Question from a Middle School in Niger, Part 1

Someone emailed me out of the blue. I wondered if it was some sort of scam. The kind where the punchline is "I have inherited $700 million and will give you 20% if...."

Hello Mr Goldstein,

Thank you very much for allowing us to write to you.

We are a coed, secular, private middle school in Niamey, Niger, serving 300 students coming from low socio-economic backgrounds, with a special emphasis on the education of girls.

Our major obstacles are the following: low socioeconomic status, French (our official language and the language of instruction in our schools) not spoken at home, illiterate parents, no family support, and students with extremely low academic skills, reading and writing far below grade level.

Our wish is to address these obstacles in a proactive manner and engage ourselves, our students and our school in a process of positive transformation.

In the light of these observations, we were wondering if the Match School model would be replicable in our part of the world where conditions are so different and where private schools do not get any subsidies whatsoever from the government. Our wish is to turn Hampaté Bâ into a high-performing school offering first class learning to its underprivileged students, especially girls. This could become a pilot project and serve as a model for other schools in Niger as well.

We are a very motivated group of educators and would like to make a difference by giving our community a better chance to break the cycle of poverty. Our ultimate goal is to ensure successful learning for all of our students. In other words, we'd like to achieve in Niamey what Match School has achieved in Boston!

But of course we do not know how to go about it. We would be extremely grateful to you if you could share your views on this matter with us. In Niger, we simply do not have any experts in this field and being a low-cost school we cannot afford any foreign consultants either.

We'll be very pleased to answer any questions you may have about our school. Please find enclosed some pictures of our "collège".

We very much look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Homa Kombo (Mrs) Coordinator Hampaté Bâ Middle School Niamey, Niger

I am partial to responding to out-of-the-blue emails. One of my big breaks in starting MATCH was when a CEO answered an out-of-the-blue email from me; he and his wife met me at a coffee shop as a result; she became a trustee and built up our math department; he became a big political backer of charters; and together they became our biggest financial backer for the past 10 years.

So I have some karmic obligations here.

Some subsequent emails make think Mrs. Kombo is legit (and she said she was fine with me posting our correspondence online). My wife thinks it's authentic from the specificity and tone. Let's assume she is.

What do you think? What would you advise? What would you want to know?