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Recycled resources and the impact of volunteers

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Education, Nigeria

VSO Sustainable Classroom Project, Kwalli Primary School, Kano, Nigeria

Home made weighing scales
Home made weighing scales

I visited VSO Nigeria volunteer Sue White's Sustainable Classroom Project situated in Kwalli Primary school, just inside Kano citadel's ancient mud walls to see the progress she had made in (i) establishing a teacher professional development resource and outreach facility and (ii) abolishing use of the cane!

Against the odds and a laissez faire attitude of local education administrators Sue has managed to pull together an impressive micro-project at Kwalli School.  A demonstration classroom has been kitted out with an array of low or zero cost teaching aids, constructed largely using recycled waste such as plastic containers, fabric and wood.  Unlike most surrounding classrooms the rooms are decorated with attractive murals and a makeshift booth outside allows children to play at shop keeping and learn in an active, friendly environment.

Engaged pre-school children
Engaged pre-school children

Teachers from this and surrounding schools come to learn how to duplicate this approach and also pick up important teaching skills that can transform lessons from being dull rote chanting: ‘chalk and talk', to a much more conducive 'Active Learning' experience in which children have fun, explore and learn.

Magnetism using an old speaker
Magnetism using an old speaker

The school library has also been transformed, using locally made shelves and donated books and resources, which are used directly by the teachers, students and also serve as an example to other schools of what is possible.

Sue has also been campaigning against the use of canes: ‘bulala', which are used by some teachers (and parents) to intimidate and beat children to retain discipline.  At home she has a fearsome collection of canes she has persuaded teachers to relinquish; the teachers are initially reluctant, but often find that student discipline improves remarkably!

School Library
School Library

Overall the VSO Sustainable Classroom project demonstrates the potential to make a big difference at the local / micro level, but also how hard it is to scale up effectively. Kano State has thousands of primary schools, and the local education services struggle to provide the even the most basic resources and the teaching workforce are incredibly under-skilled and de-motivated.

A challenge for DFID's education programme ESSPIN which is supporting States such as Kano is how to introduce better classroom practice such as those shown above and cascade the skills and ‘know how' through the pre- and in-service teacher programmes operated by the teacher training colleges.

Sue and her collection of confiscated bulala
Sue and her collection of confiscated bulala

A weakness of the current approach is that volunteers try to operate on a shoestring budget and are dependent on state agencies for support budget. Government staff often don't appreciate the volunteer ethos and undervalue their potential inputs as second rate.  Linking long term volunteer placements in establishments such as teacher training colleges to the resources of better funded development programmes is a strategy that may lever greater impact, whilst saving on expensive long term technical assistance inputs.

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  1. Comment by Eunice Muchilwa posted on

    Great job, great project, great personality, very hardworking with a great sense of humor! I miss you big in Kano! Keep up the good work girl!

  2. Comment by Susan Laidlaw posted on

    I was a volunteer in Northern Nigeria 25 years ago. Does Nigeria still have National Youth Service Corps with university educated students from the south coming to teach in the northern schools?

  3. Comment by Ian Attfield posted on

    Susan, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) or 'Corpa' are still very much alive and kicking! They have a large permanent camp on the outside of most State capitals and a large number of recent graduates engaged in development activities. There are now a lot of linkages with donor and development partner initiatives in Nigeria: see .

    Alot as you recalled are still posted to teach in schools, partly due to the large proportion (over 2/3s in many rural areas) of unqualified local teachers. The NYSC English language and general education skills bring particular benefits. DFIDs new programme ESSPIN is considering using volunteers, potentially both NYSC and VSO to try and make a positive impact on the schools that current have very low teaching standards and 'know how'.

  4. Comment by Imoh posted on

    Dear Ian,

    I commend you for starting this blog. I understand the need for volunteering in Northern Nigeria because of the dearth of teachers and manpower.
    Just to clarify, is the project throughout Nigeria or restricted to Northern Nigeria? I know a couple of people that can gladly volunteer but I need to establish the location for this need.

  5. Comment by Ian Attfield posted on

    There are a number of voluntary organisation operational in Nigeria, in Kano I know quite a few, such as medics at the ECWA eye hospital. Given the size of Nigeria and insecurity in some regions (e.g. Delta) few agencies or programmes operate in all areas. For example DFID's education programme currently focuses on 7 of the 19 Northern region States.

    The UK agency Voluntary Services Overseas are one of the larger ones that post volunteers with appropriate skills all over the country, see - . Sue featured in this posting has now left the country, but there are a number of new VSO's arriving in Nigeria, some who will be working with DFID's ESSPIN programme in Colleges of Education and with ICT to support the education system.

  6. Comment by Anago Azuka posted on

    Dear Ian,
    I really commend you for this blog you started.However,my comment is in line with Imoh's own.I am really interested in volunteering work with some of these International organisation specifically with health or education section.The problem is that I can't find any organisation that needs volunteers from Nigeria.Can you help me with any.

  7. Comment by Ian Attfield posted on

    Hi Anago,

    Thanks for your feedback and interest.

    Organisations like VSO increasingly assing volunteers from other African countries as do the UNV (UN volunteers). For example I know of at least one Kenyand and Ugandan VSO in Nigeria. I used to be a VSO in Rwanda in the mid 90s. As with most positions, you need to apply and demonstrate the skills and experience you can deliver, in order for an organisation to cover the costs and arrangements of travel. It may be worth looking for opportunities closer to home to build experience?

  8. Comment by paul smbo chiroma posted on

    hi,iworked as an enumerator in the ongoin schools survey at kaduna state.iam impressed with what esspin is doin for the education sector in nigeria and particularly my state-kaduna,as such i would like to volunteer my service in kaduna please tell me how to do so. thanx.