Visiting a student and his family at their home
This project report is a submission to GlobalGiving’s 2017 Fail Forward Contest, where organizations are asked to share a story of when they tried something new that didn’t go as planned and how they learned from it. Enjoy!
For years we worked under the assumption that USAP students telling their families why they were spending their holidays at application bootcamps in Harare or their precious A level study time preparing for SAT exams or their choices for where they were going to college was enough. Our program worked directly with students; they in turn were left to share that information, or not, with their families.
This assumption proved to be a major deficit in our program design. Without parents and guardians working together with the students and with USAP as a team, we would at times confront crises and challenges throughout the student's application enrollment process. Students would ask their parents for sensitive family finance information in order to complete their financial aid forms, for example, and be told that in Shona culture, a child does not ask his parents about money. Students would delay applying for a passport because the family hadn't had sufficient warning to save for its cost, and jeopardize having enough time to get a visa for college. And without knowing a student's family context except for that which they had reported to us on an application, we were not always able to be the best college counselors for that student as s/he planned her future course.
But how were we to get to know the families of our USAP students? A letter would be one-way communication that was limited and wouldn't allow for their questions. They were scattered all over the country, and so the cost of them traveling to our office was prohibitive. Most were not online and many did not have Smart phones.
After learning from our mistake and the holes it left in our program, we decided to fail forward and dedicate substantial monetary and staff time resources to visit each and every student in their home. This past year we started the USAP home visit program - traveling as far as nine hours to reach a student's home, whether urban or rural, on or off Google Maps, and sit down with the people who the student deemed as his or her family. These meetings have been incredibly fruitful in ways we didn't even imagine at first. Parents, no matter what their income or education level, have the same concerns for their children - they want them to prosper, to reach their potential, to be safe and happy. We share our process and our program, answer their questions, and most importantly build a level of trust while getting to know each other. We learn so much more about our students, too, by simply seeing them in their home settings, and that will inevitably allow us to write stronger letters of recommendations for their college applications.
The USAP home visit program, which grew out of recognizing a deficit in our program model, has given us the assurance that famliies of our students will feel comfortable approaching us with their questions and concerns, not only now, but once their children have left for international studies. By listening, learning and acting, we have been able to close a major hole and bring our USAP family closer.
Meeting place for USAP Family visit:Rural Chiweshe
On the road: 1600km of home visits