Reading Between the Lines

Posted on by Jacob Patterson-Stein

More than Me is proud of our staff on the ground in Liberia. Macintosh, our lead worker in West Point, makes regular visits to all of our girls, their parents or guardians, and the school. This is just one of the ways that we make sure our donors’ money, our volunteers’ time, and our girls’ education are actually moving things forward. Tracking our work is important, but it doesn’t always fit nicely into a spreadsheet, and even when it does, the results aren’t quite what you’d expect.

When collecting progress reports, in what column do you put, “slept behind a video club five nights last week”? How do you sort, “only fed during school lunches” and “mother very sick, must take care of six siblings, often late to class”? It took a lot to get our girls into school, but sometimes it seems like the hardest part is making sure they can succeed against the odds once they are there.

We just received a new report from Macintosh, here is a sample pasted directly from his email:

 

Names                       Conduct                         Class Participation                    Tidiness

Maima  _______   Good  ___________   Excellent       ___________  Neat in class

Massa  _______   Good  ________          Excellent       ____                     Neat in class

Theresa  ______   Fair    ____________Improving  ______                  Neat in class

Hawa     _______ Fair    _______            Satisfactory    ___________  Neat in class

Mini  ________   Good ___________Need more study    _________Neat in class

Jessica  _____   Fair    ___________Excellent        ______________  Neat in class

Beatrice   ______   Fair   _________Not improving   ______________   Neat in class

Lovettee  _____   Fair   ________Need more study   ______________   Neat in class

Philipmina  ______Good ________Satisfactory       ______________    Neat in class

Monica    ________   Fair   _____ Need more study ____________     Neat in class

[...]

Grace  _______  Good  ______Excellent               _____________   Always neat

Abigail _______   Good ________   Satisfactory          _____________    Always neat

Mama  ______   Fair ___________Improving            _____________     Always dirty

Janet    _______  Good __________Satisfactory         _____________     Always neat

Naomi  ______    Good ________Satisfactory       ______________    Always neat

Benetta    _______    Good __________ Satisfactory       ____________Always neat

Elizabeth  _____    Good ___________Improving     _____________     Always neat

Princess   _____    Fair     __________ Improving         __________      Always neat

[...]

Antoinette  _____    Good ______Satisfactory            ___________          Neat in class

Regina  ________   Good ______Excellent                ___________           Neat in class

It seems pretty simple, right? Consider this: to show up “neat in class” our girls must have a completely clean uniform, clean socks, and shoes in good condition, but this is easier said than done in a place with no running water, a place where the water for laundry comes from the same beach people openly defecate on, a place that, in 2009, the Water and Sanitation (WASH) Consortium found only four actual toilets to serve almost 80,000 people. In the past, a few of our students have been turned away upon showing up for school because their uniforms were dirty or they didn’t have their school shoes. In these conditions, it is no small triumph that almost all of our students received a “neat in class” review. When one of our girls isn’t showing up to school with her books and uniform, we make sure that our staff spend extra time finding out why. Sometimes, the reason is simple- kids get dirty, kids play after school- sometimes, though, there are problems that go beyond shiny shoes and clean socks.

We can’t know everything about our girls’ lives, about what they have been through and what they live each day, but we can do our best to support them and provide resources when we see issues developing. The schools don’t provide health reports for us, which is one reason regular visits are integral to our program. We form relationships with our girls precisely because we care about more than grades and school reports; sometimes the things that are hardest to quantify are the most important. For example, Antoinette, one of our star students, was recently so sick she had to be hospitalized. For her, or anyone for that matter, to bounce back and do as well as she is doing in school is truly inspiring.

Health and safety aren’t measured in columns on report cards, but they do show up in the kids’ grades. Macintosh recently wrote that, “children get sick and die most often here in West Point because their parent[s] do not have money. Any of the More than Me kids that get sick I always rush them to the hospital for treatment.”

Between our school reports, our regular visits, what the girls share with Macintosh and Katie, and what we can read between the lines of all of this, we are able to track our students’ progress. Is this an exact science? No. Does it provide results? Definitely. We see it in each “neat for class” and “improving” review from the school principal; we see it in the proud looks and stories told by parents; and we see it in smiles of our girls who have never been happier to be in school.

 

 

 

 

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