Hilda Vemba

26 November, 2009

HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases: ‘I am really passionate about what I am doing: it always boils down to education and education.’

My full names are Hilda Frances Vember (nee Croy). I was born on the 30 September; 1955. My parents are William and Caroline Croy. I am very fortunate to have both my parents and all my siblings still alive, although my Dad is not well. He is 78 years old and my Mom is 77. I am the second eldest sibling, out of 8 children. I have 5 brothers, one older than me and two sisters, both younger than me. I was born into an ordinary working class family. My father was a carpenter, who subcontracted for “white” bosses all the time. My Mom worked as a domestic worker and then in a factory. After the birth of my eldest brother, she became a house wife and reared all of us. This was a real bonus to have my mother at home, seeing us off to school and being there when we came back.

I grew up in an area called Bellville South. This area was allocated in the apartheid era only for coloured people. It is predominantly an Afrikaans speaking community. Tuition at all our schools was in Afrikaans, and it was my home language. Our area has three primary schools and two high schools. We also have two universities, approximately 3 km. from our home. So we were always surrounded by university students.

The shops were predominantly owned by the Muslim community and are still like that today. I was not exposed to many cultures as I grew up as we were predominantly coloured and Muslim people living in our town. We have a number of different churches as well as two mosques around us. We also had multiple sports fields. My entire family loves sport and all of us participated in various sport codes. My parents always encouraged this.

Like all so called black (which includes coloured) communities, our town is also divided into economic and sub–economic housing. A main street divides my community from the real poverty stricken areas where I grew up. I currently live in the same area of Bellville South, but just in a more upgraded suburb, called Glen Haven Estate. Close to where I live, children are malnourished and underweight. Unemployment is rife, so is drug abuse, and children and women are abused. House break-ins and car theft are the order of the day. We have one health centre which serves this community. HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis, plus chronic diseases of lifestyle like hypertension, diabetes and cardiac related illness are common. With the influx of immigrants from all over the region, the clinic cannot cope with the real demands of every day health care.

I grew up in a fairly protective home environment and my father was strict with all of us. He was a real disciplinarian. I grew up in an extremely male dominated and patriarchal household, where my dad ruled the roost. My mom was the peacemaker and home organizer. Yet, I was raised in a loving and very religious home. We worship (I still do) in the Anglican faith.

Education was a priority and both my parents ensured that all of us received good schooling. Of my five brothers, two are high school teachers, two more who own their own business and one brother works for our South African Defence force. Of my two younger sisters one is a primary school teacher and the youngest sister is in corporate banking. I am lecturing in nursing and am currently busy with PhD studies. As well as being family we are all still very good friends. We enjoy getting together. Seven of us are married, live on our own but are one big happy family together with our children and spouses. Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and Easter we all celebrate together.

I schooled at ordinary public schools, where I was one of 40-50 pupils from primary to high school in my class. However, with dedicated teachers and a loving supported family, I managed to always do well. I was a hard and consistent worker. I became the head prefect in matric and it is there that I developed my leadership skills. While at high school, my teachers all felt that I was a “born” teacher. However, I always wanted to be a nurse. After matric, I started my diploma in nursing at Somerset hospital in Green Point, Cape Town. I wanted to go and do the degree course, but my parents could not afford to send me to university. I therefore opted for the diploma course, where I earned a measly salary as a student nurse. I still had to give my parents the bulk of the money, but I kept some pocket money. This is where my real independence started. Against my father’s wishes, I had no choice but to leave home as it was compulsory for all student nurses to live in nurse’s residence. This was a marvellous experience which forced me to become mature instantaneously, as I was now faced with preserving people’s lives. Despite my conservative upbringing, I adjusted very well and soon became prefect in the nurse’s residence as well. Twice a week, when I was off duty, I would undertake a half an hour train journey home to spend with my folks and to go to church.

It is during this three year training period when I was introduced to various cultures and dealing with all kinds of people. It was wonderful! I then continued with my diploma in midwifery at the same hospital and finally left Somerset at the end of 1979. I got married to the most wonderful, loving supportive husband, named Ralph and just recently in April, we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. He is my rock and support through my entire academic career. We have two wonderful sons, Ian, aged 29 and Robin, age 24 years. Ian is married and I am grandma to the sweetest two little boys, Ethan and Aaron. My daughter in law is Ronelle. Ian is in Human resource management and Robin is a journalist.

In 1982 I went to the Technikon fulltime and completed my Diploma in Community Nursing Science. In January, 1983, I started as a district nurse in a semi-rural area, Philippi in the heart of the city. This was a real eye opener. This community consists of 42 farms and many squatter areas. Only the white farmers live in decent houses. This is where I was introduced and had to deal with extreme poverty, almost absolute poverty in many cases. Most of the farm workers were paid with a tot of alcohol in the morning and at night and earned very little money. I travelled with a fitted-out mobile van from farm to farm to serve the people. All kinds of sexually transmitted diseases were rife, as well as tuberculosis and later on HIV/AIDS. It is here where I had to rely on all my expertise, and with the rest of the team, to attempt to communicate with the extremely difficult and prejudiced white farmers.

The words “kaffir” (for black people) and “hotnots” (for coloured people) were the order of the day, if you did not have a white skin. Some of the white farmers initially did not allow me, because of my skin color, to come onto their premises. I then had to work from outside their gate to see my clients. I did health promotion on a big scale on issues like reproductive health, STI’s and general personal hygiene. There was only one primary school in the area. With the result, very few children pursued high school or further education, but had to go and work as cheap labour on the farms. Most parents were alcoholics.

My role had been clear right from the onset, education and more education. I instituted daily health promotion programmes on the farms and collaborated with important role-players like the priest, the one and only school principal and school staff, church leaders and one social worker, who worked tirelessly in the area. Together we focused on hygiene, nutrition and basic health issues. Soon I discovered that more and more babies were born with syphilis and gonorrhea and more and more adults were diagnosed with the same and other sexually transmitted diseases. I, together with the entire health team at our small clinic decided to embark on a research project within the area. We gained access to the factories firstly where we revealed horrifying statistics.

Despite all the setbacks, there were many successes in the area. Almost all the farmers gave me permission to come onto their premises  and allowed me to start a child care centre. After 9 years of slogging in the area, when I eventually left, 35 farmers had abolished the tot system and workers were earning a better wage. This was the most challenging, but rewarding experience of my nursing career. I still teach community nursing with so much passion and my students benefit from my practical examples of my Philippi experience.

When my boys were 1 and 5 years old respectively, I pursued my first degree through distance learning. In 1994 I completed my BCUR and in 1996 I completed my BCUR-HONOURS degree. This was challenging, rearing children, being a wife and an extremely busy community and church worker. I moved on in my career and started at one of our higher education institutions (HEI) in 1989 as a clinical nurse practitioner in the student health service. Here I was faced with the challenges of young people, especially sexuality related issues. I became involved with first year student orientation programmes and collected basic sexual health information from new the admissions. Eighty per cent of the  students had experienced sex before entering HEI and safer sex practices were unheard of. At that time HIV/AIDS was emerging as a major threat and the findings were extremely worrying. We launched massive campaigns on our campus, focusing on the use of condoms, safer sex practices and sticking with one partner. Students flocked to our student health service for advice, counselling and to be treated for various STI’s. Pregnancy rates amongst students were soaring, so we then embarked on a massive reproductive health campaign, where the focus was on contraception methods. However, the request for abortions became overwhelming, as these young people did not want to go through with their pregnancies. This posed a major problem, as abortion was not legalized in South Africa. Again, it was education and education!

I also started lecturing on a part-time basis at the institution. Finally my dream was fulfilled in May, 2000, when I entered academia on a full-time basis. I teach post-basic nursing courses, but am still hands on, as all the courses have quite a big practical component. So I do have an opportunity to visit and accompany my students in the various health services.

My community outreach is still continuing. I am very involved in HIV/AIDS and sexuality training. I go to local schools, matric camps, youth groups and confirmation camps. I also train staff of NGO’S and CBO’s. I trained 90 per cent of the academic staff in various HIV/AIDS and sexuality issues, as these have to be integrated into mainstream curricula. I am the chairperson of the Western Cape regional nursing education association (NEA). I am really passionate about what I am doing.

I am continually confronted with shocking levels of ignorance about HIV/AIDS. Two very different examples from my experiences illustrate this.

First, in March, 2007, I was privileged to facilitate a workshop to 100 international students on HEI and HIV/AIDS. This stimulated a lot of debate and discussion. These students were from across the world, different universities and for many it was their first visit to a third world country! Our statistics of people living with HIV/AIDS in HEI shocked them out of their wits and they could not understand why ARV’s (anti-retroviral drugs) were not freely available. The ignorance of the international community of our reality, of the impact of the pandemic in our country, was striking.

The second example was during the same year, in November, when I was facilitator and presenter at a women’s conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka. This was an absolute mind boggling experience, as the communities’ knowledge was almost zero and very much in denial. Even the so-called “educated” women, including medical practitioners, were not clued up with latest statistics, treatments and protocols. One of the problems I faced was language as in Sri Lanka the mother tongue is either Tamil or Sinhalese. However, during the conference there was translating equipment for each of the 500 delegates, and in the villages I always had interpreters to work with. The major disappointment of my three week stint of community-based education came within my final week. I was interpreted as being HIV-Positive during one of my presentations. Immediately, I was told that my final workshop with a group of school children at an Anglican missionary school would be cancelled, as the Nuns and children are not prepared to face/deal with someone HIV-positive! Needless to say, I cried bitterly, because I could not understand how my status, whether positive or negative, could influence the good work that I was doing. I did not even try to defend myself, except that I did tell the women’s executive about my disappointment and that I am not HIV-positive. I challenged their attitudes and educated them on stigmatization! Beside that experience, for me the entire trip was an eye opener and a tremendous learning experience.

In conclusion, I will be forever grateful to my parents despite the very conservative upbringing, for the sound morals and values that they have instilled in me and for the Christian principles that I can still uphold today. My family and friends also played a big role in encouraging me through thick and thin, good and bad times. I thank God for all the skills and talents that he gave me and for making me the caring individual that I am.

Arlene Walsh

24 November, 2009

An outsider looking in.

I was brought up in the then Transvaal of South Africa, in the remote and dusty town of Pietersburg. I went to the excellent Capricorn primary school, named after the tropic, and later to Jeppe High School for Girls in Johannesburg. I know now by just how much  my solid educational grounding was at the expense of my black contemporaries whose education was very poorly subsidised.  Perhaps to compensate my adult working life has been  something of a  haphazard search for opportunities to reduce the inequalities between the majority black and minority white populations, but that is quite hard to say aloud because it sounds patronising.

My story is easiest to tell through snapshots of incidents. Those I have chosen are telling moments in a circuitous, unplanned  reflection on my numerous  roles and experiences, all associated with education. Each reminds me of a lesson I learned from people I have encountered.

I fell into teaching by chance, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. I married young, straight out of school, and had two children by the time I finished my first degree (through distance education). I selected the post- graduate diploma in education as my next option, not so much for education, but because I could take my infant son to class. When I learned that the school offering me a post had a nursery, that decided me and a teacher I became!   It was rather surprising to discover that the pupils generally enjoyed my classes.  A favourite memory is of a pupil arriving at class, rubbing his hands together enthusiastically and saying ‘We are going to have fun now.’ I had discovered how teaching English enabled me to relate content and skills to the pupils’ interests and needs.   It was not the same when I moved to the university, but it was there that fresh possibilities opened up. My next examples are from the in-service (INSET) teacher upgrade programmes run by the then Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), where I worked in different parts of the country. I was employed as a lecturer in the English department, teaching across the canon. Selfishly I included whatever old European texts were on the curriculum,   to nurture my love of medieval poetry, developed during my master’s degree.  Looking back, this fascination with medieval poetry now seems strangely de-contextualised and esoteric.

My ‘day job’ at the university covered the normal duties, research and administration required within a department of literature. However, I soon began participating in community development and INSET programmes, organised mostly by the Faculty of Education. The first of these was a programme where untrained or partially trained black teachers from the informal ‘community’ schools in the squatter camp of Orange Farm, were bussed into the university, several afternoons a week.  RAU staff devised courses that covered both subject content and teaching methodology. Yes, there were monetary gains for the University from doing this work, but more importantly for me was the fact that woefully under-prepared black teachers were given hands-on assistance to increase their knowledge and skills. This was in the 1980s and 1990s when many black teachers had been trained in sub-standard colleges and had often begun teaching without completed qualifications. Certainly, the INSET programme work provided immediate feedback and a sense of doing something practical and useful to redress educational imbalances.

Other INSET programmes involved university staff fanning out across the country during vacations to work with school teachers.  By participating in these programmes over a good many years, I developed a picture of school conditions and circumstances across all the provinces of South Africa, as well as a new found respect for teachers and school leaders who had to cope with few resources in less than ideal conditions. Because of the nature of the programmes, I did not generally encounter pupils, but it was not difficult to get an inkling of the poverty that beset many households.

Imagine discovering that a wonderful, dedicated woman who had been teaching Grade 1 for almost twenty years had no idea at all about a perceptual development programme used in preparation for the teaching of reading. This happened to me when participating in an in-service teacher upgrade programme in Lebogomka, a remote and dusty corner of Limpopo Province. The miracle is how learners in the teacher’s classes had grasped the fundamentals of reading and writing at all. The sadness is that this poor lady had no formal training to teach, had never ever been visited by an official, or assisted with the fundamental knowledge that she required.  She had battled along, doing the best she could. Being able to guide her through the fundamentals, talking together about the simple, freely available objects and natural items that could be used to support and enliven learning, watching her bloom with excitement at new possibilities, was heart warming and enriching. But it also made me angry. How could the then Department of Education (then one of 19) fail to support or prepare teachers with even the most basic guidance and support? 

On another occasion, I arrived early for my first slot with a large group of senior teachers who were completing an English Teaching upgrade certificate. As I stood at the back of the crowded hall, I discovered that the teachers were somnolent with boredom as the ‘facilitator’ droned on monotonously, reading from a textbook.

When my turn to work with the group arrived, I felt desperate. To get the attention of the group, I marched up to the front, kicked off my shoes and jumped up onto the table. There I did an isiZulu rhyme with matching gestures:  ‘sibade’ ‘siba fishane’  ‘siba mkhulu’ ‘siba tokoloshe’. (I am tall, I am short, I am very big, I am an evil dwarf.)  Well? It worked. I had the attention of the group. The teachers and principals present were eager to know who I was and what I was doing. We then proceeded to work, but every now and again, when the room was too hot, when attention was flagging, we  would divert to a game or energiser or simple rhymes, dance, song, to arouse the group, to have a laugh, and then to get cracking on with the work. I suppose that what I was learning was to respond to the needs of the group, to make a connection, to ‘read’ the needs of the group. The aim was certainly not to ‘play’, but to use play to revitalise the group, overcome tiredness and achieve the necessary tasks. 

Sadly, changing funding patterns and possibilities necessitated yet another shift in focus. I moved to a private higher education institution, where I was asked to step into a leadership role. The opportunity meant that I learned a huge amount about business and public sector topics, and eventuated in my enrolment for, and completion of, an MSc in Strategic Planning at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. (I am currently working on a DBA at the same institution.) However, this period of my career is not one upon which I look with any fondness at all. After the ‘service’ focus of the INSET work and the NGO values-based approach, I found the emphasis on profit at the expense of quality and learning orientation, rather difficult to reconcile. My feeling is that our government is probably correct in critiquing the parasitic nature of many private higher institutions.

What did this teach me? I learned that I needed to judge the circumstances and react accordingly, often without much planning, and with a degree of foolhardiness. I could have been laughed to scorn, or heavily critiqued, or regarded (probably quite correctly) as stark staring mad. Let me make it clear that there are many sensitivities around race, age, rank and gender in South Africa, all of which need to be negotiated carefully and handled sensitively.

The INSET upgrade work, and the understanding that it gave me of the vast need to equip, support and prepare black teachers, principals and district officials, impelled me to shift focus from university lecturing to a non-governmental organisation, the Management of Schools Training Programme (MSTP).

My role at MSTP, an important organisation now sadly defunct, was to establish a department that prepared the materials for use in the school development projects running all around the country. Under the visionary leadership of a pioneering leader, we developed an accredited and practice-based Advanced Certificate in Education for principals and deputy principals, which aimed at improving leadership and management practice in the schools. The material we developed was richly contextual and rigorous, based on researched case studies, with required pre-readings and extensive practice-based assessment tasks. We also developed poster-based ‘key point’ training material in the vernacular for school governing bodies, to assist in the implementation of the rather onerous responsibilities placed on school governing bodies by the South African Schools Act, promulgated in 1996.

Nevertheless, I did do some field work, and then of course I fell back upon my ‘teaching bag of tricks’. Sometimes this got me into trouble, such as when I inadvertently used a culturally inappropriate analogy while working with senior education officials from the Nkandla district deep in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal. I had written and was now facilitating, the bulk of a School Change Facilitation course (accredited by the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg) covering the gamut of organisational issues and skills required by District Officials who had to enter schools and monitor and guide the school management teams.

In the very first session with the group, I was severely reprimanded by a senior Zulu dignitary, who was closely related to the prominent political figure whose name I had used carelessly, and, it transpired, inappropriately. I began to perspire, thinking that all was now lost and that the group would now refuse to continue with the current discussion, let alone the course as a whole.  The consequences could have been huge. This was a USAID-funded project that intervened at all levels of management in the school system, as well as curriculum.  If the District Officials were unhappy, the whole project would have stalled and foundered. My blunder was not insignificant.  What could I do to remedy the situation? I quickly made a self-deprecating joke about my ignorance, and followed with an apology. There was a sharp intake of breath, and then the person who had reprimanded me chose to accept the joke and the apology, as he laughed.  Everyone else laughed thereafter and we continued very happily with the work. A measure of the rapprochement that we reached is perhaps indicated by the moving ceremony that the group organised once the final assessment had been completed. They presented me with a lovely woven blanket in a deep leaf green with a burnt orange geometrical design.  They draped this across my shoulders, after parading into the room singing and dancing, and then gave speeches of thanks and appreciation.

Needless to say, I moved on quite quickly, this time to establish my own educational consultancy. This move into an entrepreneurial role is one that still takes me rather by surprise, as I had never envisaged myself in this way. Nevertheless, the varied work that has resulted is interesting and stimulating. It ranges from project management learnerships for a Sector Education Training Authority, to curriculum development work for various government and educational institutions, to support work for the President of the Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management (CCEAM), speech and proposal writing in the education context, and skills development work.

I like to think that I have not lost the developmental and values-based approach and thrust that I found so stimulating, valuable and enriching when doing the INSET work and large scale school improvement projects for MSTP. I sincerely hope that I am not deluded.

Elsie Samuel

24 November, 2009


I was Born on 17 February 1948, to parents who had migrated to Ceylon from South India. We lived in Dambatenne, a tea estate in the Uva Province where my father was the head factory officer.  I was educated in the primary school managed by the estate. Any English I know I learnt from my mother.

Having successfully completed my GCE Ordinary Levels, I started teaching in 1966 in the school of my primary education and was the first from the Indian plantation community to serve there.  In 1978 I completed a Teachers Training course in Jaffna, (north of Sri Lanka), specializing in Primary Education; I then returned to my community to serve as principal. During my tenure as the principal, I introduced new methods in teaching and increased the curriculum. In addition to Maths and Tamil, until then the only subjects taught in that school, I commenced aesthetics, environmental studies, and English teaching. The first sports meet of that school was organized by me involving other schools from the area. I also introduced uniform dress for the students which were worn in Government Schools.

When the schools were nationalised in 1977 I became a government employee.  This made a considerable difference to the quality of teaching for the tea estate children.

Becoming a Government servant I had opportunities to attend teacher training seminars, which further equipped me. The nutrition programme – free supply of milk, snacks and biscuits – and the supply of free books and clothing increased the school attendance of the children. This in turn produced better results.  In addition, more school buildings and equipment, increased teachers to support education, the introduction of more subjects and a national standardised education not only improved children’s educational chances but also made me more enthusiastic and helped me get much more satisfaction from the teaching profession.

However, one of the challenges that I faced as a Tamil speaking person was that Circulars were in Sinhala which made it difficult for me to read and to respond to the Sinhala Circulars, Sinhala being the official from the time of the Independent. However over the past two decades Tamil has also been considered as an official language and Circulars are also sent in Tamil.

After marriage my husband and I moved to the South of Sri Lanka where for the next five years I was an assistant teacher (first in Galle and then Bandarawela).  I also encouraged extra-curricular activities and community involvement in their local schools by organising a sports meet in one of the Muslim schools by raising funds in the local city. 

During my time as an assistant teacher, I was interviewed and selected by the Education Department as a Teacher Educator to the Education Component of the Badulla Integrated Rural Project (BIRDP), funded by Sweden. The main objective of the project was to improve the quality of primary education in the plantation areas. My role changed considerably with this new position.  I needed the support of the project directors to meet the challenges of the new position where I was surrounded with papers and office equipments – rather boring at the start – instead of the sorely missed students.  However, I was prepared for my new job through several Teacher Instructors Training Programmes conducted by the Ministry of Education. I gained new and important knowledge of the curriculum, teaching and learning methods and so on.

When I started working in the education development project I witnessed a remarkable difference in balancing the Tamil and Sinhala usage, with equal treatment of both languages. For example the consultants were very particular that the Tamil translation of the Sinhala circulars should be posted on the same day.

In addition through working with excellent international consultants I learnt a great deal from many visits to plantation schools with them.  This gave me more courage, confidence and experience. As a consequence I successfully visited schools and observed classroom activities, general school management and had supportive discussion with teachers; produced teaching learning materials; exchanged ideas through monthly newsletters; organised parents meetings; Mother’s awareness programmes, cultural shows and health camps. The success of this pilot project led to an expanded project where I continued similar work.

During the project years I was fortunate enough to be invited on an Educational Tour to Malaysia and Thailand. This focussed particularly on the implementation of multi-grade teaching, something we needed in our small schools and with a teacher shortage.

All of this project experience and the overseas tour contributed substantially to my passing the competitive exams at Grade 1 in principal’s service. This allowed me to be appointed to a plantation school, which now had classes up to GCE A level. I introduced the Arts section for the A/L.  Proudly, the School recorded its first University admissions – one from the Arts and one from the Commerce sections. The school also produced the best results in the Uva Province in the national O/L exam in 2004 (9 A passes and 1 C pass). I also pioneered dancing for the O/L students and one was placed third in the all Island competition and she was selected for the training college offering dancing as the main subject.

Although I did not consciously focus on increasing girl’s enrolment in my school, we did considerably improve their numbers.  This might have been for a combination of reasons.  For example I led A level students to carry out a survey and follow-up this up to encourage the parents to admit the children to the school at the correct age (six years). The generally good quality of the school encouraged girls as well as boys to attend.  The government had introduced a compulsory education policy which clearly had some influence.  Girls who were usually sent as domestic aides may have been enrolled to the school, which would have increased the female student enrolment.  

The improved quality was amply illustrated by the results of the students. Within the period between 2000 to 2008 three boys and nine girls have joined the teaching profession from my school. Apart from teaching one boy who was trained for media by us and sent to Uva radio and is now an announcer in one of the national radio stations.  Another boy from the school has joined the hotel industry having completed a course on hotel management. Some students have joined the computer field, business, and some other fields. These visible examples are very encouraging for other children (and their parents).

This School Uva Highlands T.M.V has also reached a stage where it is globally connected through modern technologies. The present administration has launched a Web site on 29th of November 2009.

My formal teaching career has now ended but I still devote time to children and their education.  I oversee a nursery school run for poor children which is sponsored by well-wishers from abroad.

Casmir Chanda

23 November, 2009

Casmir Chanda ‘I am a product of my mother’s dream that all her children, especially daughters,  would be educated.’

 From the age of 5 to about 10, Delfine, my mother, was kept in a covered basket whenever teachers came round looking for children to start school.  As the only daughter she was needed to do the household chores and never got a chance to go to school.  This experience moved my mother to pledge that all her children, especially any girls, would be educated to the highest standard.  As one of her daughters, I am a product of that dream.

I was born in Chingola, Zambia and completed my primary and secondary school there.  At the age of 18, I entered teacher training college and started teaching two years later at Lwitikila Girls Secondary School in Mpika, Zambia.  This is still one of the best schools in Zambia situated near a magnificent waterfall.  The falls was a source of fresh clean drinking water.   Its surroundings were an ideal and beautiful place for picnics and camping.

Three years after my first teaching post, in 1993, I was appointed as head teacher in Katondwe, close to Mozambique – one of the hottest places in Zambia as it is home for the wild life – The Luangwa National Park.  There were a lot of challenging as well as exciting moments there.  I lived near a church and it was wonderful to listen to choirs practising for the Sunday Services.  For someone interested in wildlife, there were lizards of many different shapes, colours and sizes.  In addition, there were spiders, scorpions and snakes including the poisonous black mamba.  I never went close to any of these creatures.  On two occasions I scared the black mamba away just by screaming!  There were all sorts of monkeys and baboons, which were a nuisance to the little vegetables that grew in this very remote, hot place.  Sometimes humans and monkeys would just pause and look at each other as though they were thinking ‘who is this?’ 

Classes at Katondwe began at 7.00am because it was slightly bearable to be teaching at 28oC.  Later in the day temperatures would sour to over 38 degrees so classes would end at 2.00pm, leaving the girls time for studying or revision.  Between May and July when temperatures would be in the 20’s, they took part in sports. I took groups of girls through the HIV/AIDS lessons, in addition to teaching English and Religious Education.  My saddest moment was when I asked a very bright girl who got pregnant to come back to school when she had had her baby and she refused.  I just couldn’t believe it.  The pressures from her family, boyfriend and peers were too great.

In my first year of teaching I came across real poverty.  A girl reported to school with a piece of cloth she called a blanket, just the one dress she had on and single notes bundled carefully in a piece of cloth to pay for her school fees.  To get this money, the family sold all the chickens – their only source of protein.  The girl had also walked for three days just to get to school.  She was determined to get an education and the head teacher at that time accepted her and found the necessary items she needed.  This girl moved me to tears and I started searching for a way to help needy girls in Zambia through secondary school. 

In 1999, I was offered a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge in the UK and was supervised by Prof Donald McIntyre (who died in 2007).  While studying, I came across CAMFED – Campaign for Female Education.  Following my persistent requests, CAMFED took on the role of sponsoring poor girls in Luapula and Northern Provinces of Zambia.  New Hall (my college at Cambridge University) also sponsored girls, some of whom are now working as teachers and nurses.  I am currently working with the Commonwealth Countries League Education Fund, which supports girls in Commonwealth countries and they have supported over 3,000 girls through secondary schooling around the Commonwealth.  I am also a board member of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, an education civil society where I have come to know very nice people with a wealth of experience in education and beyond.

While at the University of Cambridge, I was an active member of the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS).  In 2000, I was among the first Sir David Thorne youth delegates for the Royal Commonwealth Society meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  It was delightful to meet so many people from around the Commonwealth.  Nine years later, I had the opportunity to return to Kuala Lumpur for the 17th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers’ meeting.  The city had been transformed in just under a decade. Where there was nothing in 2000, there are now 5 star hotels and the twin towers.

My mother has seen her dream fulfilled.  All her seven children are educated beyond secondary school.  Of the three girls: Astrida is a teacher for Special Education Needs with a degree in Education, Prisca is a registered Nurse and holds a Diploma in Agriculture Science and I hold a PhD from the University of Cambridge.  I would like to say ‘A huge thank you’ to my mother and father; brothers and sisters; my dearest husband Douglas and my lovely mother-in-law, Carol; my friends in the UK and around the Commonwealth, my teachers and lecturers and above all to God who guides and leads me.

Badrun Serina

12 November, 2009

A life for education

 “It is true in order to be a successful person people should set a destination first. But on some occasions deviation is also seen where experience indicate the pathway to reach the goal of life”

 I was born in 1962 in a middle class family of Bangladesh. My academic life started in a local primary school in my place of birth.  After completion of secondary education I had to proceed to Dhaka City for higher study and eventually achieved my Master’s Degree in Islamic History and Culture.

From my childhood I used to dream of working in an organization of repute.  Although I was married while I was a student of Higher Secondary level, I continued to pursue my aim in life and made every effort to reach my goal. After completion of my Master’s degree with the support of my family and especially from my husband, I joined a national level non-government organisation as a school supervisor. Observing my performance my supervisors gradually recommended my case to become a Trainer of Teachers.  Now in the NGO arena I have been recognized as Trainer for change.

Since 1992, I have been working in pre-primary education, non-formal education, education for adolescent girls and boys and adult education. My main tasks were to produce education materials and deliver training to immediate and broader stakeholders. I have completed all those tasks for both government and non-government organisations.

 Because of the nature of my work I have been employed by several different organizations.  There are common themes to the objectives of these organizations as you can see:

* Gono Shahajjo Sangtha (GSS) – this organization provides primary education to the children living in rural poor areas and working children, literacy programme for rural unlettered women and run concretization programme for poor men and women.

* Grameen Shikha – the main objectives are to ensure life-skills education for women who have taken micro-credit from the Grameen Bank and to ensure primary education to the children of these women.

* Bangladesh Nari Progati Shangha (BNPS) – they conduct research work to produce alternative education system sensitive to gender and pluralism in Bangladesh.

* UNIQUE Project of Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) – they provide primary education to the children living in poor, disconnected areas and who dropped out from primary schools; they aim to ensure their transition to high school after completion of a primary education cycle.

 With similar aims of improving educational opportunities for rural, educationally and socially disadvantaged children, and with a gender focus, I have also been involved with British Government funded projects of the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE).  Much of this work included working in remote rural areas with community people and parents in order to make schools effective.  Within the Directorate Secondary and Higher Education I worked on a project (PROMOTE) to encourage educated women to take up teaching as a profession and create safe and secured residential facilities for female teachers in rural areas.  Personally I see the latter project’s outcomes as essential for the fulfillment of the former project’s aims.  Further, the FSVGD Project of Department of Women’s Affairs – which carries out literacy programmes for girls who dropped out from primary schools – encourages other disadvantaged girls to pursue their ambitions of an education.

I have been fortunate to be able to develop my professional working knowledge and skills through training courses within and outside the country. Among the important ones are learning how to train trainers, education management course, Gender Mainstreaming training, training in school supervision, and Curriculum and Materials Development.  A 3-month long training provided in Leeds University on Materials Development for Non-formal Education was arranged and funded through the British Council. The training knowledge and subsequent work experience has strengthened my professional capacity.

Despite my relatively privileged background I have devoted my working life to women and girls education in less advantaged areas of Bangladesh. I have worked in the remotest areas of Bangladesh with heterogeneous groups of people.  Over the years I have gained lots of experience which I bring forward to subsequent work.