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Making a Career in the Hard Places

Let’s face it. Most people who grow up in poverty want to get far away from it as quickly as they can. Not Everton Kamangire of Malawi. He grew up with a different aspiration: make a difference in the lives of those immersed in deep poverty.

Everton began by doing what he could, providing a blanket or meal here or there. He pursued a degree and was driven by mentors who challenged him to dig deeper. After graduating, Everton began teaching at a local school and then launched the Lizulu Orphan Care Project.

Lizulu is a rural Malawian community that is no stranger to HIV/AIDS or generational poverty. Consequently, it is no stranger to orphans. The average Lizulu family lives on less than $0.75 a day, making the ability to support orphans seem far from possible. Yet, about 3,000 orphans call Lizulu home. Many call Everton their role model.

The impact of Everton’s aspiration has been colossal. Nearly 500 children in Lizulu have completed secondary school, a feat that without the support of a family would typically be impossible for an orphan. His holistic approach, built on the concept of community-based care, allows children to live in the comfort of a real home with a real community – a built-in family - surrounding them. Five community centers in the village provide meals, and local leaders offer tutoring and counseling to ensure school is more than just going through the motions and life is more than just getting by. Blankets, clothing, medical services – all provided.

Everton has turned a community previously defined by poverty into a community defined by God. It’s an environment that doesn’t allow feelings of abandonment or worthlessness to stand a chance. It’s clear in the children’s excitement as they share their dreams – dreams very much alive despite tragic circumstances. Take for example Joy*. At 16, after losing both of her parents, Joy moved in with her grandmother. Two weeks later, she lost her grandmother. But Joy sits with confidence as she tells her story. Instead of speaking of sorrow, she speaks of her aspirations to become a midwife.

This is the story of a leader who matters in the hard places – a leader who dared to step into the stories of those around him and embrace them where they are. A leader who changed both the perception of the orphan and of the orphan’s community, enabling each to confidently see themselves the way God sees them. And every day, it grows a little more into the story of future leaders that matter in the hard places.

*Name changed for confidentiality.

Not What It Used To Be

Learning techniques, like most everything else, have evolved quickly over the past few years. Research has indicated that traditional learning methods - the textbook and lecture routine so often employed - have only a 5-10% retention rate. Meaning that up to 90-95% of the information taught is lost. It seems like a spurious statistic – but think about it, do you remember who the 19th President was from your history textbooks? Or the DNA structure from your science textbooks? (Don’t worry, we don’t either!) As such, we’ve been reevaluating our teaching methods. The Gospel is too transformative and too extravagant an experience to be subject to passive, traditional teaching. For this reason, African Leadership is developing an intentional and interactive learning system – one that utilizes technology by replacing textbooks with tablets, reading with doing, and theoretical examples with applicable actions.

This interactive tablet leads us into a new era of teaching. It delivers information to students through updated, pragmatic learning methods. The usability of a tablet allows students to relate with and explore the material while at home in their own communities and also opens the door to potential income-generating activities. The connectivity of a tablet supports communication and relationships between church leaders near and far and enhances the discipleship model currently used between teacher and student. The customizability of a tablet makes relevant information accessible, up-to-date, and tailored to African pedagogy.

The retention rate for such participatory-styled techniques? 50-90%. It is education combined with action. Graduates retaining more of the information they learn, preaching more efficiently, and leading their church communities more effectively: this is the future of African Leadership’s Applied Education program.

By The Numbers

Numbers don’t tell a story, right?

You might remember the recent update from Sudan, “Bibles and Bombs in Nuba,” about teachers choosing class locations based on proximity to foxholes. Thirty-seven students are in these classes. Or another story, “Investing in the Hard Places,” that told of a pastor in Ethiopia who relocated his family to an evangelism-resistant area. He has graduated 72 pastors. You remember the stories before you remember the numbers.

After all, the journey of faith is certainly no cut and dry game of numbers. It doesn’t matter how many students are in those classes in Sudan if they are not growing in their faith. It doesn’t matter how many graduates are in Ethiopia if they return to their home churches without an increased understanding of the Bible. Individual transformation – the journey from understanding to commitment to action - is at the core of our mission. But so is maintaining a culture of assessment, something that often does involve numbers.

African Leadership recently wrapped up a three-year assessment with an independent philanthropic research and analysis organization. Tying together stories and numbers, the assessment measured the effectiveness of the Applied Education program numerically and the personal progress of pastors tangibly. Pastors completed a survey before beginning classes and then again upon graduation. Through a number of indicators, the assessment tracked nine key outcomes for the pastors.

What did we discover? Pastors graduating in Sudan and South Sudan experienced a 103% growth in the way they holistically respond to community needs. Pastors in Ethiopia experienced a 21% increase in their personal transformation and consistent display of a biblical worldview. Pastors in Uganda were 51% more effective in the way they communicate biblical truths, and pastors in Malawi saw a 51% increase in biblical knowledge and exegesis.

Now, those are some numbers that matter. Those are the numbers that spur an endless number of stories in communities across the continent. Numbers may not tell a story, but they certainly do validate a story.