Viola was a development worker from Uganda who wrote this as she was near the end of her two-year placement in Malawi as a Capacity Building and Advocacy Specialist with the Civil Society Coalition for Quality Basic Education (CSCQBE). She is now doing a new placement in Somaliland.

What is your work background?

I was an Education Project Manager and co-ordinated the implementation of education program activities including facilitating trainings in advocacy and social mobilization to promote education for the girl child. Most of my work centred on advocacy for policies and mobilizing community support for the promotion of the girl child education. I was a secondary school teacher and taught in a number of several secondary schools in Uganda before joining the NGO world.

How would you describe yourself?

A compassionate and confident person, willing to learn and adventure into new areas.

What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?

To share experiences, skills and knowledge and build on my existing strengths at the same time gain new skills and knowledge in a different context.

What is your first memory of arriving in Malawi, and what made the biggest impact on you?

I first came to Malawi to attend the interview and was amazed at the green scenery, the maize gardens everywhere and the flat landscape. When I finally got the placement and arrived in the country to start work, I met a development worker from Uganda who had been in the country for a year and he briefed me on the social and economic issues in the country and assured me this is home away from home. Nevertheless, the first months of placement were lonely and I found myself missing my family and “matooke” our staple food. I however adapted and adjusted each passing day.  I also found the social norms and settings in Malawi a little bit different from what I expected specifically the matrilinial social system in some parts of the country. Generally the whole experience has strengthened my ability to become sensitive to other people’s cultures and to quickly adjust to different social and economic contexts.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

My main role is to support and facilitate capacity development of CSCQBE membership on advocacy for education development in Malawi.  But I enjoy most the training of our partners – the District Education Networks (DENS) on citizen centred advocacy so that beneficiaries of the education service and related constituents gain an understanding on how they can advocate for themselves. This involves training on democratic rights, citizen roles and responsibilities, and education as a human right, among others.

What has been the most exciting moment so far?

First of all, the most exciting moments have been the development of an advocacy strategy for CSCQBE and rolling out its implementation and the pilot of the training of trainers (TOT) guide on constituency building for citizen participation in the management and advancement of education service delivery at local level. Both processes have been an eye opener for me in relation to citizen centred advocacy approaches.

And the biggest lesson?

Development initiatives for developing countries should tap into indigenous knowledge and use approaches that are based on a dual to learning process to create ownership and ensure sustainability of development projects.

What is the biggest development challenge facing the country where you are working and the area in which you are working?

Generally poverty is the biggest development challenge in the country, but to be specific and with reference to the education sector, their biggest challenge in Malawi is lack of capacity within the Ministry of Education to absorb allocated funds as planned annually, thus compromising effective and efficient education service delivery at local level. CSCQBE advocacy work has been advocating for increased budgetary allocation for the education sector but it has been established that its not the increasing large amounts of funding that will facilitate the achievement of Education for All (EFA) goals but the timely and appropriate usage of the allocated funds. 

If you could change one thing, what would that be?

The low transition rates to tertiary level of education among girls in the country. If it was within my powers I would call on the government to have more programmes and initiatives to support the girl child attain tertiary education and to reach the greatest level of skill possible.This is because the girl child education completion rates in Malawi are still low and this is attributed to high domestic poverty levels in the country. 

What strikes you most about Progressio’s Development Worker model?

The skill share approach which is a dual approach to learning is true to the principles that no one knows it all and there is always something new one can learn from others.  Development workers are not experts but counterparts in the workplace.

What is your favourite motto or saying?

“Victories often occur after you see no way to succeed but refuse to give up anyway”  Dave Weinbaum

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?

Being a development worker requires selflessness and being sensitive to other people’s way of doing things. This requires giving your best with an open mind for new knowledge and most importantly valuing each and every person you work with.

Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?

I see myself going forward to another level professionally because I have acquired more skills and knowledge in advocacy and capacity development as well as other areas. I envision myself establishing an organisation that will strengthening communities to support the girl child education in Africa because the factors that lead to high school drop our rates in Africa are, in most cases, similar.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

One issue that is challenging for local civil society organisations in developing countries is limited capacity to fulfil the respective mandates and thus the fact that capacity building for partner organisations is more sustainable than providing financial support. When you share your knowledge and skills you enrich each other’s capacity and offer a lasting contribution.