Rob Myres is a former international business manager who worked in Sydney, London, Chicago and San Francisco, heading up the Training and Education divisions of several technology companies including Oracle, PeopleSoft, and Siebel Systems. Mr. Myres now lives in Pocatello when he is not in Namibia overseeing Mondesa Youth Opportunities, a youth development charity he founded in 2003.
Basic Education as the Centerpiece of Responsible Youth Development
In the past 10 years, there has been a re-energized development movement directed at the poorest countries in Africa. This positive trend seems to have originated from increased media exposure, celebrity-led awareness campaigns and a strong global economy amongst the developed nations. The increased awareness has resulted in stronger financial and practical commitments from private NGO’s and in some cases from developed countries.
There is another positive trend emerging in the development environment. Traditionally, development work was channeled almost exclusively through the very large NGO’s, churches, or via direct aid to developing nations. In the past decade, there has been an significant increase in smaller, community-based organizations, that are managed by non-development professionals and financially supported via smaller donations or lesser grants from various funding sources. These smaller charity operations tend to be focused on point solutions in smaller geographic areas and focus on education, sport or health and quality of life issues.
Generally accepted approaches to eliminating poverty can be categorized into three distinct categories: political solutions, economic solutions (including debt relief and microfinance) and development solutions. While acknowledging the necessity for political solutions (particularly the need for politically stable governments who are open to policy change and external assistance) and economic solutions, this paper concerns itself only with development solutions. The three categories can be seen as three legs of a stool—failure in any category will limit or completely inhibit progress towards a final goal of elimination of poverty.
Within the development sector, methodologies vary from a single discreet program directed at a narrow age and demographic, to broad-based programs that are employed across multiple years of the lives of the target recipient. In particular, the last 10 years has seen a significant increase in the use of organized sport as a medium for youth development in developing nations. Many of these programs provide excellent sport instruction and can teach or reinforce important values such as discipline, the value of teamwork, and the relationship between cause (effort) and effect (result).
Education as the centerpiece of poverty eradication strategy
The issue of poverty is complex. Poverty entails lack of opportunity and empowerment and education. Even when school is provided “free”, the cost of uniforms, school supplies, food and transportation can easily be beyond the means of many families. Studies have shown a repeated pattern that implies basic education and poverty are linked in a repetitive cycle. Thus poverty, is both a cause and an effect of inadequate basic education.
To even begin to solve the problem of poverty, we must first ensure every child has access to a quality basic education, even in the very poorest parts of the world.
The empowerment associated with a quality basic education allows a population to fully participate in the development process; it fosters the knowledge and skills necessary to embrace financial development programs and to increase earning potential.
A quality basic education provides the groundwork and foundation for other components of poverty reduction strategies including micro-finance schemes, social development and health awareness programs.
A quality basic education has the following proven benefits:
For those organizations that are focused on youth development, in the final analysis, a comprehensive suite of services that is centered around education, will prove to be more effective than single-program point solutions. Children who are not attending school, need to be enrolled and attend, and for children who are attending schools that are sub-par, education subsidy programs should be implemented. Sport, health awareness programs, micro-finance and economic development schemes, all are marginalized unless the local population have benefited from a quality basic education.
MYO’s approach is fairly straightforward in design. The difficulty lies in executing the various programs and service offerings to an exceptional degree of quality on a consistent basis. Our approach to positive and healthy youth development is rooted first in education. Education is the binding agent for the entire curriculum. However, in order to provide as many development assets as possible, we also incorporate a variety of service offerings designed to bolster the effectiveness of the additional education training. In terms of education, our goal is not to replace the public schools, our goal is to subsidize a public education system that is severely lacking in resources and effectiveness.
Philosophically, MYO is distinguished from the broad field of NGO’s operating in this space by our fanatical commitment to excellence and our dedication to a comprehensive development approach. It is my belief that anything less than a complete development program, while providing stimulation and some benefits, will not achieve the ultimate goal of eliminating poverty. MYO is not a day care. We are in this for success, not to provide a few hours of fun for the kids each week.
The objective of the Academics program is to foster an environment that facilitates academic excellence in MYO students such that MYO students perform academically at a level that is equal to or better than students in a fully developed education system. Specifically, the MYO Academic Program strives to:
Each MYO student receives a minimum of 3 hours of facilitated academic instruction each week.
Fundamentally, all MYO curriculum and learning strategy is designed to foster problem-solving and critical thinking ability and to promote academic excellence within the context of the curriculum put forth by the Namibia Ministry of Education.
Core subject areas taught in MYO include math, science and English. A disproportionate commitment is made to developing English skills in the lower grades. Poor reading, writing and reading comprehension skills has been identified as a major barrier to academic progress. English is a third language for the majority of MYO learners, and as such developing adequate English and reading skills in the early grades is critical to their academic success in the future.
Our Academic Program is comprised of the following services.
Sport, Performing Arts and Activities
Objective of this program is to create and implement activities that promote general physical, emotional and mental awareness and to foster a mentality that promotes healthy lifestyle choices over more negative behaviours.
MYO offers a variety of sports programs such as tennis, jump rope and volleyball. Students receive a minimum of 3 hours of structured sports lessons each week.
Tennis is our flagship sports program and is coached at a competitive level. Students are able to opt out of tennis for a less competitive physical activity if they choose. All sports programs are coached and/or supervised. Sports activities are not recess times where students are allowed to play freely without structure of supervision.
As our primary sport offering, we contribute a disproportionate investment to maintaining a quality tennis program. A professionally trained tennis coach manages the tennis program and MYO tennis team members compete in competitions around the country. Traditionally, we have maintained a core group of tennis players in the top-10 in Namibia within their respective age groups.
Volleyball and jump rope are being developed as sport alternatives. These sports are supervised and coached by non-professional MYO staff. However, students are given the opportunity to compete and improve in these sports.
Music is our flagship performing arts program. All MYO learners are required to participate in the Music Program in the first 3 years of membership (grades 4-6). Each student in our program receives a minimum of 1.5 hours of music instruction each week.
Our primary objective in the Music Program is to present quality musical education which will foster an environment of exploration, expression and appreciation. Quality music instruction promotes self-discipline, memory retention, and how to work well individually and in groups.
The MYO Music Program is professionally coached using a variety of methods including creating and exploring music, introduction to music theory, reading and notation, and through practical application by learning and playing instruments and performing. Dance expression is also incorporated into the music program.
MYO offers supervised activities that promote the general educational and life-skills traits that support our overall objectives. These activities include chess club, movie nights, darts, debate, reading club and other activities that can serve as a positive alternative to being on the streets or participating in less positive activities.
Life-Skills and Mentoring
The objective of the Life-Skills and Mentoring program is to foster an environment that promotes those behaviours associated with positive and healthy youth development. Specifically, this program is designed to:
The Life-Skills and Mentoring program utilizes a combination of approaches to fulfil the stated objectives.
Specific curriculum or practical experiences for this program include:
This is a formal program where every MYO senior staff member is assigned a child within our program. Each school term, the mentor must interview their assigned child and document the results. Additionally, the mentor must also speak to the parents or guardians of the child as well as their teacher. During the course of each term, all MYO staff members will also record casual observances of children, with an emphasis on noticing unusual or negative behaviours that could be an indicator of a larger issue.
MYO staff are also meant to be positive role models and to establish a repertoire with the youth in our program such that we know that each child has access to at least some adults who display positive and healthy traits.
MYO is a very serious program that is committed to delivering exceptional quality development services at the very best value for donors and supporters. We do not allow our mission to be confused as a program meant to give some young volunteers from overseas a year of life-learning experiences, nor are we confused with a day care or casual development initiative.
Our programs are intensive, carefully designed using good research, and delivered consistently with passion and focus.