Rachel Hermes is the CRS education program manager in northern Sudan. She filed this story from Darfur.
CRS uses hired vehicles and drivers in West Darfur. But while the drivers are not CRS employees, most of them become attached to the staff and loyal to the program work.
The education program driver, Haroun*, is the young father of a little boy and a brand new baby. He drives a well-used double-cab pick-up truck: ideal for porting not only education staff, but also moveable chalkboards, bags of cement, zinc sheets and all other materials needed for the support we provide to schools in West Darfur which ranges from supporting training of teachers and parents, to construction of school classrooms.
Haroun delivers the cement to school construction sites within the capital city of West Darfur, where CRS is based He also delivers to surrounding villages and has become quite an expert on monitoring the quality of the blocks made of compressed soil, sand and cement and used in classroom construction. Compressed blocks reduce consumption of firewood used in baked bricks and thus protect the scarce wood resources in the arid region of West Darfur.
Since he is involved in each and every trip to the field, Haroun has had many opportunities to compare the work of one contractor to another, from one school to another. During site visits with our national education staff, he knows what to look for and what questions to ask.
When the education team is busy in other areas of West Darfur, Haroun will still deliver cement to a school. When he returns, he often reports to me on how many students and teachers were present at the school – as well as if the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) members seem to be active or not in supporting the construction work.
Although Haroun speaks no English, after spending nearly 18 months together, he has adopted an ear for my amateur attempts at Arabic. Recently, on a day when all the education staff was busy at other sites or conducting trainings, Haroun and I traveled together to visit a school on the edge of town.
We had recently distributed tree seedlings to this school, but the purpose of this visit was to verify the construction quality of the buildings. As I talked with the contractor, I saw Haroun moving around the schoolyard, watering the seedlings with a dirty metal bucket that had been tossed aside by the construction team. When the head of the PTA walked across the yard to greet me, he was intercepted by a slightly outraged Haroun who scolded the PTA for failing to care for the trees. As I listened to him and watched his gestures, I realized that our driver was explaining that the trees are necessary to block the strong desert winds which will protect the roof from flying off the newly constructed classrooms.
Upon returning to the office, Haroun gave a full report to the education staff on the upkeep of the trees and the PTA’s performance. He has taken ownership of this project and is personally invested in it having a purposeful outcome. People like Haroun are a daily reminder that the work of CRS matters: It is making an impact on individuals as well as communities.
* Name changed to protect his identity
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