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Marieke Hopman

Marieke Hopman

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31 december 2017

2017-2018: looking forward & looking back

31 december 2017 | By | One Comment

Dear all,

A few hours before the new year kicks off is a great time to look both back and ahead. What happened for the children’s rights research project in 2017, and what should be the next step?

In short, 2017 was the year of trying to both creating a place at Maastricht University for children’s rights, as well as travelling for field research and sharing research results.
Some of the highlights:

  • Finished the research in the Central African Republic, published a research report ovoorkant rapport engelsthe child’s right to education in the CAR and traveled back to share these results
  • Gave a key note lecture for about 100 employees of the municipality of Amsterdam who are starting a program to get all children into schools
  • Gave lectures for UNICEF, African Study Center, SOAS London (among others) and taught a masterclass about children’s rights
  • Published the academic article “Lipstick Law
  • Created, together with artist Daan Draait and Maastricht University, a theater play about the case study in CAR
  • Recruited a team of students with whom, in 6 months, we conducted two field researches on the child’s right to nationality and hosted a successful crowdfunding campaign (if you still want to contribute, you can do so here!)
  • Won € 3000 in the action research competition

For 2018, the first plan is to write the PhD book and have a first draft ready at the end of the year. But of course that is not nearly enough. Ideally, I also want to:

  • Teach 3 university courses (to raise money and teach children’s rights and critical thinking)
  • Perform the CAR theater play in different schools and discuss the case with the students
    With the student team and guest speaker at the kick-off of the crowdfunding campaign

    With the student team and guest speaker at the kick-off of the crowdfunding campaign

  • Be a good mentor for a successful PREMIUM project on children’s rights to education in the Netherlands, in cooperation with NGO Defence for Children
  • Publish a research report and travel back to share the results of the third case study
  • Raise € 20.000 for the children’s rights research fund
  • Publish at least one academic article
  • Acquire my University Teacher Qualification
  • Start preparing the way for a continuation of children’s rights research after the PhD…

So those are (some of the) plans for 2018. But for now, I want to thank you for making all this work possible, and mostly I want to wish you all a very happy and ambitious New Year!!
– Marieke

Marieke Hopman

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20 november 2017

CAR: heeft het verschil gemaakt?

20 november 2017 | By | 2 Comments

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.

 

Marieke Hopman

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16 november 2017

CAR: sharing the research results #4

16 november 2017 | By | 2 Comments

Monday 13 November
Started the day going to Grand Café. Wanted to try get in touch with the written press. At Grand Café, thIMG_0660ey sell CAR newspapers. Bought a few and called the numbers of journalist. The first one I spoke to about the research immediately was very enthusiastic and wanted to come see me right away. Great! However, when he arrived, I quickly understood that, in order for anything about my research to get published, I would have to pay. And so I learned that free press does not exist in CAR – in fact, all articles in all the newspapers are bought. And they cost about 70.000 CFA (€ 120) for two pages, which is an enormous amount of money, especially in CAR. And mind you, newspapers are not handed out for free either! Was very tempted for a moment, to pay anyway because I think sharing the results is so important.. but decided against it.

IMG_0652I also went to see the guy who sells books next to Grand Cafe. Had given him a report 2 days before, to see if he could sell it (to “test” the interest in the issue and the report of locals) – and he had! Sold it for 2000 CFA (about € 3. In comparison: a bread costs 100 CFA. So seems like it does have indeed value to local people!).

Then, my last time teaching future teachers at the university. Again great discussions, my only sorrow being not nearly having enough reports to hand out – which has been an issue all throughout this visit..!! IMG_0686

In the afternoon I went with my research assistant into her neighborhood to collect data, images, testimonies and chicottes for the theater play on CAR (which, by the way, will be tried out on 24-26 November in Rotterdam. You are all invited, tickets are free, but places are limited. Please email me if you’d like to come (marieke.hopman@maastrichtuniversity.nl)!).

LOVED spending some time in the neighborhood, playing around with some of the kids!IMG_0685IMG_0701

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 14 November
During the night I got pretty sick. So far, every visit to CAR I have been sick, which is not surprising due to the very poor hygienic circumstances compared to back home. I was very cautious this time because no time for sickness…however, it caught up with me. I was going to soldier through, because it was my last day and there was way too much left to do. Started the day going to CARITAS office but while there, could hardly sit up and also really had to be near a toilet .. so decided to go back and lie down. Postponed my meeting with an employee of the ministry of education so as to hopefully regain a little strength. At the mean time, however, someone in the PK5 neighborhood had thrown a grenade into a school which allegedly killed 3 children. This shook up the community pretty badly, which meant that a) I couldn’t get organized with the radio station Ndeke Luka to organize the radio debate about education in CAR that I wanted to organize with the cardinal, imam and former minister of education, and b) I think this engaged the employee I wanted to speak too because I could not get in touch anymore.

So I basically spent my last day lying in bed, feeling awful and frustrated and depressed and contemplating about the use of it all and whether this whole research project had made any sense at all (more about that in my next post).IMG_0722

Luckily, in the evening my dear friends/colleagues from CARITAS came to pick me up and take me out, even if I didn’t eat much, at least to say goodbye. I was very grateful. Also I could arrange with them to bring the last reports I’d saved, to the ministry of education, and to give the report on a USB to the conseiller technique, who will put it into a digital system he’s setting up which will most likely mean that 1-2 years from now, through the distribution of e-readers to all CAR teachers (this is his amazing project!!), ALL teachers in CAR will be able to read my report.

Wednesday 15 November
My friends from CARITAS brought me to the airport and stayed a long time to wave at me all through the check-in process. So grateful for all their help, support and love!! When I landed in Casablanca (where i had to spend the night), had several phone calls with a journalist from the radio station, to organize the debate. He also called me at 5.58AM this (thursday) morning again to discuss it. So I still have some hope that this will happen even when I’m not there. Which would be even better – because, now I’m gone and it’s up to the people of CAR themselves to take up the research, its results and solutions, and start working on improving education in their country….

Marieke Hopman

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13 november 2017

CAR: Sharing the research results #3

13 november 2017 | By | One Comment

Friday 10 November
Started my day again with teaching/discussing the research with a group of teachers and administrators. I wasn’t quite sure whether to do so many sessions with high school teachers, who are in university, as this is clearly a more privileged group compared to the rest of the country. Also most children in this country will never ever attend high school so was this really the group to spend time and energy on? However, when talking to them it turned out to actually be quite useful. It has been about 10 IMG_0620years (they say) during which students are educated to become teachers (even if very little), but after their studies there are no jobs for them in the public sector. Although there obviously is a great shortage of qualified teachers, the problem is that the state does not want them on a payroll. Therefore after their studies, they disappear either to teach in private education or to do other jobs. So who am I talking to? Where do they come from, and what will they do next? It’s hard to tell. They are at least people who are interested in education, and people who are relatively high educated. They might be future educators, future politicians, future activists. Seeing how lively our discussions were, I do think, and hope, that there is a use for discussing these subjects with them.
A great discussion we had was about corruption in schools. A brave student stood up and said that even in their university there is a lot of corruption. What can we do about it? It will never stop if we keep teaching corruption to children, by forcing them to pay for their marks, either with money or by sexual activities.

Saturday 11 & Sunday 12 November
On Saturday I was invited by the former minister of education, Gisèle Bedan, for lunch. What an IMG_0632amazing woman! So passionate, energetic, courageous.. We had a great discussion about education in CAR, which lasted (without noticing) for hours. She told me about how she fought corruption especially on the level of high school exams, and how in the end she had to resign because of numerous death threats.

My plan for the afternoon was to visit my research assistant Petrouchka and to collect information and artifacts for the theater piece we are preparing in Maastricht, about education in CAR. However, my phone had stopped working. It turned out I needed to show my identification at the Telecell shop, which wasn’t open in the weekend. Bought a new sim card, which then turned out not to fit into the Iphone. Tried to use my old Nokia, but at that moment there was no electricity in the room where I was staying so I couldn’t charge it. It became dark (around 18h) and it started to rain, thunder and lightening. So as I couldn’t contact anyone, I found myself locked in in my room, with no light. Decided to go to bed early and try again the next day.

Sunday morning, Nokia did not work, tried calling people with my Dutch number. Did not work, probably because people do not have enough phone credit to pick up, as it costs them money too. Finally managed to contact a friend who proposed to pick me up so that at least I could get out of the room. I was hoping to get in touch with my assistant later and get to work. Unfortunately I only heard from her in the late afternoon. It turned out that the evening before, a grenade had exploded in the neighborhood next to her house, with two killed and several wounded. It was a sign for people to start fighting, and she said that in her neighborhood shots were fired around every 5-10 minutes. So we could not go there to do our work, also it was already getting dark.

This is also to show that a large part of my work here consists not in sharing research results but in 1) arranging practical difficulties (inc finding electricity, internet, etc) and 2) making sure not to get robbed, raped or killed. Even though I pay a lot of attention and try to be as safe as possible, over the last 1,5 week I have been attacked twice and my money got stolen out of my hotel room. Once people on the market got into the car I was in with a friend, once a guy tried to pull my backpack while I was on a motor. It seems that the atmosphere in Bangui is grim, people do not like white people at all. Dealing with this takes a lot of time and energy, which I wish I could spend on discussing the child’s right to education….!

Marieke Hopman

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10 november 2017

CAR: sharing the research results #2

10 november 2017 | By | No Comments

Tuesday 7 November
When I arrived in the Ledger (fancy) hotel in the morning to use the internet, I had to walk around the red carpet that was laid out because, apparently, the president was there with about every minister, ambassador, consultant and other authority that matters even a little bit. They were gathered for a conferencIMG_0555e organized by the United States, something on how they battled corruption in Seattle and how this could be used as a model for CAR (which seems doubtful to me seeing the extremely different contexts,and then think about the fact that for this conference the complete governance of the country was stopped for 2 days as everyone of any position was at the event…). Anyway, what a chance! Went there to talk to people and met all kinds of high placed officials who were all very interested in my research. And I mean VERY interested. I did not have enough copies  of the research report but people sat down just to read it on the spot, and actually started truly reading it rather than scanning. Tried getting in touch with the president to discuss the subject or at least give him a copy. Many people were mobilized to help me do so and we got to the chief of staff, but at the end of the day it seemed to come down to the fact that he wasn’t interested. IIMG_0557n the afternoon I visited the national radio Ndeke Luka for the second time, as I was invited by a journalist. When I came in I found out that apparently we were recording an interview right away. i tried to quickly take some notes and prepare a story (if you have 15mins to talk to the CAR people about this subject, what do you say?? – Yes you can imagine I was pretty tense about it). Then wheIMG_0565n we had our headphones on, technician in place etc, first thing the guy asks me is whether I have a boyfriend and if I’d be willing to marry him. Thank god that after that uncomfortable interval we had a normal, quite good interview (I think). It was my first time in French so that scared me a little – what if I don’t understand the question the journalist asks? – but it was fine. I spoke mostly about how we should change the education system to be more peaceful and to raise children in a spirit of peace rather than corruption and violence. In the evening I met with an employee of an i nternational NGO, who works on education in CAR on a high level. I was really eager to talk to him and share the research results, but at the end of the day it seemed like there was not much I could share with him because he felt too restrained by the system of his organization to actually change anything. Most things that are going wrong when it comes to international intervention on education in CAR, seems to be the result of a failing (international) humanitarian aid structure –  at least, according to this person.

Wednesday 8 November
Started my day meeting with a group of education inspectors at the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENSIMG_0585 (1)). I was again quite nervous because it was my first time “teaching” and discussing with local people in such a setting. These are people who work in education all through the country, their job is mostly to write reports about the state of education for government. This gathering was GREAT. I spoke about the importance of their work, the importance of sharing true information in their reports, of whom to share this information with, and of how to help the teachers and children in the schools they visit. I recommended talking to children to get true information and spoke about the importance of ethics and anonymity. Afterwards duriIMG_0584ng the discussion so many people contributed, sharing thoughts and issues and frustrations. It was clear (what a relief) that my research was of great use to them, especially the discussion we were having. One thing that really struck me was, when I spoke about adapting the education system to CAR reality/context to make it more relevant (including teaching in Sango) a guy stood up and more or less shouted into the room “She is right! Look at us! We are not proud of our country! Imagine, we need a WHITE GIRL to ask us why we are not teaching our children in our own language?!”

Thursday 9 November
Started my day teaching and discussing education in CAR with primary school teachers, and their teacIMG_0604hers, at the Centre Pedagogique (CPR). Again a very different target group, as they are the people actually standing in the classroom. And again it was GREAT. We had some really good and open discussions about the use of violence in the classroom, and discussed possible alternatives to keep order (such as alternative punishments and positive enforcement). The teachers were very attentive, writing down all practical things we discussed and asking many questions. AnotheIMG_0599r thing we discussed was practical things they could do to make their math a nd language lessons more interesting and relevant. For example instead of “50-25″ why not say “I go to the market with 50 CFA and I want to buy an orange of 25 CFA. How much do I have left after?”. After teaching we quikly left for radio Guira, the CAR radio station managed and paid for by the UN mission (MINUSCA). Here we did a 45min interview, of me together with my two research assistants Bonheur anIMG_0613d Petrouchka. This was great also because in this way, we were able to do the interview in both French and Sango. What was difficult however was the journalist asking me whether or not to use the chicotte (whip) in the classroom. She clearly thought it was not violent at all. I don’t want to be the white girl who says: don’t use the chicotte, because then people will not take me seriously. But I don’t want to say “use the chicotte” either…so what to do? I ended up saying that the people in CAR in my opinion, need to consider the relation between violence in the classrooms and their wish to have peace in the country, and I referred to the chicotte historically being an instrument used by the colonizers on black slaves… At the end of the day I met with someone from the World Bank working on education in CAR. Had a little time to tell her about my research findings and give her the report, hoping it will make a difference. Also shared my critique of their latest plan for “creating peace in CAR”, which focuses too much on quick results through quantitative and practical means, rather than a more profound change. How would you create peace in a country that has not known peace for at least 25 years..?

Marieke Hopman

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7 november 2017

Back in CAR to share the results on child’s right to education

7 november 2017 | By | No Comments

Dear all,

Here’s a quick overview of what has happened the first days of my mission to share the research results and try to do something positive for the child’s right to education in the Central African Republic.

Saturday and Sunday 4 & 5 November
Arrived in the morning and was greeted by my research assistant Petrouchka. After we left the suitcases full of research reports in the hotel room, we first went shopping for clothes (for which I’d  had no space in the overfull suitcases). Other things to do were to set up internet and phone connection, and get in touch with different people I know in Bangui.
When in the evening I returned to the hotel, I found the apple I left on the table eaten and even my container with vitamin pills attacked. It turned out the room was full of rats. I decided to accept this fact for aIMG_0515t least one night (even though the floor was filled with rat excrement and urine,). However, at 4 AM I woke up because one of the rats had entered my bed and started eating my hand. So I decided to move out.

The next day I discovered that in my hurry and shock of leaving the room, I’d left behind the money I’d taken (because there used to be no ATMs in CAR), which I’d hidden in the room. I went back and….it was stolen.

Monday 6 november

Finally a work day – time to get going! Got up extra early to start working early. But of course things are not as quick in CAR as one would wish – so my moto taxi driver turned out to run out of gas so we had to walk to the gas station and wait in line… Finally got to start at 7AM. Content of the day:IMG_0536

– Visit conseiller mr. Villecroix (employee of the ministry of Education). He helped me set up many other meetings, really helpful!
– Visited two schools for becoming-teachers and education inspectors.Met with directors and set up presentations / discussions for their students.
– Visit the Imam to give him the report and establish contact and make plans for cooperation on the sharing of the results.
– Visit the national radio station Ndeke Luka to see if we can make radio emission about the research. They were very interested and we made some great plans!
– Spoke to another journalist for international media
IMG_0552– While moving from meeting to meeting, got completely soaked by the rain :(

 

 

 

(on the moto we couldn’t find the house of the Imam so this kid jumped on to show us the way)IMG_0550

 

 

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Marieke Hopman

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6 november 2017

Publicatie rapport recht van het kind op onderwijs in CAR

6 november 2017 | By | No Comments

Beste allen,

Hieronder vindt u mijn populair-wetenschappelijke onderzoeksrapport over het recht van het kind op onderwijs in de Centraal Afrikaanse Republiek. Links de Engelse versie, rechts de Franse (klik op de gewenste afbeelding)! Mocht iemand vragen hebben, neemt u aub contact op via marieke.hopman@maastrichtuniversity.nl.

voorkant rapport frans

voorkant rapport engels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marieke Hopman

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12 september 2017

SIGN UP HERE

12 september 2017 | By | No Comments

The new field research on the child’s right to nationality has officially begun! As we are dealing with a politically sensitive matter, we will not be posting on social media. So, click here to sign up for updates! We are excited to share our experiences with you.

Marieke Hopman

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5 september 2017

Good news!

5 september 2017 | By | 2 Comments

Dear all,prize 1

Some good news: yesterday, during Maastricht University’s opening of the Academic Year, I won the Action Research Competition!!! This means I get € 3.000, which enables me to go back to the Central African Republic to share the research results. My wish is to start a national dialogue on what we can do to improve education in the CAR, together with the CAR minister of education.
prize 2
You can see the video of the winning pitch here!

 

 

Marieke Hopman

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3 augustus 2017

CAR report: the solution (for now)

3 augustus 2017 | By | No Comments

Dear all,

After my last blog 2 days ago about my dilemma surrounding the publication of my research report on the right to education in the CAR, I got so many replies!! Thank you all so much for all your emails and suggestions. Once again it can be so great to find that there are people who do care, and that I am not at all alone in my mission to help these kids. So thank you.

Today I had a really good meeting with the media&communication experts of Maastricht University. They advised me – and I would never have thought of this myself – to first go back to the CAR and take a small first step with implementing the research results, which is to start up a dialogue on education based on my research findings. Then after I can come back and (hopefully) share a story of “change is possible, and this is the first step, based on this research report” with the media, instead of a cliche story of “look at these poor children in Africa”.

So, I contacted both the CAR minister of education and his adviser to see if they are still interested in cooperation, and if indeed they can provide me with a visa and a place to stay. They said yes, and so I booked my ticket: flying out 4th of November. This time I will stay in Bangui only, and only for a short time – but it will be a first step, and after I think it will be up to other people to carry on with the project, using the research data and working for a longer period in CAR to continue this change. As should be the role of the researcher (or, in the words of my wise and caring father, in reply to my blog: “I think you overstretch your responsibility here … you are not GOD himself”).

On the practical side, this means that I still have to find funding for translation, travelling back and, if possible, graphic design of the report. To find this funding I received some good ideas from some of you, which I will pursue over the coming period. And I’ll definitely do what I can to win the university’s competition…3000 euros, fingers crossed!! I will also need to bring printed copies to CAR, but I guess I will simply use the university printers, put the report in cheap folders and fill up my suitcase with these home printed copies.

Thanks again for all your input and advises, I will definitely keep you up to date!!