Please read my blog ?Measuring the sun? for a different perspective on measurement

In my blog, ?Measuring the sun?, I appraised critically our obsession with data and explored its limitations in fully capturing the immeasurable qualities of hearts and minds. In this blog, I want to make data the starting point.

Since 2011, Cranleigh has enjoyed a partnership with Kawama Community School in Zambia, in further close partnership with the charity Beyond Ourselves.? I am firmly of the belief that this commitment to another community, once made, has to be long term and has to be sustainable. It is a covenant relationship and not a contract and as such needs careful attention.

I was greatly privileged to accompany a group of 19 lower and upper sixth formers over the October half-term. Now in December, it has taken me a few weeks to process and reflect upon what I witnessed in the rural communities through which we cycled; in the homes and businesses of Kawama; in the church and in the school.

I knew from the beginning that my perspectives would be challenged and that I was likely to question my own values and perhaps be changed by the experience. However, I did not expect that the question that was most at the forefront of my mind was ‘are we making a difference?’ To some extent the reason behind such a question was a cool, analytical one; perhaps more so than a warm, empathetic one, hoping to see that this partnership really was changing lives.

I was not alone in thinking such a question. In our final reflection of the week, one of the upper sixth stood up and said he was not sure how much in our short stay we had really made a difference to the lives of the children and the community; however, he was certain that he had been changed. Such transformation of character through experience and opportunity is what Cranleigh is all about and if those who are changed then act differently to those around them, I am pleased, but it still does not answer the question.

I found some of my answers in something as simple as measurement. For me, the most moving time of the whole trip was simply measuring and weighing children. Part of the commitment Beyond Ourselves has with those who sponsor children in Kawama is an annual report on the children?s progress. Of course, the data collected is vital for Beyond Ourselves so that they, the school and the church can monitor the welfare of the children. A cornerstone of the project is the feeding programme, that every child, regardless of whether they are sponsored or not, receives a daily hot meal for lunch. For some, we know it will be their only meal.

My task was simple: measure the height and weight of about 200 children, punch in the data into a BMI calculator and record. I confess to hidden tears as nearly every child I measured had grown taller and heavier. I will keep the names of the sponsors that appeared on the top of the page private but for those I recognised, the personal connection made weight gain a more poignant record. It is clear that the feeding programme works. Cranleighans may be there for a week only but the longevity of commitment does work.

In Zambia, measurable improvement is really important. It is tempting at times to see the happy, smiling, welcoming faces of the children that surrounded us in Kawama as an indication that we must be making a difference. It is clearly remarkable that those who face such hardship appear joyful and demonstrate amazing resilience and hope, but to see the ‘happy African’ as an indication that all is well, and also in a rather patronising way draw conclusions that we would find similar joy if only our life were similarly simple, could not be further from the truth. Stereotypes such as the ‘happy African’, or ‘joyful poor’ are just as much an unpalatable falsehood as the old colonial favourite, ‘the noble savage.’ We need to look to harder evidence.

As we joined former Cranleigh teacher, Stuart Block and his fiancee Claire on their awareness raising cycle (@beyondthebike via twitter for further information), we cycled through many rural communities. Stopping for lunch, a local Zambian farmer invited us to see his home and his farm. For him the greatest challenge was the lack of water. He and his family had to walk 5km to the nearest tap. At times, this required up to 14 family trips per day a measurable need.

Later, in Kawama, as I was weighing and measuring, our team memberswere interviewing families, ascertaining whether they had access to water in their own house,at a nearby standpipe or well. They discovered how many people lived in a single house; whether the children slept on the floor or on a mattress; whether they had a stove or a brazier; how many meals they ate per day; whether they had a mosquito net. They asked whether the children had visited the doctor or not that year. Many had, and most for malaria. Significantly, they asked whether or not the children?were living with their parents or relatives. Many parents had died, fathers worked away or absconded.

On another day, three of the work experience trips in the village we had been most looking forward to were cancelled. Brickmaking, car washing and hair dressing cannot happen without power: a day without money. The Copper Belt is experiencing 8-12 hours of power cuts daily, load-shedding, as it is called. There has been little rain, Lake Kariba is near empty, the dam?s structure unsound and there are no developed alternatives to hydroelectricity.

In short, there are elements to living that are measurable. And being measurable, as the feeding programme demonstrates, they can be tackled. The bore hole that was last year’s project is now providing water for not just the school but the surrounding houses. In Cranleigh lots of neighbours on the school site during the day is a safeguarding issue; in Kawama it is a pleasure to see for it safeguards people from thirst.

At present, I can only find an answer to my question are we making a difference? in the measurable things. The answer continues to provoke further questions of course, but it also tells me that there is a job to be done and that Cranleigh must continue to fulfil its covenant until such a point as the community, through education and?economic initiatives,?can itself provide sustainable answers to the measurable things required for living well.