by William Oscar Fleming, ChildFund Program Quality Team Leader
Editor’s Note: A ChildFund team is working in Brazil for several weeks to carry out two pilot projects with netbook technology.
Voices rise with excitement, reverberating off the room’s concrete walls and painted tiles, as staff and volunteers with ChildFund Brazil’s local partner GCRIVA embrace the challenge of improving programs for children and the community.
The discussion is lively, though sometimes quiet, and often punctuated with laughter and expressive hand gestures. These young men and women, who mobilize communities, are eager to develop new skills through ChildFund’s pilot projects using netbooks and software. The end goal is to streamline our child sponsorship processes and effectively deliver educational programs.
Yet, through these pilots we’re learning valuable lessons about how to improve the skills of our partners in the field.
Working in teams is new for these ChildFund partners. It requires them to define and assign individual roles (such as primary facilitator) and develop detailed lessons plans for each activity planned with children. Some mobilizers are working with different age groups than they would in their normal roles, and most volunteers have not previously been involved in group activities.
Working in this new way, team members were initially quite nervous about their ability to complete a lesson plan with children. Yet, thanks to their dedication and the training support they received, each educational session went very well.
As they worked with the children, the mobilizers and volunteers encountered several unexpected circumstances. In one early session they noted that the age mix was too broad and the total number of children too large to realize full participation. They quickly talked among themselves and subdivided the group by age, splitting facilitation and support roles, to ensure that children could actively participate in the lessons. At other sessions, the facilitators changed seating arrangements to make settings less formal and involve children in the lesson, effectively channeling their energy. Despite being unsure at times, each team demonstrated the ability to adapt and react effectively to the needs of the audience, increasing the success of the lessons.
As their skill and comfort levels grew, several teams revised the lesson plans to try new approaches to working with children. However with these adaptations the community mobilizers soon learned the importance of broadly communicating the proposed changes so that all team members felt included in decisions.
After each session with the children, the teams met to discuss what went well and what changes were needed going forward. Team members came to realize that how they worked together directly affected the success of the learning activities they were implementing. They also grew closer and developed mutual trust as they identified and overcame challenges together.
Through our pilot projects in Brazil, ChildFund has verified that supporting young leaders in interpersonal skill development and program implementation is just as critical as the content of the programs we’re designing for children and families. As we work with our partners to deliver programs, we are paying close attention to their capacities and needs so that we can provide corresponding support.
Using netbooks to share training materials will likely prove to be as useful for building the skills of our implementing partners as delivering programs to children and families.