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After coming home from what has most likely been my last visit to the Central African Republic, at least for now, I find myself confronted with the million dollar question: three months of field research, months of desk research and writing, financial investments, personal investments (including sickness and danger) and travelling back to share the results…Has it made a difference?

On the airplane, I made a list:

Yes, some people felt heard – at least the ones I interviewed.
– Yes, many CAR people told me, quite surprised, how good the research report was, and especially how it told the truth about education in CAR.
– Yes, the report was very popular, many wanted to have and read it (it was even easily sold). Will it make people think? Maybe? Also the radio discussions, discussions with teachers, education teachers I held…they seemed a success.
– No, I had discussions with NGO people, but did not seem able to make an impression. Only spoke to one person of the government (the minister of education turned out to be in Paris, most members of the ministry of education were on a mission somewhere). They might read the report though. But it seems in this case that the research will only make a difference bottom-up.
– Yes, there is now information available on the subject (child’s right to education in CAR) where there was none, or hardly any, before.
– No, I don’t think it will influence decision making on higher power level (NGO/government) much. Their minds are already made up, they didn’t seem to listen – as they don’t listen to the people in general. Maybe in the long term? Maybe if they can get money for a program for peace & education?
– No, tried to share these ideas of peace & education with international donors. Couldn’t even get any funding for this very small and cheap project.
– No, I don’t think people make the connection between peace and education actively. Although I tried spreading that message, if grenades are exploding, people are scared, shots are fired…the daily survival trumps long term consideration. It’s up to the wealthier, governing actors (NGOs, government, donors) to have an overview and work towards long term. However, they mostly don’t care, don’t listen, are too occupied with their selfish interests (meeting targets, self-enrichment, etc.) Plus too cynical and without hope or believe for the CAR.
– Yes, with this story and experience, I can now start addressing the international community. Make a fuss about what’s going on in CAR in international media, in Geneva and Brussels, as much as I can.
– No, I did not nearly have enough reports. Spreading more reports would help a great deal to get the dialogue going. People are so eager for information! Couldn’t/Can’t find the financial means to print more. Online publication is clearly not accessible for 99,9% of the CAR population.
– Yes, finally, someone started a public debate about corruption in schools. I’ve seen people take up the discussion among themselves, in relation to their institutions and establishments.
– No, if people want to take action based on the report, there are no means available, there is no follow-up (but perhaps this is not my responsibility as a researcher?).

The first night back in my own bed in the Netherlands, I had a nightmare. I dreamed that a large group of people, thousands and thousands of them or even more, was being attacked and eaten alive by huge animals. They were all running around, screaming and dying. I was there, and I seemed to be the only one knowing something about how to stop these animals from eating you. I tried to tell other people, to inform them what they could do. But it was impossible. First of all because they were all running around being scared, and secondly because I couldn’t figure out how to reach them all, as there were so many. The only thing I could do, it seemed, was to grab one and hold this person tight.

On bad days, I feel like what I did will get lost in the sea of well intended, but useless, efforts. At the end of the day, it is not going to make a difference. Sometimes I think: at least I tried, and that is always better than not trying at all. On good days, this is my answer:

– Yes, I have shared information and possible solutions. With the clear “assignment”: this is my contribution, my gift to you. Now it’s up to you, Centrafricains, to take up this responsibility, for your own children, for your country, for your future. I hope you will use what I have given you.