Capacity Building with Ethiopia’s GEC M&E team - How we did it online
My intention when I started was to learn as much as possible about the different functions of M&E, meet some like-minded people, and find out more about how ChildHope operates. Yet 7 months on, I now see that while I’ve only taken small steps towards appreciating full M&E work, I have gained something much more fulfilling: a realisation that teamwork practices and relationships can be greatly improved when we have a clear vision for change and a strong commitment towards reaching a shared goal.
I came to ChildHope with a lot of enthusiasm because, over the last few years, I have become increasingly interested in working for charitable organisations which support the interests, rights and education of disadvantaged children. As an English teacher of many years, I’ve worked with children in schools and colleges and, in particular, I’ve taught many young refugee and migrant students in London which has really developed my awareness of the importance of supporting vulnerable groups. But recently, I have found myself wanting to move away from the classroom and so I felt really lucky when I was able to secure an internship opportunity with ChildHope, as it meant I could learn more about the valuable work the organisation does in tackling poverty, its impact, and the injustices faced by many children around the world.
But what could I offer to ChildHope? Well, my mentor and manager at ChildHope, Angela Keenan, has been a fantastic colleague in helping and guiding me towards understanding how I could support M&E projects by using the teaching and training skills I already had to contribute to the monitoring function of M&E. In particular, the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) programme is one such project which we realised I could immediately assist in by supporting colleagues who work at our local partner organisation, CHADET, in Ethiopia.
GEC aims to help some of the poorest girls improve their lives by overcoming barriers that prevent them from accessing a quality education, and CHADET play a crucial role in facilitating this programme locally in various regions in Ethiopia. Part of their function is to report on programme activities, and monitor that they are in place to ensure the girls don’t miss out on their education. One of CHADET’s key responsibilities is to report on the activities they implement, such as girls’ attendance and participation in school activities, and the adequacy of school conditions for supporting girls into education.
As the reporting function is such a key part of the quarterly activity, it was quickly identified as an area that I could add value to. Of course, for funding purposes, reporting has an important role in providing accountability for the different activities the project carry out, but the need to improve organising and writing reports effectively had been making the process more complex for the M&E team. So matching this need with my prior training experiences (including my experiences of teaching report-writing skills) seemed like the perfect way in which I could support ChildHope’s work; and soon we had devised a plan to roll out of a series of workshops to aid CHADET in their report-writing.
Zoom Boon or Zoom Doom?
The training process initially involved working out the best online video conferencing software to use. After some trial and error, we settled on using Zoom and in total I ran six workshops between the start of February to the start of April, 2020. One of the immediate barriers I soon identified was that the sessions didn’t always run as smoothly as planned. Perhaps this was not so surprising given that the CHADET members of staff were located approximately 6000 km away – and in several locations dotted around Ethiopia.
Indeed, we got off to a bumpy start, due to poor internet connectivity and our unfamiliarity with using Zoom which had caused a few difficulties early on.In particular, our first session had to be abandoned and rescheduled because CHADET members kept dropping out due to poor connection. Furthermore, we couldn’t resolve sound and microphone problems. One may say, it would have been very easy to abandon the sessions and resort to an easier, more distant means of contact (i.e. email, remote chat forums, etc.) yet I was determined to continue as scheduled, and draw on the patience and determination of the team and CHADET’s M&E coordinator, Chala, to find a solution to these teething technical problems.
We started to work out how to organise the sessions more effectively to ensure we could deal with such issues: for example, having Skype, WhatsApp, and email as backup to help with difficult situations, in case of problems. Needless to say, once we got over these initial problems we flew through the sessions with much more ease. I think a testament to the team’s determination to overcome these barriers is when we were informed that one of the participants had walked a round trip of 35 km to access a session, as internet connectivity had been limited and car usage reduced (due to the onset of COVID19).
This really did tell me how dedicated the team were.
The challenge of creating suitable materials
Technical issues aside, a great challenge for me personally was how I could tailor each session to meet the needs of our colleagues at CHADET. The planning and preparation stage was perhaps the hardest part as it involved identifying group and individual needs in terms of weaker areas of reporting before creating training material from scratch to address these issues. The process included having to examine the past reports of each individual, identifying collective and individual strengths and weaknesses, and then deciding on how to tackle each issue with appropriate learning material. While identifying issues was relatively straightforward, creating and developing the materials was often time-consuming and involved a continual process of writing, editing and revising.
Fortunately, I was lucky to work with colleagues who were willing to take the time to listen and support the process, even if it meant changing their own schedules to give me guidance. With Angela and Chalas’ support in particular, I was eventually able to create workshop material that I felt confident could meet both group and individual needs successfully.
A rewarding legacy
The most rewarding aspect of the series of workshops was how my relationship developed with ChildHope and CHADET staff members over the course of the six workshops. At the ChildHope office, I was made to feel welcome and comfortable throughout which gave me the ideal environment to work in. With the CHADET team, I initially felt nervous about training colleagues who I’d never met before, especially as it was also my first experience of online teaching, and not to mention the added factor of such a distance. Yet, as the course progressed from week to week, this anxiety quickly became replaced with more assurance and confidence.
A lot of this was down to the positive attitude and open-mindedness of the CHADET team, even when the internet went down or other technical problems interrupted the sessions. I was particularly impressed with the dedication and hard work of the team - Worku, Jemila, Naol, Kinfe and Chala – not only in attending and persevering with the exercises I had set them, but also the completion of difficult, offline homework handouts I’d set each week which required each member to test, experiment, and challenge themselves when completing the tasks, rather than shying away for being too timid to make an error. Perhaps the thing I’ll remember most is the humour present throughout the workshops which often provided a fun element in what might otherwise have proved to be a difficult and frustrating experience.
After the course was wrapped up and all of our CHADET colleagues had successfully finished all of the online and offline activities, we held one last session to award certificates to everyone. This was an important moment because we wanted to ensure that everyone at CHADET received the recognition they deserved for their hard work and achievement in participating in the sessions and completing the course. During this awards ceremony, I was really pleased to learn that CHADET have already started to share the learning from my sessions with their colleagues. They have planned to cascade the knowledge, strategies, and new ideas they’ve collected with other staff members at CHADET through formal mini in-house sessions using the recorded workshop videos from the M&E space to guide certain areas of input.
So, a final legacy of this project is that the efforts I made in designing and developing the training material will continue to be used in the future.
On the whole then, I feel really lucky to have gained a wonderfully positive experience on this venture between ChildHope and CHADET. I will always feel grateful for the opportunity to work with such dedicated individuals and have especially learned how relationships can be really productive when everyone gets on board with a project and commits themselves to working hard towards a collective goal.
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