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Companions Programme-Exclusive Interview

  • 13 December 2017

Today we have an exclusive interview with Sam, our Education for Justice Coordinator, about our Companions Programme that links schools in the UK with those in the global south, particularly focusing on Zimbabwe.

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Firstly, can you explain to us what The Companions Programme is and why it began?

Sam: The companions programme is JM’s first and longest standing programme for schools. It is an exciting school linking scheme between young people in Jesuit and Catholic education in the Global South and Global North. The programme has been running for around 13 years and we currently have 21 schools participating across the UK, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania.

The Companions Programme was started by a previous JM staff member who recognised the potential there was in uniting Jesuit schools around the world in partnership with one another. The programme was set up to enable Jesuit schools around the world to cooperate, to listen and to learn from others and to share a common spiritual inheritance.

We work very closely with Education for Justice Zimbabwe, a programme that aims to offer both quality education to the poor and to empower local students to build a fairer future for their country.

The Companions Programme has been running for quite a long time, has it changed at all over the years?

Sam: I have been managing the Companions Programme for three years, and in that time, the programme has gone through a few strategic developments.

The first of which has been us carrying out a large-scale evaluation. This evaluation has taken about a year to do, and has enabled us to analyse three key things: what is happening in each school, whether the programme is contributing to change and how we can improve the programme in the future.

The second part of the development will be felt more in 2018, where we will present a relaunched Companions Programme, using recommendation from the evaluation as a guide.

How do you think being a part of the Companions Programme is beneficial to students?

Sam: It’s important to reflect on the fact that the benefits are experienced differently for schools in the North than they are for schools in the South. This is largely down to bigger, global and historical factors that will take a long time to unpack. However, I think the CP works very hard to find a common ground in schools, related largely to this unique Jesuit identity that the schools share.

This identity is very real and very identifiable. When I go into schools (both in the UK and Zimbabwe) I have noticed that students are precocious, respectful and caring. Pupils facing the most challenging situations (both in the North and the South) have been given a great start in life, and are encouraged to pursue their hopes and dreams. The Companions Programme gives them a snapshot of the globalised world we live in, and how being part of a Jesuit family makes the world just that little bit smaller.

Earlier this year you visited some of the schools in Zimbabwe, who are part of the Companions Programme, can you tell us a bit about that trip?

Sam: The intention of the trip was to carry out research for the Companions Programme review. We ran a series of interviews in each of the participating schools, as well as workshops with pupils in some schools. We also held a two-day workshop for teachers and chaplains on the first weekend there. The trip allowed us to analyse key questions from a number of different angles, so that we could get the fullest picture of how the Companions Programme was working for Zimbabwean schools.

Did you hear any inspiring stories?

Sam: One of the biggest inspirations for me is the Happy Readers programme. This programme is enabling young learners in primary schools to become literate in English through the help of a series of engaging books. The programme was started as a social enterprise by an old Stonyhurst pupil, and has been very successful across Southern Africa.

We were able to witness the development of the Happy Readers programme, and how it is working. Teachers showed us statistics of improved literacy rates which was very important to see.

Why was the trip so important to the programme?

Sam: The trip was an important opportunity to carry out the exact same research that we did in the UK. The report had to include both sides of the story because the Companions Programme is about a shared experience on both sides of the equator.

Since returning, how have you been able to share what you learned with their UK partner schools?

Sam: I’ve been giving presentations in schools, updating them on our visit through the use of dynamic presentations which showcased personal accounts, videos and pictures.

We’ve also kept our teachers updated with emails and letters, summarising the key findings of the evaluation, and giving them a preview of what’s to come in the new year.

How can a school get involved in the Companions Programme?

Sam: At the moment, we are focusing our work on Jesuit schools in the UK. We have two schools that are not Jesuit (but are Catholic) participating, so there is definitely scope in the future for more schools to join.

Do keep an eye on our website and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for updates on the Companions Programme and the re-launch!

How do you see the future of the Companions Programme?

Sam: The future is bright! 2018 will be a big year for the Companions Programme. We will be producing a toolkit for schools, giving them advice on how overseas partnerships work best. In addition, we’ll be piloting a new type of partnership model with a few schools.

The future of the Companions Programme will also see collaboration with more schools and other partners, which will reflect the global face of the Jesuits and Jesuit education.

Read our exclusive interview with Lynette, Programmes Officer in Zimbabwe, here.

This Christmas we are asking you to consider supporting us in our mission and help bring hope to the children and young people of Zimbabwe.

To support our appeal, please click here.