MN IBPOC in Evaluation Community of Praxis Week: “There is no bad bush to throw away a bad child”: Developmental and principles-based evaluation in Sierra Leone by Hindolo Pokawa

Kushé! My name is Hindolo Pokawa, and I am a critical development theorist and practitioner. I founded and now direct the Sierra Leone Foundation for New Democracy (SLFND).

Funders often use the term “partnership” loosely. Genuine partnership is a relationship of interdependence and intersubjectivity, which is reflected in the pan-African concept known most commonly by the Zulu word ubuntu: “Because you are, I am. Because I am, you are.”

As Sierra Leone celebrates 60 years of independence from Britain, it still depends on official development assistance to pay nurses, teachers, fire fighters, police, and civil servants. Seventy percent of its national budget comes from foreign governments, whose enrichment results directly from Africa’s impoverishment, and yet whose aid comes with conditions that African countries like Sierra Leone must agree to, often at the expense of their land and people. Saying “partner” when we really mean “aid recipient” guarantees a one-sided relationship whose imbalance is never acknowledged.

People in Sierra Leone gathered around a tree and pointing to a board that seems to contain a schedule or list

Such imbalance is not found in nature. Permaculture closely approximates our indigenous teachings about observing and learning from nature: rather than something outside of, independent from, or in competition with the earth, human beings are in relationship with it and all its beings. 

There is no shortcut to the top of the palm tree

In conceptualizing SLFND, I asked myself what I could create that would be different from the many NGOs out there. Rather than funder outcomes, could our constituents drive our work? One thing that came to mind was to look at nature, where everything works with each other through feedback loops and nonhierarchical structures.

To embody this principle, SLFND is deliberately funded entirely through individual donations, intentional partnerships, and social enterprise cooperatives. Our paid staff come from and live in the village where we work; we have no professionalized staff who are disconnected from the local situation. This means that while we grow slowly, we  are accountable exclusively to our constituents. 

Additionally, we developed a forest-based organizational structure. Organisms in nature do not live just for themselves; they exist to sustain others. Instead of raising money to pay professionalized staff to provide villagers goods and services, what if we raised money to create environments where people, as well as plants and animals, in the village can grow, create, and exchange goods, services, and ideas as they have for generations?

When you fall, look at what helped you up, not what tripped you

During the civil war in Sierra Leone, it was not logic models or strategic plans that helped us know what to do and where to go when the rebels came at night. It was our relationship with the earth that led us to take this road rather than that, quickly detecting that an animal had gone through. It was our relationships with people that led us to talk down child soldiers by reminding them of our connections and shared future. The logic models and strategic plans left with the aid workers who folded up shop and returned to Europe and America during our time of greatest need. So SLFND used appreciative methods to feed the indigenous practices and ways of knowing that had saved our lives, in developing our programming and organizational structure.

A Sierra Leonean child pointing to a leaf in the direction of the sun

How does change happen? When we think about raising a child, we don’t assign specific outcomes with dates that must be met for the child to continue growing. Rather, we commit to certain principles in raising the child—for example, nonviolent discipline. When the child experiences difficulty or growing pains, we don’t cut off support, but rather tailor our response to the child’s needs and commit to creating its future together.

There is no bad bush to throw away a bad child

Lessons Learned

What if we thought this way about all that we want to grow—from our organizations to nonviolent democratic change? Nonviolent democracy begins in early childhood and includes nonviolent, democratic relations within our communities, among nations, and with the earth. Intergenerational relationships provide us with the feedback we need to know which way to turn.

Several people gathered in an outdoor structure

The American Evaluation Association is hosting MN IBPOC in Evaluation Community of Praxis Week. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

2 thoughts on “MN IBPOC in Evaluation Community of Praxis Week: “There is no bad bush to throw away a bad child”: Developmental and principles-based evaluation in Sierra Leone by Hindolo Pokawa”

  1. Hi Hindolo,

    I am currently working on my Master’s in Education at Queen’s University in Canada. I am also a kindergarten teacher and a mother of a child who is entering puberty.
    For a course I am taking called “Program Inquiry and Evaluation”, I often read various articles on this website. Today as I was browsing and selecting the articles I wanted to read, the title of your post immediately caught my eyes.

    To fully understand the correct meaning of the title, I Googled the phrase “There is no bad bush to throw away a bad child”. It’s Krio proverb and means that no matter what a child has done, the community always has a place for him or her. This statement echoes the point you made in your article, “When the child experiences difficulty or growing pains, we don’t cut off support, but rather tailor our response to the child’s needs and commit to creating its future together.” I also resonated deeply with it.

    As children grow up, there is always pain of one kind or another. Because growth involves pain, but not all pain brings out growth. This requires parents to make a sensible evaluation. Things such as being ridiculed by classmates for speaking in public, arguing with classmates and compromising friendships, etc. are all things that make it difficult. If children are allowed or taught to avoid frustrating pain now, they will face greater and greater pain in their future lives. Life is not about running away from pain, it is about learning how to face it well. For older children, their pain is also related to feelings of hurt from parents and others; powerlessness and helplessness in relationships; changes in family structure and social life patterns, etc. The pain of these injuries and traumas often cannot be shifted to the child, but require adults to help them through the pain together.

    Thank you so much for sharing! And best wishes for your foundation to get better and be a blessing to many more people!

    Jie

  2. Thank you Hindolo for sharing these beautiful insights, teachings, and perspectives! I also love how you describe following the lead of the forest and nature in its relationships, and with the best principles of child-raising.

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