Kathy Hutton

WAM trainees ready to graduate

Learning how to be confident

By Karen Earnshaw

The challenge for many non-government organizations (NGOs) in the Marshall Islands is that donor organizations provide funds for programs and then require hard data to prove that the program has been a success.
Such is the case at Waan Aelon in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands). Associate Director of the long-running program, Kathy Hutton, said: “All our funders require evidence-based evaluation to show the success of the programs. That’s fair enough, it’s understandable, but in some cases it’s very difficult to measure what we’re achieving.”
For example, tests can clearly show how trainees have improved in math and English or their ability to use woodworking equipment, but life skills are another matter.
The current six-month vocational trainee program at WAM is nearing an end, with graduation set for this Friday. “Over the months I’ve seen huge increases in confidence and self-esteem amongst our trainees, but how do you calculate that and provide it as evidence?
“Plus, 90 percent of the trainees may not even be able to recognize the massive changes in themselves. Many people, including myself, will underplay how they are performing.”
The biggest change Hutton has seen is “a huge improvement in their life skills. For example, they’ve learned to turn up on time and most have made a big effort in that department.”
Twenty-five youth were accepted into the program, which began on August 1, 2011 and is funded by the RMI National Training Council. “In the first few weeks we had a couple of dropouts, but these were quickly replaced by other applicants. One or two more dropped out over the months, but we’re ending the course with 22 trainees.
“Teaching them good working skills is a slow process,” Hutton said. “I’ve seen some that took four to five months before they seemed to be fully participating and embracing each part, such as being counseled.”
The lead instructor in the program is Vocational Program Manager Ken Taggart. “He absolutely loves the kids,” Hutton said. “He’s just wonderful working them on math and woodwork.”
Taggart also helped train four young men to be trainers, two of which are from Ebeye and two from Lae. The hope is that this group will return to their home islands to run similar courses.