As many of you are aware, from Bishop Mike’s E-pistle of a couple of weeks ago, the Board of Directors of Operation Classroom made the decision to terminate the shipping program to West Africa. While some may hear that as a “death knell” for Operation Classroom. That is certainly not the case:
But the board does want Hoosier Methodists to understand why Operation Classroom made this decision. There are a variety of reasons – none of which are dominant but when aggregated, made this action prudent, if not imperative.
  • Declining revenues – Because of changes in the way OC is funded, several years ago OC moved the shipping program to a “pay-as-you-go” basis. Since then, we have simply not seen revenues sufficient to sustain the program.
  • Declining materials – Changes in the way materials are collected has meant that we have simply not seen the same level of “supply.” For the last several years, we have only sent one container a year to each country where OC operates – Liberia and Sierra Leone.
  • Difficulty with collections – It has become harder to collect materials to be shipped. Some of the venues that we were able to facilitate in the past are no longer available to us.
  • We are not an alternative to your garage sale – Recently, we’ve heard the message from UMCOR (The United Methodists Committee on Relief) to “Please stop sending America’s junk all over the world.” Truth be told, a lot of what got sent by mission agencies (not just Operation Classroom) to developing countries was stuff people here in the U.S. wanted to discard. Shipping a container to West Africa is an expensive proposition – about $10,000 each – and it makes no sense to send stuff that is not needed. Further, what we send needs to be high quality, first-rate materials that will hold up in difficult and harsh environments, not cast-offs and discards.
  • Conditions in West Africa have changed – Many materials, particularly school supplies that once were not available in West Africa have now become available there and sometimes for no more than it would cost to purchase them here. That makes it rather senseless to incur the shipping and distribution costs. It makes far more sense to donate the money and buy it there (thus contributing to the local economy).
  • West African Ministries of Education now prescribe culturally appropriate textbooks – We are all aware that American history books, English literature books or 1958 Encyclopedia Britannica are probably not necessary regarding West African education, however it is more than that. Primary readers or even math texts that use western contexts for story problems or any other kind of books that are not culturally contextual, present an impediment to learning.
  • We were about to lose our warehouse in Lapel – Several years ago, we had to move from one location to the Lapel location because of the sale of the “old” warehouse for grain storage, which reduced our operating area by way more than 50%. Now, the building to the north, which includes the north wall of the building we’ve been operating out of, is being sold.
  • The aging of our workforce – Truth be told, most of those who engage in the shipping program of Operation Classroom (especially loading of containers) are the same folks who’ve helped with that for some 25 years. These folks were not young when the program began and now when we load, it’s often a group that averages well over 70 years of age. The reality is, this presents some concerns in terms of injury and liability.
None of these things by themselves would signal the end of the shipping program, however combine them all together and it no longer makes sense to continue it.

Thus, the last two containers we will ship to West Africa will be sent December 2015 to Sierra Leone in the first week of December, and to Liberia the second week of December. We need to have all materials delivered to the warehouse no later than Saturday, November 29.

If you intend to provide materials to the warehouse, please go to the OC Website at www.operationclassroom.org for information about packing, labeling and contacting John Barker, our warehouse manager, for information about delivery.

Does this signal the beginning of the end for Operation Classroom? Hardly. OC’s mission, “To partner with The United Methodist Church in Liberia and Sierra Leone to improve Education” is just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. We think that the tools we need to use to accomplish that are going to look very different, but the Board of Operation Classroom believes that we have a very bright (although challenging) future and much of that will be revealed soon.