We arrived back in the project last Wednesday, less than a week into the New Year. Although the foundation team has been gone for more than three weeks, life here in Kuria and the projects here on the ground have continued to steadily push ahead during the holiday season: our Nuru headquarters has been moved from the Nyametaburo health center to the newly completed (and much more spacious) granary, farmers are busy preparing to harvest their latest crop of maize, and the construction projects at St. Joseph’s and Keborui schools are making significant progress.

In spite of these exciting developments, the new year has also heralded in a fresh set of challenges for the education program. On my first day back to the project, the air was thick with rumors of which headmasters and teachers were being transferred, demoted, and promoted around the district. By the end of the week, the headmaster of Keborui Primary had been demoted and moved to a school outside our area, the deputy of Nyangiti Primary was promoted to a headmaster position in a neighboring sublocation, the deputy headmaster position at Nyametaburo Secondary was still waiting to be filled, and Nyametaburo Primary was awaiting the arrival of their new headmaster.

Even if you are unfamiliar with all these names and places, it’s not hard to tell that this is a significant amount of change in personnel and leadership for the schools in our area. While some of the changes are welcomed many of the adjustments have caused major setbacks to some of our programs. The most disappointing news for us came with the removal of Keborui Primary’s headmaster, Mr. Singa. Over the last six months Keborui has by far been the most cooperative, best-run school we’ve had the opportunity to work with.

Mr. Singa was one of the few head teachers who really understood Nuru’s approach to community-based development. He did not expect Nuru to work for his school, but instead did everything in his power to work with us to implement many of our programs. He hosted our Nuru teacher in-service day and health day at his school, ensured that his school chairman and parent representative came to all of our Education Advisory Committee meetings and events, and worked very hard to develop an innovative income-generating project idea through our School Business Proposal Program. Largely due to his leadership, his school scored almost double the points of any other school in our priority point system, resulting in Keborui’s selection for one of our very first infrastructure development projects – the renovation of the school’s two pre-school and kindergarten classrooms.

Mr. Singa’s removal from his head teacher post has made us reevaluate our approach to working with the schools in our area. Many of our programs focus on supporting and developing strong leadership and school management in our schools. Instead of pouring money into the purchase of new books, desks and classrooms, we spend our time and resources developing systematic reinforcements for responsible leadership (i.e. the priority point system) and providing skills trainings that will lead to long-term improvements in school management (i.e. school business proposal program).

Yet, as this new year has already taught us, investing in solid leaders may not be a very stable approach when the entire leadership structure can be so greatly disrupted with a simple wave of the District Education Officer’s signature. Mr. Singa’s departure has left Keborui in a cloud of uncertainty. The new head teacher has never worked with Nuru before and is completely new to our approach. Although the new head mistress seems like a kind lady, we will have to start from scratch.

We can only hope that the newly renovated classrooms we are completing will be well maintained and managed now that Mr. Singa is gone. The cycle of positive reinforcement we were trying to establish through the priority system is undermined when those who worked so hard to earn the rewards for excellent management do not receive them. So, we are brainstorming ways to continue the progress of our school business proposal program.

Of course, this new set of transfers is not all bad. As I mentioned earlier, the arrival of new leadership to places such as Nyametaburo Primary brings in a fresh wave of hope and vitality to schools that were struggling under ineffective headmasters before. Our education team will have to take these new developments in stride and view these changes as a valuable learning experience. We’ll adjust where needed and our programs will hopefully be more effective as a result. After all, what program should be able to see the value in a challenging new learning experience more than the education program, right?