“Schools.” That was the consistent response I got when I asked leaders from the Nuba Mountains, a war-torn region of Sudan, the question, “What’s the most important way we can we help?” That request came before food or healthcare or other forms of humanitarian assistance.
Even in contexts of extreme poverty, parents use whatever means necessary to pay school fees so that the next generation has opportunities they were not afforded. Our good friend, Josh Kwan, describes the phenomenon of low-cost private schools in his insightful article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. They are ubiquitous across the developing world.
The interview below offers an especially important perspective on how to resource the operators of affordable private schools. Ken Appenteng serves as Vice President of African Programs at Edify, a nonprofit that works to improve and expand Christ-centered education in the developing world. The quest of Edify and organizations like it does not cease until all children in places as far and wide as Sudan, Pakistan and Cambodia can change the trajectory of their families and communities through access to quality, Christ-centered education.
FIRST FRUIT: First, a question about you. You went from growing up in poverty to achieving professional success in the banking industry. What turned your career back to focusing on the poor?
KEN: Since I came to faith, I have devoted my entire life to serving Christ.
At the age of 15, I started developing faith in God and was an active member of Scripture Union and later at the University Christian Fellowship. As a college student, we did weekly visits to hospitals around the campus to share the Word and pray with sick people. During my time at the bank, my friend and I started a prayer group that grew very quickly, eventually attracting top management.
While serving in the bank, I met with a couple of Christian professional men who had started a microenterprise development agency called Sinapi Aba Trust (SAT). I decided that the Lord was leading me to join SAT, seeing it as a calling to help the poor and bring Christ to them in their marginalized circumstances, so I joined SAT as Executive Director in 1997.
In 2001, Opportunity International Network (OI) offered me the position of Regional Director for Africa. I worked with executive directors and country boards of OI partners in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Zambia, Egypt, and Malawi. A year later, OI wanted to start a microfinance bank in Malawi. Along with two other expatriate microfinance professionals, I helped start a bank that offered a variety of products and services to meet the needs of the economically active poor in Malawi’s urban and rural communities. “Banki Yanga” (My Bank) became a household name in Malawi. At the bank, we started a prayer group and devotional meetings every day.
FIRST FRUIT: You have since shifted to making loans to entrepreneurs running low-cost private schools. Why?
KEN: Lending creates empowerment because the poor and marginalized are unserved and underserved. Coming from a poor background and knowing my mother’s entrepreneurial ways, I believed the poor could repay loans better than large businesses if given the opportunity.
I saw a direct correlation between economic empowerment and spiritual growth because lending opens a way to find meaning in serving God. People don’t serve God well with an inferiority complex, and poor people want to be faithful to people lending money to them. When we educate someone with the knowledge of Christ, we give them empowerment and the moral authority to do what is right in society.
Education gives us power because knowledge is real empowerment. I witnessed firsthand the kind of transformation that happened to children I grew up with who received good religious and academic education. When I was growing up, the elderly called me “mister”, telling my mother I was different from the children that did not go to school.
Since joining Edify in August 2013, I have seen private school entrepreneurs transform the reputation of their schools as a result of loans. I have heard testimonies from parents about how their children’s character has been molded by Christ-centered activities such as morning devotions, prayer and Bible study. Through the hard work of these school proprietors, more children who were formerly outside of school are now enrolled and enjoying the benefits of education.
I am convinced that both education and lending lead to real change in people’s lives and worldview.
FIRST FRUIT: When you use the word “transformation” what do you mean?
KEN: I’m referring to Romans 12:1-2 – the renewing of the mind. It’s about bringing Christ to the children when they are young so that as they grow and form values, their minds and hearts will be influenced by the Word of God. Psalm 119:105 says “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”. When a child, teacher or proprietor of a school receives Jesus into their lives they learn to be Christ-centered. Transformation of a school means that the character of teachers, proprietors and students are collectively and progressively being influenced by Christ, and it is evident when you go to the school. I often see transformation of mind and attitudes of Muslim children or parents when they are receptive to the Word of God.
I have always seen youth as a source of vitality in the promotion of the Kingdom of God.
I believe we must disciple young people for the future, and I encourage them to be faithful to Christ everywhere they go
At Edify, I encourage our staff to commit their lives to Christ. We started weekly prayer in our Accra office, in addition to Monday global prayer call for staff.
FIRST FRUIT: How do you measure impact?
KEN: We measure the impact of our programs in a number of ways, one method is an instrument we developed called the “Results Framework” which gives us a clear reflection of the ways children benefit from the program. This measurement has three components: 1) Increased access to Edify Partner schools; 2) Edify Partner schools becoming more sustainable; and, 3) Christ-centered education improved in Edify Partner schools.
Loans provided by our microfinance partners have helped proprietors increase the number and improve the outlook of classrooms and playgrounds with more desks and better spacing. Sometimes additional toilet facilities are provided, with more hygienic conditions around eating areas, washrooms and classrooms. This results in more children enrolling in schools with a healthy and safe environment, so they’re not missing classes due to frequent illness. Such loan interventions help create a positive learning environment for the children, thus improving academic outcomes.
Our interventions in technology education have helped children improve their reading habits, especially in the English language. In the schools where we have piloted certain technology initiatives1TeacherMate Software (an interactive phonics and literacy application for mobile devices), and Stanford University’s SMILE project (an inquiry ...continue children have been exposed to critical thinking skills and good reading capacity. Exposure to God’s Word has molded their character—parents, teachers and proprietors have testified about the transformation that has taken place in their children’s lives.
FIRST FRUIT: Living in a multi-faith context, how does the Christ-centered Edify model work when the community members and students are from different religious backgrounds?
KEN: In Burkina Faso I conducted an interview with a Christian proprietor who testified that when he established his school within a Muslim community he encountered a lot of resistance from the Muslim parents because they thought their children would be under Christian influence. They warned the proprietor not to include their children in school devotions, but as the school years passed and they learned about the school’s excellent performance in the National exam, they started changing their attitudes toward the school.
At Edify, we recognize people have freedom of worship and we provide them the opportunity to see how our faith works. Muslims and people of other faiths come to the schools, but our model does not compel them to become Christians at all costs. In our Christian transformation activities, we give the message and work with the principles of Jesus. Christian proprietors are able to set up Edify schools in a country like Burkina Faso, with more than 60% Muslim population. Muslims in those communities generally believe in good education and strongly believe that Christian schools provide the best education to children. This is not just anecdotal, but something they have experienced or witnessed. The proprietors ensure there are morning devotions in the schools, with both Muslim and Christian children participating. In Burkina Faso, a civic education manual developed by Edify’s country rep, Dr. Philippe Ouedraogo, was accepted and approved by the Ministry of Education, led by a Muslim minister. When the manual was vetted, it was validated as not offensive to the Muslim faith, so this is one example of how the principles of the Christian faith can be adapted to a multi-faith society.
FIRST FRUIT: Do you believe that transformation can happen at some level, even without the acceptance of Christ?
KEN: There are many people who remain in the faith paradigm they come in with and yet, due to the principles of Christ followed in the school, they experience some transformation. Not all the Muslim children or children of other faiths give their lives to Christ, but as they go through the teachings and practices in the schools, they experience positive change in character and lifestyle.
What’s important is that our lifestyle is congruent with our message, because many people want to see how we walk the talk.
As non-Christians try to live out principles of integrity, there is opportunity for people to experience a kind of transformation in their lives.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||TeacherMate Software (an interactive phonics and literacy application for mobile devices), and Stanford University’s SMILE project (an inquiry based learning tool delivered on mobile devices and computer labs)|