It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.

J. K. Rowling

Chidi’s right-hand woman, her friend Margaret, approached her after the girls club had finished when the girls had left, and they were locking up. 

“Chidi, I cannot do this anymore. I know that this youth club is close to your heart, but when I look at these young women, I think that I could do more in another way with my talents. We are with these same 30 girls every week, their lives were difficult when they started coming, and they are still vulnerable now. Look at Sarah. I had such hope for her, but now she is pregnant and will never complete her studies”.

Chidi was suddenly overwhelmed. She relied on this volunteer for so many things. Honestly, without Margaret, she didn’t think she could continue to lead this youth project.

Fundamentally, you and your team need to know that your work is effective. You are one of your youth project’s greatest assets and most invested stakeholders. No one is irreplaceable, but the chances are that your youth club would struggle if you left, burnt out, or lost enthusiasm. 

If Chidi had had good evaluation and monitoring in place, she would have seen that Margaret’s failures were few compared to the wider good the cooking club was doing. In this neighbourhood, 15% of girls aged between 14 and 18 drop out of school each year. Of the cooking club girls, who were very typical of their peers, only Sarah had dropped out of school this year. Whilst this was disappointing, Chidi had seen how her time in the club had still helped Sarah – when she discovered that she was pregnant, she had the confidence to tell Chidi. Sarah’s mother was disappointed, but since Sarah had already been baking cakes for sale in her aunt’s kiosk, she had options. Sarah had used her communication skills to talk to her aunt about whether they could work together more when she had the baby. Sarah’s cakes sold well, and her plan was to sell more, working with her aunt to support herself and the baby. She was determined to take her exams before the baby came to have options for the future. Chidi knew that without the girls club, Sarah wouldn’t know how to budget, plan, communicate or ask for help. She had confidence that Sarah was more ready for motherhood than many of her peers, most of whom would have babies before they turned 20. 

This alone – keeping up our own morale as youth workers – is worth doing simple impact measurement and monitoring. At the simplest level, this could just ask the girls you work with to do evaluation forms at the end of your activities. It’s a brilliant chance to understand that your work IS touching their lives, and to get their suggestions for what could be even better so that you can plan better and keep everyone’s enthusiasm high! 

After this, Chidi decided to make sure that she had a monthly team meeting where they would have a piece of cake, read the girls’ evaluation forms, and share good news stories. She asked Margaret to lead this meeting.

Reflection Questions

  1. How do you ensure that you collect and share successes with your team so they can see that their work is making a difference?
  2. How could you do this better?
  3. Do you invite your current or past students to share their experiences with your youth workers so that you can learn from them?

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