It is the final day of our Train the Trainers course in Freetown. We’ve been working hard for three days to prepare ourselves and the local trainers for the training course we’ll give next week. Together we’re imagining what it will be like to be an African instructor giving Dutch-style training to African colleagues. Of course, the course content has been developed with African input, but it’s still an imported product. How can you deliver it convincingly? Many of the teachers will be older and more experienced than the instructors. Why would an experienced teacher adopt a whole new suite of ideas?

These are big questions for instructors from Sierra Leone who are not even used to arranging training courses for their colleagues. The answer goes without saying. To be convincing, you have to agree with the course content and allow it to become a part of you to the point where you can express the ideas in your own words. It becomes even more persuasive if you can mention examples from your own teaching practice to show that you have used the ideas from the course. Would you be able to do that?

O, let me come in,” Amadu Kanu answers right away.

They used to call him Mr. Cane, in honour of the phrase “to get the cane”. Mr Cane used to believe that when a child misbehaved there was only one way to deal with it while maintaining your authority as a teacher. He applied this logic on a regular basis, hence his nickname. But during the training course discussions with other colleagues and helped him learn to think about the possible causes of a child’s behaviour. The course looked at alternative ways of punishing, without using the cane. It was a real eye-opener for him, one that would have lasting effects. Now, he has a desire to teach his colleagues that you can still be a respected teacher without using corporal punishment.

And what do they call you now?” asks Joppa.

A broad grin appears on his face, “Mr. Kanu, just my name as it is.”

A few days later, a leadership course unearths a similar story.

Do you think this project can really have consequences at your schools?”

This is the question we posed as we discussed the project outline. Patrick is 55 years old and Head of Technical Courses in Grafton, the former refugee camp not far from Freetown. He tells a story about a boy who was late every day and was therefore punished every day. This ‘punishment’ involved the teacher sending him to Patrick and Patrick administering the beating he seemed to deserve.

This pattern continued until he attended Joop Stolk’s course on “Children in need of help.” During the course they discussed what you should do when you need to deal with children with patterns of behaviour that you don’t understand or can’t change. Parents had been invited to the course and he had seen that you can understand children’s behaviour much better when you talk to their parents. When he went back to work he announced that he had now learned a way to deal with the boy who kept coming late to school.

That same week they went to visit the boy’s mother at their home. His mother, a widow, told them that her son had to help her before leaving the house. His final job each morning was to collect a large jerry can full of water before heading to school. He had never told his mother what awaited him there! Patrick felt embarrassed and learned that corporal punishment really had to stop, even if he found it difficult to imagine doing without it.

Two similar stories in just a few days. Two examples of the impact of our work. So, is our work important? Is it worth the hassle? It is for us. Our work makes a difference in many lives like these … I can’t think of anything more worthwhile, can you?