It seems like only yesterday that Thomas and I were passing the blog torch. In reality, it was about a year and a half ago that I assumed the role of Education Program Manager here in Kenya. The time has come for me to head back to the States and for a new Program Manager to step in out here in Kenya. The rotation of U.S. staff is an intentional part of Nuru’s model. The rotations are designed to decrease dependency on outside staff and personalities while reinforcing the importance and development of local leadership, to infuse fresh ideas and expertise at key times in the model’s implementation cycle, and to enable the team transitioning back to the States to stay at the forefront of leading innovations in their field, develop partnerships and conduct research that supports the team’s needs in Kenya.

We are fortunate to have found an excellent new Program Manager who will be leading the Education team for the next 7 months. Her name is Jessica Hansen and she brings with her a wealth of experience, a passion for education and poverty eradication and a wonderfully open, receptive and positive attitude.

Jessica began working with refugees along the Thai-Burma border over ten years ago.  Prior to joining Nuru International, for over two years she managed innovative programs for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which focused on capacity building, life skills and leadership training, and community education for thousands of Burundian refugees, along with comprehensive case management and advocacy for hundreds of vulnerable unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children.  She also served as the Education Program Officer for Mercy Corps, a Program Specialist with the International Rescue Committee/Women’s Refugee Commission, and a Program Assistant for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).  She interned with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2005 and the Centre for Refugee Research in 2004.  She holds a Masters of Social Work with a specialization in International Social Development and a Bachelor of Arts in International Politics.  Her work abroad has focused primarily on education and the protection and empowerment of women and children in Southeast Asia and East Africa. She will be a powerful contributor to the Education Program’s growth and development and we are honored to have her join our team.

Jessica and I have been working with the Kenyan team over the past few weeks to get her up to speed on the history, development and current operations of the education team. She will fully take over management of the program next week and I will move back to the States to focus on strategic elements of the program, research, preparations for scaling and other issues. I will continue to work closely with Jessica and the team daily.

Today Jessica is out observing the team’s delivery of outreach programs to two of the new schools we are working with, Sorore and Nyasese. So far this week, we have shadowed outreach at 3 of the 4 schools that we have been working with since May. Last week we also shadowed a mixture of new and old schools and she had the opportunity to observe the variety of challenges we face – ranging from unique resource/learning level issues at each school, very low literacy levels across the board, our own staff’s need to grow their knowledge of effective alternative teaching methods, etc. Shadowing has enabled Jessica to see the practical implementation of our programs and get a better sense for our areas of strength and areas in need of development. She has observed the team’s delivery of various lesson plans and participated in their daily feedback sessions.

Over the next 7 months, Jessica will be working to solidify our implementation strategies of the outreach and learning center programs. She will be working with our team to continue the Uwezo assessments so we can use that data to further refine and tweak the model for maximum impact. She will be working with the team to set more structure around the delivery of lessons. She will also work with the team to refine our field manual and the lesson plans it contains ensure our work remains relevant and that the lessons truly produce impact. The team will work on tracking their observations, feedback, challenges and successes in an organized fashion so we have a better understanding of the anecdotal signs of progress as well as a better understanding of the school environments, hurdles to literacy, etc. Now that she’s up to speed, we will move forward and tap into her great experience and perspective to build on what we have implemented and developed so far. I’m excited to have her join our team to help move this program to the next level.