Saturday, July 20, 2013

Share the Story

Yesterday was a long day for me. I left the house at 7:00 a.m. and spent the next four hours going all over Aflao to visit other private schools in our area. I'm collecting salary and tuition information from these schools so we can determine if SISCO is indeed charging a lower rate for students while paying a higher wage for teachers in comparison.

I heard the same stories over and over:
"The parents aren't educated. We have to fight to get them to understand its importance."
"The parents don't think school matters."
"I used to go to private school, but the fees were too high."
"The children don't come because their families can't pay."
"Only about 40% of our students actually pay the school fees."
"We charge as little as possible, but how else can we pay our teachers?"
"Change is slow."

Some of the headmasters talked to me readily and shared their own struggles, some of them eyed me suspiciously and hesitated to give me the information.
But out of nine schools, not one refused to help.
The truth is, as I made my pitch to them and they responded, we were all telling pieces of the same story. To different degrees and with different approaches, we are all fighting for the same outcome.
Often, that is inspiring. One headmaster outlined his vision for his school to me before I'd told him anything about SISCO. He wants to keep school fees as low as possible so all children will have the chance for an education. He's trying to help the parents understand why even the smallest of fees is worth the often large sacrifice they represent. He's struggling with the careful balancing act of trying to pay his teachers a living wage despite collecting barely any income. ...Sound familiar? This same headmaster then took me to the next six schools on his motorbike, which is the primary reason my morning was as successful as it was in the first place.
Sometimes, though, it is frustrating to see other schools take a radically different approach to solving the education deficits in Ghana, compared to how SISCO has chosen to operate. At one school I visited, the sound of the cane swishing through the air and smacking against human flesh didn't stop once in the ten or so minutes I was there. Not once. Sitting through that brief meeting and attempting to listen to the headmistress with a calm expression took strength I wasn't sure I had. Every muscle in my body was tense. That ugly sound was all I could hear. But I am playing a delicate game of diplomacy, and I cannot walk into a stranger's school and tell them how to run it if I want to maintain SISCO's positive reputation in the Aflao community.

So why the sudden need to find some cold, hard, factual evidence about SISCO's rates?

Well, that's another piece of the story.

Wednesday night Worfa and I decided to begin the process of creating and registering a non-profit organization in Ghana based on our work at SISCO.
I never intended to start a non-profit; that wasn't the plan even once SISCO and its scholarship program were born. I never wanted to start one either. And I will be the first to admit that I am not qualified for the job. I wanted to register SISCO through an existing organization, thus lifting the burden off my shoulders... instead I find myself undertaking a lengthy and complicated process I know- well, knew- nothing about.

Wednesday night I didn't know the difference between a Board of Directors and an Advisory Council. I didn't know which departments of the Ghanaian government oversee the creation of NGO's. I didn't know anything about writing a Constitution, or a Vision and Mission. Two and a half days later, I can tell you all those things. And what's more, our hopeful foundation has the seeds of all those things.

Students of Success Foundation is on its way to legally existing at a speed as fast as humanly possible. Meaning I have eaten, slept and breathed this process since the moment I made the decision to do it. I have never spent ten...twelve...eighteen hours a day on a single project before. Nothing was ever quite that important (or pressed for time!). So why am I doing it now? Much less for something I neither wanted nor intended to do period. Well... Karina tells me I'm too afraid to take credit for things. And although I can't rightfully take credit for all of the lightning-quick progress we've made since Wednesday- Karina herself is responsible for a large chunk of it- I will take credit for this: When it became clear that starting our own non-profit was our best (and essentially only) option, I stepped up because it was asked of me.
I will do whatever is needed to make sure our story gets its happy ending.

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