to give, how much to give and to what purpose. But for SET, the cornerstone of its philosophy is empowerment. Any ideas for change or improvement made to SET schools must come from the people whose children are learning in them. The SET board partners with its school populations to discuss their ideas and where appropriate, to provide funds.
“The 2022 visit to Togo went better than anyone could have expected. We learned so much from face-to-face discussions. The enthusiasm for education shown by children, their teachers, and parents I would describe as exhilarating and inspiring,” Don reports. “I’m already excited about going back in 2023.”