Note: We had a request from Altrusa San Diego, which is part of an international non-profit foundation, for more information about our mission here in Zambia. They have donated books to our school, and they are considering further support. We welcome these requests as it is our goal to have absolute transparency. The questions in bold are theirs. We thought they were such valid questions that we decided to post the q & a here. Due to a request for anonymity I have erased some names and organizations.
1) How is the school is currently funded?
From the period of November 2011 to the end of July 2012 we spent approximately $11,400 operating the school. This does not represent a full accounting as things like gas, and minor daily expenses were not figured into this. However, it does represent the major expenditures. The majority (about 70%) went for our three major ongoing expenses: rent, salaries and the food program. The rest was used for start-up costs mainly associated with capitol improvements to the property we rent. Things like a fence, latrine, doors, furniture etc. along with the associated labor costs. I have a fairly comprehensive list of these expenditures available.
By the end of July, prior to our fundraiser, we had received just shy of $10,000 in donations from individuals both from here in Zambia and from the United States. Just to drop a couple of names: Barun Chandra and Kanni Wignaraja made a personal donation of $3,000. Kanni is the head of the United Nations mission in Zambia. Also, (name withheld) and (name withheld) committed to $300 per month for one year starting in July. (Name) is the head of (a major worldwide organization) in Zambia. I only mention these people because not only did the funds help, but it was incredibly validating to receive support from these people who work for organizations committed to helping here in Zambia. Joy and I and Jim have also contributed to this project to make up the difference between expenditures and funds raised.
At our fundraiser in Davis, CA and the immediate weeks following we received a little over $5,000 in donations. We also started a sponsorship program for the orphans who attend our school. To date we have 13 orphans sponsored at a commitment of $25 per month.
2) What sort of status does the school have within Zambia? In other words, is there some sort of accreditation process?
We are a public benefit corporation limited by liability as defined by the Zambian Government. This was the first and most important step to legally operating the school. The title "NGO" seems to be an unofficial designation. What defines an NGO is when you receive tax-exempt status to import goods into the country. This is a drawn out process and we have suspended our pursuit of this designation as we do not have the need for this status at this time. A public benefit corporation is defined as a company that offers goods and/or service at a free or subsidized rate. Our official title is "RHO Appleseed School Limited."
We are still investigating how we want to be designated by the Ministry of Education. This pursuit has been quite an adventure in itself. For a few reasons we are slowing this pursuit down because we have learned that once designated it is hard, if not impossible, to change the designation. This could have serious ramifications on our goal of long-term sustainability, so we want to get it right. We have been to the Ministry of Education and the Division of Education Board Secretary (DEBS). There are two classifications that could fit for us: Community School or Private School. The Community School program was born out of the unfulfilled need to provide access to schooling for the many who had none. Communities could start their own schools based on volunteerism and ... well little else. Upon finally making it to DEBS last year during business hours (which fluctuate especially toward the end of the day) we were told that due to funding cuts the office for Community Schools had been closed. We were given some literature and told they had to do a site visit which we scheduled for the middle of December. They never came. A friend who runs an NGO told us we would have to actually give the person responsible a ride to the school if we really wanted this inspection to take place. (Just a side note: Just to open a business account the bank required a site visit. This happened only after we gave the person a ride to our school and back to the bank.) In the interim we learned that once designated a Community School it is not possible to change that designation so we have decided to investigate our options further before pursuing any official designation. Because we have legal status as a public benefit corporation we are able to operate the school legally in the interim. Because of our goal of sustainability, at this point we believe our best bet is to pursue designation as a private school. This would mean having to pay employees (something we already do), but it would mean we could charge fees and then offer scholarships to our needy students. We just want to exercise patience and make sure we do it right.
3) Altrusa San Diego was also curious about how long that you thought you might stay in Zambia. They know that this contractual set of decisions could change. But what would be your current prediction? What do you envision the transition to look like when you do leave?
Joy and I intend to stay in Zambia at least three more years for a total of four years. We will hopefully have this settled in the next month or two when we intend to sign two year contracts to extend our employment at the American School to four years. We also intend to pursue the possibility of staying in Zambia beyond that time by applying to the Lumwana (?) School. This is a kind of satellite school of AISL in the northern part of the country. Jim knows much more about this than we do. It is a small school with limited employment opportunities, but if it is presented, we intend to pursue that opportunity. So, we are committed to staying at least four years and are looking at opportunities to extend our stay beyond that.
As far as what we envision the transition to look like when we leave I will say this. We are doing this with one singular goal. We want to visit this school (and maybe others) ten to fifteen years from now after we have retired. We love doing what we are doing here, but we do not intend to spend four years working on this without a plan for sustainability. This is admittedly a work in progress, but we have numerous ideas for sustainability: 1) Receive official 501 (c) (3) status in the US 2) Establish a school fee structure that will allow for self-sustainability 3) Purchase land and build a purpose-built facility that will be paid for before we leave and 4) Most importantly, oversee the transition prior to leaving Zambia. I believe that our last year here should be a "hands-off" time where we let the school run itself with as little intervention as possible. Just like any venture, there will be potholes on this road, so it is our goal to be here during the transition to ensure those do not turn in to sink holes. To this end we see our "transition" taking place during our last year here (2014-2015).
Please feel free to follow-up with any ideas, advice, and requests for information etc. Our fuel has been the extraordinary kindness, interest and generosity of so many people. We appreciate and welcome the opportunity to share our vision with others.
Ken and Joy Hoffman. See the'Who We Are' page.