Sarah Morgan is Opportunity International’s Child Protection expert. She joined Opportunity UK in 2015 after eight years with Save the Children in Laos. Sarah has been advising Opportunity EduFinance on best practice and policy for Child Protection; in particular, our Education Quality field operations teams, the schools they work with, and some of our MFI partners. Sarah shares her recent experience of running Child Protection training in Uganda:
“Earlier this year I was excited to be working with a team at Opportunity Bank Uganda Ltd, Opportunity’s local partner in Uganda, to help them better understand the issues of Child Protection. I also found it interesting to be facing an audience of bankers, the opposite of my usual work with Child Protection’s traditional partners and stakeholders, such as staff in Ministries of Social Welfare. Nevertheless, I launched into the discussion on child protection in a room filled with marketing posters showing children enjoying the benefits of their parents’ loans. And I soon began to see glimmers of awareness that what I was describing resonated with the audience. They were realising that their staff could potentially witness child protection violations in the communities they worked in and so also had a role to play in protecting children.
Child Protection strategies are new in microfinance and, as in any new area, building awareness is one of the first steps. I am pleased that I can work with a less traditional target audience to help them and their clients be aware of the need to ensure children are protected as much as others working in more social sectors.
Improving livelihoods with microfinance goes beyond the disbursement and collection of loans. We interact with communities, supporting them to transform their lives, helping them to send their children to school, and teaching them how to save to build their family’s resilience. This brings protection of children into the agenda. We are training loan officers to respect the rights of the children they encounter on their community visits, to keep an eye out for children in need of greater protection, and to ensure that their loan clients know where to go to get additional support for children in need of greater protection in their community.
As the meeting progressed, my banking colleagues became a group of important influencers, committed to implementing key actions: training their staff on child protection, ensuring that child protection was in their organisational Code of Conduct, instituting a reporting mechanism for any child protection violations the staff may witness, and developing escalation routes to specialist agencies to help them do this. I was impressed when the bank’s CEO requested that, once they put these actions into place, Opportunity Bank should be presented with a commemorative plaque to display in their head office to show that they were a ‘child safe’ bank committed to protecting children.
Last month I was thrilled to return to Uganda at the invitation of the EduFinance team to join their SLPD (School Leadership Professional Development training) to train 80 School Proprietors on Child Protection. My sessions included the importance of having a solid Child Protection Policy in their schools and how to develop and implement one making it a permanent feature of school policy. I also provided them with resources for training their teachers and staff on child protection; to ensure teachers, children and parents know where to seek help and who to direct children and families to, should any child protection violations be witnessed or even suspected.
A key focus of the training was on the detrimental impact of corporal punishment on a child’s learning outcomes. I was pleased to hear so many school proprietors recognising the negative effects of corporal punishment and wanting to abide by Ugandan law and stop these harmful practices in their schools. One school proprietor told me;
‘Hitting a child in the classroom creates fear, the child does not learn and he or she loses self-esteem and interest in learning. Our teachers should stick to the rules rather than using a stick’.
As part of the wider SLPD training school leaders were being introduced to Pathways to Excellence, a tool created by Opportunity EduFinance that enables schools to self-assess through 31 domains of education quality to identify where they would most like to improve. One of these domains helps schools to develop a child protection policy, how to register cases, who to escalate child protection incidences to, best practice in appointing new staff and creating a safe and secure environment for all children in their school. Many of the school leaders at the training committed to developing a child protection policy which I was really encouraged to see, such a crucially important area for schools to improve upon. It felt like a great step forward seeing our banking partners and school leaders realising how essential it is to build and champion policies to protect children.”
'I am delighted to see the progress that we have made in such a short space of time with this critically important issue of child protection, which runs to the heart of effective learning. Opportunity EduFinance is committed to working with all our schools to help bring about tangible improvements that will be felt both in the schools and in the communities they serve'
Jonathan Renaudon-Smith – Director of Education Quality, OI EduFinance