Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Some blessings

Just being here for us is such a blessing because we are learning to appreciate so many more things. Let me share with you some of the things that bring us pleasure. Waking up this morning was great: the power was back on and there was water. Being greeted with "Aunt Anne" from the yard of the primary school as I walked past by lots of children who were waving madly. Meeting a young girl I am getting to know, Priscilla, and as she walked with me, she sang a song "I'm special". I thought yes you are and you have made my day special. The hand of friendship being extended to me by a lady who is part of Women of Hope (and also the related English class) who speaks very little English and asks for nothing, despite needing much. Being able to chat with Anita and my mum and dad on Skype. Making Anzac biscuits and having people really appreciate them. The fun of being able to go with a young guy down to the lake to buy fish, fresh from the fisherman. Eating that fish for dinner. Being loved by the children of the village, watching them play on the swings, them running to greet you and helping them with their homework. These are just some of the parts of today and it is different, because each day is, but each day brings similar experiences. Do not think there are not frustrations, there are, we are desperate to get the next group of children into the village and this seems to be taking longer - please pray. Overall though there is such joy in each day.
Fish being scaled by Nick for us for dinner (I did do some of the work):
We are learning to appreciate things because that is what is being modelled for us. On Saturday we went into town with two of the girls and Mama Loyce. The main purpose was to buy bras for the girls but we also managed to buy some handkerchiefs - one each of the children. We came home and they were given to the children. I thought little of it, they each needed a handkerchief , especially as some are suffering from the start of school coughs and colds. However, to my great surprise I was continuously greeted with "Thank you", "Thank you so much Aunt Anne"... Remember, it was a 35 cent handkerchief that we are talking about. They appreciated receiving something new. I don't think I have ever been thanked so sincerely for something so small. Or, the sharing without having to be told. There are a few colouring- in books. To me, as a mother, I wondered what we would do, there definitely weren't enough for each child to have one. How silly of me, sharing is no problem. There is no ownership, it is a colouring-in book and if one is 'shading', then another might join them but there will be no fight. They are normal children there are squabbles but so much of life is about the whole community and caring for each other.
Here are Sharon, Deborah and Rachel enjoying 'shading':
Yesterday, we had the privilege of being able to give out mosquito nets to the Women of Hope. We had enquired of Judith, the leader would it be appropriate, with the number of cases of malaria we were aware of. She said that would be fantastic. So, 60 mosquito nets later we handed them out yesterday. The joy that it gave these ladies was enormous. There was singing "Weebale Jesu" or "Thank you Jesus". Some were dancing with a mosquito net balanced on their head. I would love to show you pictures - sorry we didn't take photos. It certainly is something that Ron and I will never forget. The gratitude was enormous and it was great to be able to share God's love in this way with these ladies.

This is Ibra with an old zip end and an elastic band - lethal weapon
The swings give the children from the village, neighbouring children and visiting children great pleasure.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

African Time

On the day that we left Melbourne to come here to Uganda, a friend made a special effort to give Anne a book that he had actually bought for his wife. It was written by a lady working in Sudan, and there were a couple of pages that he had read that made him want Anne to have the book. The gist of those pages was about how in Africa, relationship comes before time, that is the person in front of you is more important than getting done the task that you are working on. The author of the book saw the funny side of God sending someone with her overachieving personality to Africa. I think Geoff saw the same funny side of Anne coming here. (I hope Di eventually got her copy of the book!)

As the weeks have gone on, we have both been learning the importance of that philosophy, and there have been many occasions when we have had to subdue our own desire to get something done to give time to the person we are with.

One of those occasions occurred on Australia day. We planned an “Aussie Feast” for the children and mothers here at the village. We told them we would cook their supper, and give them Australian food to celebrate the day. (Not sure that a sausage sizzle followed by jelly and ice cream qualifies as a feast in most minds)

Anyway, despite also being a holiday here to recognize the anniversary of the current government coming to power, several of our workers had come to work for the day and we were actually having a bit of a chat over a cup of tea at the end of the day. Emma, who had not worked that day but who had been very involved in laying mud bricks when the team were here dropped in for a chat also. We hadn’t seen him for a few days because he had a sick child who had required hospitalization and that means much time was spent at the hospital and doing the other things that family life requires. The child was home by now and so Emma was able to call in and let us know where he had been.

Time was marching on and I had to go to town to buy the ice cream - our freezer is neither big enough nor the power reliable enough for us to have purchased it earlier and been sure that it would still be sufficiently frozen. As the conversation continued, it became clear that we would need to break with tradition and Anne would have to cook the BBQ.

Because I was going to town I offered to give Emma a ride home which he accepted. As we approached his home, he invited me to come and see his home, which I did, despite delaying the purchase of ice cream and the Aussie feast. Little did I know how big a deal this was for Emma. He took me first to meet his wife, Marjorie, who was sitting in front of the tiny shop that they have to sell some of the things she sews on her treadle machine and a few other supplies. The he took me up the back, past a few small houses to his own place, a simple 3 room mud house. We went inside and Emma proudly showed me through each room. Outside we talked about his plans to build a more solid brick home on his land. Then we went back down to the car, said goodbye, and off I went in search of ice cream. This whole little interlude had taken less than 10 minutes and I had not had to go out of my way at all.

A few days later at a similar time, Emma dropped in again to join us in our end of the day cuppa. Again we enjoyed a chat, talking about many aspects of life in Uganda. Emma kept saying how privileged he was that I had come and visited his home. He mentioned that the children were both still unwell, and just before he was leaving, I offered to pray for them. He was more than happy for me to do so, and actually asked if we might come to his house and do it there with the children. So off we went. Both of us were welcomed into his family home, and in a very short time, Anne had been invited to come by every day if she liked. We prayed for the children and Emma and Marjorie, and very much felt that it was we who were the privileged ones who had been taken in to the home, however humble, of a lovely young family.

Emma is a man of plans and dreams who together with Marjorie is working very hard to improve the outcomes for their children. They both need to have regular work to ensure that as their children grow, they will be able to manage the school fees that confront all Ugandan parents. Hopefully Emma will be able to have his new house built by then so that he can rent out the current house to ease that burden.

As is the case all over the world, Uganda has a range of people from those who are very well off to those who are really struggling, some of whom take the attitude that it is someone else’s fault. Emma is not at the well off end of the spectrum financially, but his attitude to working his way to freedom from poverty makes him particularly well off. We were the ones blessed by our visit to his home, and it won’t be the last time we go there I suspect.

African time doesn’t seem nearly as bad when you look at it like this.

Monday, February 7, 2011

More about school

As I promised I would, here are some photos of my new school. It is very different to MECS and yet very similar. It has been started for similar purposes and to meet a need that was not being met. It is starting small (in building and infrastructure) and is filled with promise of being able to provide Christian secondary education for students who would otherwise not be able to get secondary education. It is 'owned' by a man called Robert Kafiro who grew up an orphan and has been able to be successful with transport. Rather than putting this money into making himself comfortable and living an easy life he is determined to help his people. He is also very involved with the village. There is always a fear that is quite justified in trusting African people when dealing with Westerners about their motives. We have known Robert for two years now and it is obvious that his motives are pure. He is a very hard working man who spends his time between the Village of Hope, the school (Hope community school) and his workplace in town with the bus depot. He lives in a very small flat that is situated in Bugembe, it is close to a bar and often his and his family are greatly disturbed at night by the noise from it. Due to his commitments to the village and most especially the school he lives a very simple life compared to our standards. I might be able to talk more with him and enlighten you some more about him but that is the basis of the school.
The school is a simple structure with open windows, concrete floor and most classrooms have three seater desks (up close and personal). The one classroom that doesn't have this type of desk has some single seaters because the school is trying to become an examination centre. This would mean that they could earn some money by hosting examinations.
At present there are four main classrooms which will house about 70 students each I think - word on the street is that I might have up to 80 students in my class! I would love to see another two classrooms being added because this would mean that they could have up to S6 which is the completion of secondary. We have already met many students who are struggling to go further because it then becomes not only about the fees but about the distance. There is a huge problem here because petrol costs the same as at home so to travel out of the area costs a huge amount relatively to locals. (we have heard of someone earning 4000 shillings a day and paying 3000 shillings to get to work) So, students finish at S4 even if they are very capable of continuing. This is something very important to me and it seems that it would only cost $17000 in Australian dollars to get this to happen!
Hope Community School would be doing a lot better financially if it was tougher on the students who don't pay their fees. There is a term here and what schools do is 'chase students out'. It is a privilege to be able to help this school by teaching there and we hope we are able to help in other ways. The fees are low but still very hard to manage for local people.
It is so hard to explain but I want you to gain a picture of what we are beginning to really understand. A labourer unskilled earns 5000 shillings a day, a receptionist at a hotel earns about the same and a skilled worker in building earns 10000 shillings a day. They are paid only for days that they work. So if they work every day for a week it is 30,000 shillings. A litre of milk costs 1000 shillings (if you buy fresh - 3000 for long life!). A loaf of bread costs about 2000 shillings. Potatoes were 800 shillings a kilogram. Rent is about 20000 shillings a month for a single room - I think. To catch the bus into town is approximately 1000 shillings from the highway but if you have to get down there it might be another 600 shillings. That is just to give you a bit of an idea of what the day's pay has to go to. School fees for lowest primary level are 30000 for fees, 5000 for interview, 12 000 for uniform, 12000 for sweater (they need it even if I don't), 5000 for books, and about 9000 for extras like toilet paper, broom, manilla folders, pencils etc. So about 70000 shillings at that start of the year for one child when you earn 30 000 for a week that barely covers your living expenses. This is especially true if you have a family. So the need is great and most people go without food even to pay. Secondary is much more expensive and so Robert's school is a real blessing to the community.
Before, I keep on talking about it all let me show you some pictures and stop talking about it all. We long so much for the cycle of poverty to be broken. Education will help.

This is a picture of my classroom with just a few students - all working hard though you will notice!
And below is a little visitor to the classroom.

This is the staffroom with a picture of Monique the other maths teacher. Please note the table is the 'kitchen' - distinct lack of sink, microwave, hot water on tap. Perhaps I will go back and not complain about anything!

By the way it is very humbling to realise that you can give $30 to someone and a child can go to school and the mother can be so so happy!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mundane things

Well, I thought it would be good to put a post that was a bit more mundane. Today, I woke up with a slight sore throat and thought I would not go in to the school but do some house stuff. The day started well with some water and power. However, the water supply was very short lived. We are fortunate to have a tank - though care is needed because half a tank went in one day! It is for the whole village by the way. We only used about 1.5 litres to 'bathe' each.
Anyway, back to the story, we had power and so I thought I will make some more bread. I don't think we have reported that we have been able to quite successfully make some bread by hand. So, then I thought if I am making bread then I should use the oven for more than just that. Hence, I cooked a chocolate cake. Three little helpers for the morning and then they got the chance to lick the bowl!
A lady from YWAM, Judith, who is becoming a friend dropped in with some work she does the accounting for the village. What timing, just pulled the chocolate cake out - it smelt fantastic! So, not only did we have chocolate cake, much to Ron's delight but we had a guest to share it with. So, here are a couple of pictures: one is Shamina enjoying the bowl and the other is Ron and Judith. By the way, Judith is the lady who organises Women of Hope that I have talked about and makes sure the English class that I got to help out with yesterday happens. She is a great lady, one who is easy to talk to. We were going to have supper (dinner) there Saturday but she and family have been given an opportunity to have a holiday so it has been postponed. Good opportunity to lend her a good book to read.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

School is back

Sorry that it is now over a week since I have posted, it is amazing how quickly the time is going already. We have of course since I last wrote had interesting times, power off, water off at different times. It has also been very hot. Even the locals have complained so that is when you know it must be hot. We are thoroughly enjoying building relationships within and without the village. My name is 'muzungu' or 'the wife', which is fortunate because Anne is a particularly difficult name for them to say. It is a bit like breast and bless can sound the same from a Ugandan I discovered today!

Some of last week was spent getting ready for school. I went along to Hope Community High School to find out what the 'hm' or Headmaster had planned for me. I discovered that the timetable was not ready and really what would be most convenient for me. Look out when I come back - I might have to decide what might suit! Anyway at this stage I will be teaching S1 Mathematics which is similar to Year 7 in some ways, certainly the first year of high school. The school is owned by Robert Kafiro who is a very good man. He has set it up to provide affordable education at a secondary level. The school has only been going for two years, in fact Rpn was there for the first day. It has very limited facilities - so much so that the 'photocopy machine' is actually an inkjet printer that also scans. For this year there will be four classes, and it aims to provide good Christian education to the students. Some of the students board at the school. This is a common thing as it is thought students can avoid the distractions of having to walk long distances to school, collecting water etc that make up normal village life. There is a lovely atmosphere at the school. I will be going from using the latest technology of Interactive whiteboards to chalkboards. The headmaster did advise me to get students to clean the board to save me getting dirty. I will endeavour to add photos soon - I didn't take the camera. Pictures will probably not even show you what it is like. If it wasn't for this school it is likely that quite a number of the students would not be able to go to secondary school. I am continually made aware that school fees are the thing that is so hard for families to find and it makes it almost impossible for many to send their children to school. So, there are students in their 20s doing high school because it was not possible before this.

Today I went to school to supervise exams. What a great way to start the year and make sure that students know the work from the year before! Another innovation that might have to be taken my classroom! However, the photocopy (?) had run out of ink and so some of the exams could not happen. So, I sat in the staff room and looked at the curriculum and tried to make out a bit of a plan. I of course asked "so how long is the term?'" "Well three months" but there is exams now for two weeks and then there is the election, and a couple of weeks at the end of term for assessment! It will be very interesting. I did get to see students today. The S4s were sitting a physics paper and then the other two levels were studying for exams. It was fun to interact with them. I am going to have to be careful though because all students have their hair shaved off and then the uniform for the top half is the same for boys and girls. So, care and caution will be the order of the day. I am looking forward to it. The students are also pleased to have a muzungu teacher. There are very interesting things in the curriculum. For those that would understand the national maths paper at the end of last year had the use of logarithmic tables on it! Now, I remember I used them 34 years ago. However, there were also questions that related to year 12 methods questions, and a lot of matrices that Victoria has only just brought back in at year 11 and 12 levels. Just another couple of things: the cook produced 'breakfast' for me; I actually declined because I had already eaten. Though might be something else to have instituted at school in Oz - after all some of my colleagues did bring their own and eat it at school. Also, sitting in the staff room minding my own business and what should walk in but a chook. Yes, we have everything here.

School is also back for the children of the village except what we would call the preschoolers. So, Monday morning bright and early (and I mean early) the children were all dressed up and ready to go off to school. No small feat to have 13 children fully dressed with their equipment to go off to school. Shoes had been polished the week before, pencils sharpened the night before, exercise books handed out and of course there were quite a few hours in mending the uniforms. So, at 7 o'clock on Monday morning Ron and I had the privilege of escorting the children to school. It is only a short walk down the road and was great fun. Just so that you know the lower levels at school finish at 12.30 and the children come home for lunch and stay. The higher levels the children come home for lunch (posho and beans normally - good energy given food and lots of vitamins in the beans) and then head back to school only to finish at 5.00. They then come home, do their jobs, eat supper and then do some homework. A big day for them. I did notice that they weren't ready quite so early this morning! That might also had something to do with the fact that there was thunderstorms in the night.

Then, this afternoon I got a different sort of 'school' experience. I have been endeavouring to make it to the English class over the road at YWAM. I have been over a few times but not found the class. I mentioned this to someone and so it was made clear that it was on. I am not the teacher but thought it would be a good experience to go and find out how it is done and help in any way. So, over I go. I found one lady - she is part of the Women of Hope and someone I had thought I would like to get to know but realised very early on that she did not speak English at all. So, she was there and my extremely limited Lugandan and her almost as weak English. I soon realised we needed something so I ducked back and picked up Lugandan-English books that I have. They are mainly made for tourists but... Another couple of ladies came too. One who had a workbook. Then another arrived, I thought - I will do the right thing and said "You are welcome" - good work Anne, nice English/African welcome. Oops - this was the teacher! Anyway, I had a good afternoon with a couple of ladies. One who does well with English but would like financial support and any sort of listening ear. The other who was helping me learn some Lugandan and hopefully I helped her learn some English. I look forward to building this relationship further. It will be hard but I did get to learn that her father died after P2 and her mother after P4. She has four children and thinks that the children will be able to help her with her English. Certainly I think the method we used may not be conventional but it was working. One thing I notice with people here. They do not expect others to do the work for them, no spoon feeding. If I want to learn English then it may mean rewriting a lot of stuff and a big struggle but I am willing. The problem is that the teacher can be slack in this situation. I am not getting good vibes about a lot of teachers. I have found a lot of rote learning happening without understanding. For example the children here will happily spend time copying the words from a book without understanding or knowing anything they are writing. If you are working then it will help. Or, "what did you learn at school?". Answer: "7 + 7 = 14". Reply: "oh, so what is 7 + 8?" "I don't know." Some challenges ahead...

So, I will be going in to the local primary school tomorrow - checked that it would be ok today. This will mean that I can learn what the children need to know, how they are taught and hopefully it will help us help them. We have already got Anita on to the task of providing us with the list of most common words. Any extra suggestions .... very gratefully received.

Life is full, a great adventure, we would love the water to be back on but otherwise we are doing really well. I will try to add school photos to this post in the next few days.