I knew something was wrong as we trundled up the drive in Norbert’s clapped out Toyota. Liv was sitting on the patio smoking a cigarette, and the smile she beamed at us as we creaked out of the car was more strained than usual: “The teachers haven’t been paid in five months; Corneille’s been pocketing it all”.
Two years on from that afternoon in Arusha, in northern Tanzania, I am sitting across from Liv in a bar in London. She tells me how the kids at the nursery now get a full meal of rice and meat every friday, and that the playground has a new set of swings. “Is it all good news?”, I ask, a tad apprehensive. She rolls her eyes and flashes me an exasperated smile: This summer she found out that Corneille and Norbert, the men who helped her set up the school, had plans to steal money from the charity all along. “Trusting people has been a real problem”, she says.
Liv knew she was going to take a gap year after she had finished school. She had secured a place at Edinburgh to study Economics and managed to defer her place there for a year. Most of her classmates had taken a similar decision, but were more inclined to sate their wanderlust by a few months of hedonism in south east asia. Liv, on the other hand, travelled to Tanzania, where she volunteered at a primary school for three months. Witnessing the terrible poverty and lack of opportunities for the children in the area, Liv became convinced that she couldn’t leave and realised that she could offer more than piecemeal volunteering work. This was when she met Corneille. He agreed to help in setting up the charity and school, but after finding out that he had been stealing money meant for the children, she was forced to take over and fully manage the project herself.
Liv now balances her charity work with a job at the Department for International Development (DFID), where she is an education researcher and programme developer. “Are there similarities between your work there and your charity work?”, I ask her. “Not much”, she says, “at DFID I’m at my desk all day writing documents or organising stakeholder meetings. I’m mostly looking at the whole development agenda, rather than focusing on individual cases”. Through her research into education, however, she learns about the effectiveness of certain strategies which she can then implement in her school and thus improve her impact. Despite this, she admits that her true calling is fieldwork for her charity – “And I’m not sure I like working for the government!”, she jokes.
Olivia co-founded Rise Africa UK in 2011 and now works as an Education Researcher and Programme Developer at the Department of International Development (DFID).