I started calling myself an evaluator in 2008 when I established Pamoja; but for years after, during long flights, I would ponder how I ended up becoming an evaluator. On one such flight, pondering whether my in-flight meal was fit for human consumption, I finally found my answer. Tanzanian teachers!
As soon as I graduated, I leapt at the chance to volunteer in East Africa with VSO. When I first landed in rural Tanzania, I was only 23 years old, straight out of Glasgow’s East End. My naivety at how the world worked was at PhD levels of genius.
I recall getting really angry as I looked around at my new home, a place called Singida - a small town in the middle of Tanzania, days from anywhere. I was angry because nothing seemed to work at the school where I was volunteering as an A-Level biology teacher.
When I say nothing seemed to work, I am referring to the teachers who were never in class. I seemed to be the only teacher who would turn up. Where were my colleagues and why were they not taking their duties as a teacher seriously? Did they not care about the students?
This was my first hard lesson from mother Africa; everything has a reason. I learnt early in my career, that if you ask the ‘right’ questions of the ‘right’ people, in the ‘right’ way - and then listen carefully - an answer will usually present itself. In my school teacher case, it was that teachers were busy working in their fields to ensure a bumper maize crop to bring much needed money into their households. I later learned that the Ministry of Education hadn’t paid salaries to teachers in almost 12 months. That’s why they weren’t in school teaching their students.
I had found out it wasn’t laziness or greed, it was need. This memory reminded me of why I call myself an evaluator. I am a naturally curious person, always thinking about how things could be improved. For a time, I thought of myself as too critical. But I now believe that pessimists make great evaluators and I am definitely in the glass half-empty camp. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Pessimism aside, I firmly believe that as humans, we can always get better at what we do, if we take time to learn about what works (or doesn’t work), and share our knowledge.
Yes, I still get angry at the injustices in the world but as an evaluator, by inspiring others to learn and improve, I have found my unique way of turning frustration into positive action.
I am passionate about learning and improving and I want to inspire others to learn and improve too. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the frontline in a development sense, but as an evaluator, I make my small contribution through inspiring good change. And I owe it all to some absentee biology teachers from Tanzania.