This week, Linda and I have been attending the annual VSO conference in Juba. I say ‘annual’, although this is the first such conference since the programme started just twelve months ago. The hope is that it will be the first of many, as VSO expects to be in this country for the long haul, not just for a year or two.
So far there are just over 40 volunteers in the country with another batch arriving in February to bring the eventual number up to around 70. The programme is divided into three sectors, Education, Health and Governance and Gender. Why the third sector is called ‘Governance and Gender’ I don’t really know, since the gender issue is just as relevant to those of us working in Education and probably to those working in the Health sector. The often quoted statistic that a young girl in South Sudan today is much more likely to die in childbirth than complete Primary education shows the dire state of both sectors when it comes to looking after girls.
All of the Education and Health volunteers are working within the Government structures. However, the ‘Governance and Gender’ people are all assigned to local non-governmental organisations, (NGO’s), which is lucky good for them, since anyone who has any initiative and drive usually gravitates towards the NGOs because the pay is better, the frustrations fewer and there is usually the funding available to do the work in hand. One of the biggest frustrations of working in a Government Ministry is the almost total lack of funds. “We can’t visit that school because there is no money for petrol.” “We can’t run that workshop for Headteachers, because there are no funds to feed or house the participants when they get here.” “We can’t print this letter because there is no toner in the printer and anyway, there is no electricity because there is no money for fuel for the generator.” Sometimes you just want to bite the table!
The main thrust of the VSO programmes, in whichever sector, is ‘Capacity Building’, in other words strengthening the organisations, be they Government or NGO, by improving the knowledge and skills of the people working within them. VSO’s slogan is “Sharing Skills, Changing Lives”, which, in many ways, sets us apart from most of the other NGOs, because we have nothing to give away, no vehicles to donate, no money to fund anyone’s projects. All we have are the skills and experience we arrived with.
So what is “Capacity Building”? Well, what do you want it to be?
So far we have been involved in:-
- Demonstrating how to write a work plan for the coming year;
- Showing how Microsoft Word and Powerpoint work;
- Checking public examination papers and advising on corrections to the initial drafts;
- Advising on report writing;
- Proof-reading documents and correcting the English;
- Working with senior staff on drafting policy documents and job descriptions;
- Guiding staff on data analysis and presentation;
- Training teachers in modern teaching methods and the use of available teaching resources;
- Working with staff on how to write a funding proposal to a potential donor;
- Advising directors on the management of staff
- Training school inspectors in classroom observation.
Nothing that we have done in the past five months is going to transform anything in the near future. A well know development expert once wrote that development was not a matter of constructing huge buildings or funding impressive projects. It was a matter of “small steps and little pushes.” Well, we are still here and still pushing.
I am reminded of the old saying “The Impossible we can do straight away, Saving the World might take longer!”