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.
Editor’s Note: Macintosh Johnson is no longer employed by More Than Me due to violations against the institutions’ child protection policy. For more information, please refer to MTM’s official press release here.