Making a difference

Here is what I wrote for section 4 of my VSO preliminary progress report, under the heading:
VSO finds it very useful for both internal and external use (e.g. sending to sponsors, etc) to have detailed descriptions of volunteers’ daily lives and work. Please use this space (and extra paper if you wish) to describe what your life is like.

I’m writing this sitting at a plastic garden table under a palm-leaf parasol, in a T-shirt and a fleece. Its cold; a chill wind blows through the garden of Le Clique Hotel — the nicest looking restaurant in Tala, and that’s not saying much. Temperatures here at this time of year fall to the low teens, just as it said in my placement description, still its hard to shake off the idea of Africa being relentlessly hot. Goose-bumps are forming on my arms.

Its my first visit to Le Clique, despite having lived here for 6 months. Local eating places lack appeal, as does the prospoect of being a solitary white man dining in public, and all the attention that brings (even now two children are giggling at me through the fence). Today I’m taking chai and filling in my placement review forms while waiting to meet some local friends, on African time. They have had to rush their sick baby to the local hospital. (The children have come closer now, daring to approach my table; the man hacksawing metal next door to make window frames has started to sing tunelessly).

This is Tala. I don’t see much of it during the week: I work teaching IT at the secretarial college a mile up the road. I live in a nice bungalow on the college compound; it takes me a minute to travel to work, if I walk slowly. I cycle to Tala market, now and then, to buy groceries and vegetables, to post letters, to fend off requests for money and, apparently, to entertain the local children who love to shout greetings to me as I pass:
“Hello British, how are you?”

College keeps me busy during term time preparing largely unenthusiastic young ladies to sit for shoddy exams in IT that are prepared as part of a franchised IT diploma scheme by a university in Nairobi. Nevertheless it is the only chance at education some of these young ladies will get; the college does a great job and it is rewarding to be part of it. I’m not yet certain if my presence here has made things better. It has made things different: I’m making a difference!


  1. monkeyboy Says:

    "College keeps me busy during term time preparing largely unenthusiastic young ladies to sit for shoddy exams in IT that are prepared as part of a franchised IT diploma scheme by a university in Nairobi"

    if you could, would making suggestions as to how to improve the exams make a difference?

    how about the whole hog and restructure the course?

    is what they are learning of use, and is it being taught/tested in a useful and successful way? perhaps your fresh insight could prove valuable. i worry that it seems to get you down, and that you don’t have the power to change it. i hope that isn’t the case all the time!

    sorry i haven’t written for so long, life here has taken a turn for the worse in months past, and i’m now only just turning the corner. but still, life can be a lot, lot worse.

    love to you, dude.

  2. Mark Says:

    Hi Monkey man.

    Welcome back. I’m just out of the review meeting, it was good. We talked about the absence of sylabus review on the diploma scheme. The other teacher brought it up, in fact. We talked about the possibility of "opening a channel" of communication to give feedback and the possibility that if we did so, the university might just nod and say thank you and change nothing. After all its cheaper to leave things the way they are and that franchise is about making money. Having said all that I think we should go for it. Sister says she knows how to "opent he channel" — made me laugh, reminded me of Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuriakin: "Open channel D please…". The Nun from Uncle.

    Yes, the worst thing is being powerless to affect it. Makes me wonder how to judge my own success. And THAT makes me wonder why ‘success’ is so important. But the focus of this morning’s activities was to review what has been happening over the last 6 months — yes 6 months! — so I guess its a time to think of measures of success.

  3. chris macMungbean Says:

    And so I’m back… from outer space… (outer hebrides actually, but it’s almost as weird there, and the shops are open less often.)

    > why ‘success’ is so important

    Success is always important. It’s how you define it that counts…

    > opening the channel

    Well, you probably gotta do it whether you think it will make a difference or not… if after 2 years somebody asks you why you never made suggestions for improvements, would "I didn’t think anyone would listen" be a good answer? Surely it’s better (oops, VJ) to give them your feedback anyway, and if they don’t act now/soon/ever then at least you tried….?

    I’ll mail you soon…. I have a spam infestation problem to deal with (312 high and rising)

    Adios (A Deus)

    ps: "Nun from Uncle" … like it, like it. [puffs on cigar] Can you come up with a 5 minute pitch by next thursday? Let’s toss it into the air and see if it flies like a salad. [ puffs on cigar again ] Then again, maybe time flies like a salad. Or a fruit salad. [ ? ] Hang on, this isn’t my cigar. Or my eyebrows! [ fade to black ]

    Since when did Blog Comments include this stuff? <-- [ Reader's voice ]

  4. Mark Says:

    ROTFL! (Mark puts on a red curly wig and a long overcoat to write the next bit)

    The best bits are always in the comments, not in the main entries. If you didn’t already know that, youre probably not reading this anyway.

    (and takes them off again to write the next bit)

    Just came out of the Javascript exam. I’d like to shake it under the examiners nose, and speak to him with an emphatic voice and with my face slightly closer to his than he finds comfortable. Question 1 says, amongst other definitive stuff, something like: explain what it means that Javascript is an event based language. Then in question 3 it says "write a program that finds the smallest of several numbers. Assume that the first number entered determines how many numbers to enter", or something. I’ve been fighting against this kind of irrelivant twaddle for fifteen years now. Its even more irrelivant for Javascript than it was for Modula II. And what about "explain what it means for a program to be recursive" — if I were to work in web development with Javascript for fifty years I doubt if I’d need to write a recursive Javascript function.

    OK. My huff has arrived, and I’ll depart in it.

  5. Swing Kong Says:

    good to see that feedback and insanity are such a good part of your life!

    the only java script i like is:

    1/ would you like a coffee?
    2/ yes
    3/ pours coffee
    4/ goto 1/

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