Operation Classroom leaders visited Liberia and Sierra Leone recently to reaffirm their commitment to Africa and strengthen contributions to the countries’ education programs.
For more than 30 years, Operation Classroom has partnered with the two West African countries to improve secondary education, with a focus on vocational training. The United Methodist organization, which is supported by U.S. conferences in Indiana, has provided thousands of scholarships for students who might not otherwise be able to afford an education.
Operation Classroom is currently sponsoring about 200 students in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Though the Operation Classroom scholarship is directed toward United Methodist schools, recipients don’t have to be United Methodist.
During the meeting with the directors of United Methodist schools in both countries, Operation Classroom leaders shared financial challenges and talked about possible solutions.
“The same stresses that you are dealing (with) as recipients are the same stresses that we are facing as donors,” said the Rev. Bob Coolman, the former head of Operation Classroom, who visited alongside the current CEO/President, the Rev. Monty C. Barker.
Operation Classroom closed its offices in the two West African countries a few years ago due to funding short-falls and difficulties providing scholarships for students while paying staff salaries.
Operation Classroom’s 2016 Internal Revenue Service 990 form, which it filed as a nonprofit, showed income of $204,158, down from $368,856 the previous year.
According to Coolman, the drop-in donor funding necessitated the closure of the offices, adding, “We could not be dividing the little money that we were getting between students, staff and other activities such as shipping books of educational materials to Africa.”
Coolman, currently Volunteer in Mission for Operation Classroom, also noted that the issue of human sexuality that has created divides within The United Methodist Church has added to the financial stress facing the partnership in recent times.
“Individuals, especially donors, are taking a wait-and-see position, not knowing which group in the church to send their money to,” Coolman said.
According to the United Methodist News Service, Barker urged the leaders of the various schools to share their students’ success stories so that donors will know what kind of impact their donations are making in the lives of the young people. He said stories from the students themselves will be very useful in their effort to raise more funds.
“I want for us to increase our involvement by providing more scholarships for these students,” he said.
He called on school administrators in both countries to help provide Operation Classroom with tangible information that will be useful to donors as they seek to provide valuable educational opportunities to the children of Africa.
The Rev. Sampson Nyanti, former director of the Liberian church’s education department, said Operation Classroom has been very helpful in supporting the schools that are benefiting from the scholarship initiatives. He pointed out that since most of the schools are operating based on tuitions, most of the Operation Classroom scholarship-funded schools are doing well in paying their teachers.
“We hope the administrations of the benefiting schools can plan realistic budgets based on their request to Operation Classroom,” he said.
Joseph Pormai, Education Secretary for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone, said giving the scholarships to those who need such help and making accountable and transparent reports would help keep the long-standing relationship between the two West African countries and Operation Classroom on track.
“Accountability pays a lot. If you have to make a report, make it well and on time,” Pormai urged school administrators during the visit.
Coolman said he continues to believe in helping students in Africa.
“Operation Classroom is committed to supporting education in Africa because we know the role that education played during your fight against the Ebola virus,” he said, referencing the outbreak that killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2015.