Friday, 24 October 2008

Visiting Fantsuam

I started writing this blog entry last month when when I was in Nigeria, but didn't get a chance to post it while I was there.

At Fantsuam

I am bandwidth challenged at present, here with Fantsuam Foundation in North Central Nigeria, so there may be some delay in posting this blog.

People and Place

The People and Place project is up and running www/ The photos there from the Children's CC (Computer Club) give a flavour of Fantsuam, and are an example of information sharing between four schools, on three continents.

The Self Directed Learners

My main challenge here is to help create the first Dadamac Self Directed Learners (SDL) group at the Fantsuam Knowledge Resource Centre. I spent the first day and a half struggling to get people to share their learning needs, and failing. Today, with John Dada's help, we hit on the idea of describing our personal learning journeys. This has lead to really rich reflection and discussion.

Informal Learning

One of the group members pointed out the importance of learning from our peers. We discussed how much we learn from our peer group throughout life. We also considered how much we had learned at home before starting primary school. This discussion helped us to recognise that learning is not only what is taught in a formal manner in school or college. The experiences of home learning and peer-to-peer learning has helped people to understand what we mean by informal learning. It also helped us to discuss learning by doing, and all kinds of alternatives to formal class teaching.


Now we have recognised the richness of peer learning we are ready to use the Internet to widen our peer group, and consider what we want to learn and how we want to learn it. In our discussion someone mentioned unreliable peers which lead usefully to the issue of reliability of information sources on the Internet.


I will try to introduce the learning group members who I am working with here to the chat room I will lead the usual First Thursday of the Month meeting, on October 2nd, from the Fantsuam Knowledge Resource Centre. I am hoping the Fantsuam Learners will become part of a wider peer group thanks to the Internet – starting in the chat room. Please drop by to welcome them if you can and join in our discussions about informal learning.

World Without Poverty

I have brought sixteen of the Mohammed Yunus “Creating a World Without Poverty” books here (thanks to Chris Macrae). My idea is to give some to John Dada (director of Fantsuam Foundation) and also get some taken down to my friends in Oyo state.


I arrived here on Tuesday (September 23rd) with Marcus Simmons of Ecoshelter. He has come to learn and teach about construction techniques. This week has been orientation, buying materials, visiting the site, meeting the team and so on. Practical construction training is scheduled for next week.

Comparative costs

Ricardo and other members of the Minciu Sodas Includer development group would have loved to be included up at the main house this evening. A couple of people were discussing the minutiae of comparative costs of different mobile phone networks, cyber cafes, and phone access to the Internet. This is exactly the kind of information the Includer group are looking for.

In my hut

I am writing this in my hut by the light of an oil lamp - no NEPA (mains power) again. As it is Marcus' first visit John has booked him into a hotel in Kafanchan, with running water and a generator for when the power fails. Marcus is driven back and forth each day, but I think he'd probably prefer to be at Fantsuam Foundation like I am. It is Friday evening, and I will try to upload this over the weekend.

It is now Monday October 6th. I have still not uploaded the blog. We have had serious problems with the Internet connection. It has been erratic, extremely slow most of the time, especially in the KRC in the day time. (It has become an in joke that the service provider is working to American time, so it doesn't get going until they wake up). I have only been able to deal with the most urgent online tasks, and uploading a blog is not one of them.

I have been leaving my laptop at the main house to charge overnight as there is solar power there. Last night and the night before we did have NEPA for several hours down at the fish farm (where my visitor's hut is) but it is so unusual I have really got out of the habit of expecting any.

My Hausa is improving – because people give me informal lessons in “morning greetings” every day as I set out for the Knowledge Resource Centre (KRC). It is about a ten minute stroll from my hut up to the compound where the KRC is. There are various clusters of people I pass every day, and they teach me as I go by. I am ashamed of only speaking English. Many people here speak several local languages. Some speak good English, and many know simple phrases that were drilled into them at primary school, such as “Good morning” and “How was your night?”

“Sannu” is a Hausa greeting that serves well in almost every circumstance, and “Lafiya” is a fairly safe reply to most questions that relate to your well-being, so with just those words I can at least show willing. However, I am now able to be slightly more ambitious in the range of my conversation. I sometimes manage to get in first with some of the well-being questions – even though I'm not too sure exactly what they mean. I think I can now ask after your nights' sleep, your bodily health, your children, your family, your household in general, your work, your afternoon and your day.

What I really like is if I manage to do enough of this back-and-forth question-and-answer session to get to the concluding part of the conversation. At this point the person who I am leaving behind me will say “Sai kin dawo” (meaning “until you come back....”) which seems to be my opportunity to make one of two sounds that I am forever hearing and wanting to copy. I don't know the spellings. One sounds like “e”- but is a wonderfully long sound (I think it means “yes”) and the other sounds like “yow-wah” and is said with great emphasis – so I think it's more extreme than “yes” - it gets used when things are a good idea or likely to work well.

PS Now I am back home. Autumn kicked in here while I was away. The evenings are drawing in and the trees are beautiful. Water comes out of my taps, the electricity supply has been constant, traffic drives straight along the roads instead of weaving around floods and potholes, and strangers pass each other in the street carefully avoiding eye contact. Life is “back to normal”. Tomorrow, I join Marcus and two or three others for a “back from Fantsuam lunch and debrief”. Sannu Marcus!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog Action Day to Fight Global Poverty!

I have just learned that today October 15th, 2008 is Blog Action Day to Fight Global Poverty! So here are some thoughts related to poverty and what we are learning by doing.

On Monday I came home to the UK from one of my "working holidays" at Fantsuam Foundation (FF) in North Central Nigeria. When I am not physically at Fantsuam I work with the project there via the Internet.

FF began as a micro finance scheme and has helped thousands of women over the years through its loans. It is now also an integrated community development programme involved in health, education, training, rural connectivity, solar energy, eco-development, and all aspects of family life. My involvement has to do with education and training, including working at a distance with people through the Internet.

FF is in a rural area that knows very well about poverty. The poverty levels are such that loans of only a few pounds can make a big difference. They can help people to set up as petty traders and earn a living. FF also has a programme which supports widowed grandmothers who are supporting at least four orphaned grandchildren. The programme gives them 300 Naira a month - approximately £1.50.

Director John Dada says that at Fanstuam Foundation people learn twice, once by doing and a second time by sharing what they know. I love that attitude. I am a teacher. I like practical, project based approaches to learning and I also know that teaching something well is a good way of demonstrating competence. Another reason why I like the attitude of the rural community projects sharing what they know is because I believe that will be the best way to tackle the issues of poverty.

The Internet allows two way exchanges of information. People who have to cope with the challenges of poverty first hand, on a daily basis, are the experts. We need to tackle problems through exchanging information, not through top-down approaches. People in the so-called developed and developing countries should be "rubbing minds" to tackle issues of poverty together.

Incidentally, I don't believe that material wealth is the only indicator of poverty. I believe there are other kinds of poverty too. Some people for instance are time-poor, others may not have many social contacts and so on. What do we really want for a poverty-free future? What kind of sustainable life styles can we develop together?

I know from the work I do with Fantsuam Foundation that we really can use the Internet to exchange practical information at a distance, and work together even when we are not face to face. I am hopeful that more people who are tackling poverty will come and rub minds with us - either face to face in UK with me, or with John and his team in Nigeria, or with all of us through the Internet - so we can all learn from each other, share our practical knowledge, and make more rapid advances against poverty.