Skip to main content

The Right Kind of Aid?

Having been involved in a partnership between the college in London at which I work and a high school in Kabale, Uganda, for nearly three years now, I am beginning to think about whether there is such a thing as a ‘right kind of aid’.

Our partnership, created in many respects by the now-trustees of Solomon’s Children, a UK-based and registered charity, focussed originally on the diversification of teaching and learning techniques in the Ugandan high school. It would see the teachers from our college teaching in the Ugandan classrooms to showcase different lesson types that avoided the hitherto ubiquitous ‘chalk and talk’ lessons – lessons where the teacher stands at the blackboard and the students write it all down which isn’t great for the quieter students.

In the UK, all teachers are entitled to over thirty hours of CPD, or continuing professional development, on an annual basis, paid for by the college or school. Our Ugandan counterparts, I discovered, did not have this privilege.

So was our taking the lead in training at the school, in place of the government, a positive thing – was this the ‘right kind of aid’?

On the face of it, of course it is. There is something that the teachers need – CPD – being provided, free of charge, by people who are willing to travel thousands of miles, at their own expense, to assist. The UK and Ugandan teachers enjoyed the sense that they were mutually valued and were part of a global community of teachers, rather than an isolated group of teachers from small districts of small countries. The students enjoyed the introduction of group work, field trips, outdoor classes and, in my case, the creative writing lessons – this in addition the students from the UK college participating in the lessons too.

Of course, there are counter arguments. The teaching and learning styles that teachers in the UK, the beneficiaries of a continuous stream of training, bring to the table in Uganda are obviously very Anglo-centric – that is they reflect the English way of educating and reflect, therefore a ‘foreign’ approach. Some people could, and indeed some of my colleagues do so, consider this to be a form of cultural imperialism or, more simply, colonialism all over again.

As the years have progressed, the projects that we are partnered with has expanded to include a street education centre called Restore Lost Hope, the Kabale Arts Centre hosted at the Edirisa and on-going work in refurbishing the Wisdom Day Nursery.

The work at the high school has also evolved to be more about the sharing of good practise, rather than the dictating of it from UK-based teachers, with the onus being put on the Ugandan teachers to arrange their own staff training day. Last year, the result was a great success with the Ugandan teachers taking genuine pride in being able to show their UK counterparts what they were capable of – in nearly all respects their efforts put many UK training days I have attended in the shade.

The partnership is evolving, with the Ugandan teachers taking more of a lead and the UK-teachers merely acting as a point of reference, if needed prior to any training event. So, does this represent how, given time, small scale projects such as this can become the ‘right sort of aid,’ or does our mere involvement with this high school, however indirect, represent cultural imperialism in all its ugliness?
Children at Restore Lost Hope show off their work.

This post was first published on 28th January 2011 on Africa on the Blog.


Popular posts from this blog

Atay Maghrebi: To Essaouira and the Atlantic

Leaving Marrakech, the landscape stays flat, except for a few distant outcrops of rock. The sensation of the inhospitality of the environment creeps up on you as the olive groves become fewer and further between and rough scrub runs away to the base of distant hills.
Eventually, the landscape starts to undulate as you pass through small towns like Sid L’Mokhtar, and, after two hours, Morocco simply runs out of land as the coach starts to plummet down to the Atlantic coastline and the peeling whitewash of Essaouira’s medina.

The morning started with the obligatory slices of sweet cake dipped into apricot jam, with a side of yoghurt and coffee. I had a chat with Merissa who was already awake and wearing sunglasses like she was nursing a hangover.
I packed up my bags and meandered my way out of the medina towards Bab Laksour to get a taxi.
Having learned the lesson last year that taxi metres are always mysteriously broken in Marrakech, I readied myself for a battle with the driver who…

Atay Maghrebi: Out of the Dark and into Jemaa El-Fnaa

The night time offers a wealth of opportunity and intrigue in almost any country, but when I'm somewhere where my understanding of the language extends to just a handful of phrases and disconnected words, I find it all the more enthralling. Marrakech genuinely quickens the pulse and widens the eyes by night, with the famous Jemaa El-Fnaa as its wildly arrhythmic beating heart.

After a day of perfectly idle wandering and preparing for my journey to Essaouira, I sat up on the roof terrace, ordered atay, read the ending of Alex Garland’s The Beach and waited for sunset.

During this time, a Dutch woman and a Belgian man sat near to me and started to talk about a range of subjects. Most of their discussion was centred around the regular banalities of two travellers who don’t know each other well and clearly don’t have a great deal in common.
Shortly before sunset, the Belgian man caught my attention as he started to regale his newfound friend with quotes from the Quran taken both ou…

From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah

I stumbled across Nuruddin Farah’s novels when searching for something written by a Somali author. Perhaps due to the conflict that has raged for years in Somalia, it is very difficult to find much from Somali writers published in English.
From a Crooked Rib was published in 1970 and tells the story of Ebla, a young, orphaned, illiterate nomadic girl, who runs away from her encampment. She takes the decision to leave upon learning of her Grandfather’s intention to marry her off to an older man within their Jes (a group of families living in an encampment together).
She firstly escapes to a town, Belet Amin, where she finds her cousin and his pregnant wife. She also finds a guide and confidante in a character known only as the widow. Things seem settled until, yet again, Ebla finds her freedom compromised by a male character – this time her cousin, whose wife and child Ebla has been nursing.
In her haste she leaves Belet Amin with the widow’s nephew, bound for Mogadishu – still called