Salone Entry 20: 70-30

December 9th 

The next morning Daniel S Quee came by because he wanted to talk about the issue of punctuality and stipend deductions for the trainings.

As I’d expected, he repeated the point that a lot of teachers had doubts and worries about what would happen with the stipend deductions, and that it was creating- as I’d feared- a murmur of distrust about the honesty of the collective actions of myself, Daniel, and Rashid.

I assured Daniel S Quee that whatever money was deducted would be immediately put back into projects to support the school, as all the money that was put into the training project was directed to be used for the school in one way or another. If it wasn’t directly going to help the teachers as a stipend, it would indirectly help the teachers by going back into the school’s varying development projects, including the ongoing plastering of the classrooms, and that absolutely no money would end up in anyone’s pockets.

I’ll have to sit down with both Rashid and Daniel and share Daniel S Quee’s complaints, as I know they’re all legitimate, and that most, if not all teachers share some variation of the same complaint.

If we don’t have the trust of the teachers in our trainings, then we lack legitimacy with them and our training project immediately loses most of its values. Why would anyone value our actions if they don’t trust our motives?


Today’s training was on Associative Learning Techniques and applying them to behavior management. Focusing on conditioning, finding ways to associate commonalities across topics and, again of course, consistency. It was not as engaging a topic as some of our other trainings so far, but Daniel, Rashid and I had all identified it as a need for staff.

Immediately after the training a heated argument erupted. The teachers realized that we were staying true to our word of enforcing deductions and many of them were unhappy. Their point was, as adults, they should be trusted to show up on time, and that there should be no deductions from the stipend they were to receive as trainings.

Rashid, Daniel and myself obviously stuck to our point that we had over six days now built up evidence that unfortunately the teachers’ point was not true, as teachers were repeatedly showing up 10-25 minutes late to trainings, or in some cases showing up only at the very end for food. Whether or not Rashid, Daniel or I fully agreed, I’ve long since learned that leadership needs to project a united front when a problem emerges.

Their main point was immediately debunked as we told them that the exact principles of consistency and continually collecting evidence to protect themselves in the classroom that we were preaching to them in the trainings, we were using in enforcing our 5/10,000 leone deductions. I was essentially using what we’d just talked about in associative learning by relating the topic’s we’d just talked about to real life.

I reminded them that the truth most likely lies close to where the evidence is, and in this case, the evidence was that not all teachers were holding themselves accountable on time. They begrudgingly accepted, because it was impossible to deny the logic, which they had all agreed to and participated with over the first six days of trainings.

That episode in itself was one that has played out several times over the last year and an half in Iraq. If I have to make a controversial decision, I make sure I have evidence and very strong reasons to back it up.  It was also important that I shoulder the burden of the discontent. Far better that I was the villain if necessary rather than the teachers’ direct bosses in Rashid and Daniel. Their rapport was far more valuable than mine.

The one truly viable point that some teachers made was that the new starting time of 2pm interfered with the call to prayer, which was set daily at 2pm. We decided it was a very legitimate point, and we agreed to push back the start time to 2:30pm. They all appreciated it.

To drive the point home, I told the teachers during their meal that tomorrow they should do exactly what they did today, at the exact same time as they did it today, and arrive, like they did today, at 2:15-2:20. And in doing that, they’ll be early instead of late! They all laughed and agreed it was a very fair compromise.

Today exposed a lot of things that the three of us, Daniel, Rashid, and myself, can improve on in similar future projects, and some ways to best balance our positions.

I’m glad- and relieved- that we had the post-training argument today, as I was starting to get a little worried that things were going too well. I’d almost begun to wonder and  worry that the teachers weren’t taking the information and approach seriously and were just playing along for the sake of the exercises- playing along with my presence. Today showed that very much wasn’t the case, and that most of them are genuinely in tune with what the three of us are trying to do.

In addition, my fear had been that in nothing going visibly wrong I’d have little evidence of things that would need improving in potential future sessions. I’m a big fan of things going wrong. Or, better put, I’m a fan of things going 70-30. I want that 70% right to reinforce that the ideas and approach are correct, and only need fine tuning. But I want that 30% wrong twice as much, because that’s how things really improve. And it always, without a doubt, provides the best insight.

Took a quick detour from school one day to the small village of Saima, just a half kilometer down the road from Bumpeh Academy. When I came three years ago the chief of the town offered to teach me how to build one of the boats pictured. I’m hoping that offer still stands.
Looking towards the future. I had a talk with “Mr Tom” who has been contracted by the UNDP on a few occasions to build wells throughout Moyamba District. Here he’s demonstrating the proper method for pumping at one of the wells that he’s built in the middle of Rotifunk town.

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