Sunday, October 30, 2011
First, rain means that everything stops. Nobody moves out of the house, it is a matter of staying home and waiting. Or staying wherever you are and stopping. Streets quickly become flooded, and if you get caught in the rain you will get very wet, very quickly. Then, it usually stops after a while and there is plenty of water and lots and lots of mud.
Thursday morning was such a time. It had stopped raining in time for me to go to school, so off I went - in Blundstones with my nice dress! The Blundstones did a great job - they collected great quantities of mud but by and large were easy to walk in and only a few muddy splashes up the back of my legs. At school, change into sandals to look nice for class. First mistake! By the time I got to class the soles were full of mud and it was quickly creeping onto my feet. A lovely young male student saw the state of affairs and came to my rescue and offered to clean the soles. He efficiently cleaned most of the mud off the shoes. Only problem is that with a mud floor, in wet weather it does not dry, and mud attracts mud so... On the bright side, I did not slip over at all! Class proceeds, no problem. Then, just before the end of class the rain starts. Remember, no ceiling just tin roof. Not so easy to teach 80 students, so just wrote some solutions on the board. However, the rain continued and looking out: it was very wet, a worksite with bricks to negotiate, rain pouring down, class just had to continue. The students were not going anywhere and so, no option the class just continued. This is Africa, time does not matter! I did eventually get out of class, but morning tea was delayed. Rain wets firewood, firewood heats water, water makes tea. So, logically morning tea could not be made at least until it stopped raining - amazing how much one takes for granted a nice electric kettle.
We have enjoyed having some friends here and on Saturday afternoon I took them to visit a group with the aim of buying some goods. After a trek up a hill through as much mud as you would ever want to walk through we discovered that the group did not meet due to the rain! Then, a trek back home - though we did have the joy of having many children join us for the walk and were able to buy some baskets from a couple of local friends. Well, I suppose you could put it down to a cultural experience.
The rain also makes the roads even more diabolical. We heard of a number of accidents that happened around us this week as well. One a minor one with someone knocked due to the pedestrian trying to avoid mud and puddles. Another with a guard from the village having his bike break into two! Not a common occurence, and he is recovering but had bad facial abrasions. Then, a very significant accident not that far from here where five people died in an car accident. The car they were in was trying to overtake two petrol tankers and then had to pull in between them as a car was coming the other way. However, it was at a point in the road where slowing down was necessary, the first one did, with the car coming in the second one did not slow down enough and kaboom, and the car was squashed. Horrific stuff! The people involved were two evangelists from America, a bishop and his friend from here in Uganda and the driver. A salutory reminder of the dangers here.
Throughout our time here it has been evident that education is of vital importance and so we have turned a lot of our attention to the high school and also looking at the education of the children at the village. With this in mind it is interesting and seemingly like a God given opportunity to be both going back to teaching positions. Ron's is a bit of a surprise but with the conditions being very suitable, we are thanking God for an opportunity for him to redevelop his skills in education and use his teaching gifts.
So, this blog has been a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I am sorry about that but hopefully keeps people a little up to date with our goings on. Perhaps a little deeper post next time, hopefully not deeper in mud.
Friday, October 21, 2011
The day started with a little knock on the window at 6.50 am with Robert needing some money for his building. OK, so we were awake but just not up! So, that was the start of the day. Breakfast continues to be an important part of our lives and so we had breakfast and before it was complete there were visitors at the gate. A young pregnant girl who had come seeking help last week when her place had been ransacked and she had lost everything. She went off with some good old posho, beans and onions. What more could she want? Ron left to get the work happening at the village on the floors of the rooms and then while preparing to head off to school another visitor. This time it was Elizabeth with good news. She has been haunted by family who want to get the land that is rightfully hers but entitlements are a bit different to Australia. So, witchcraft, threats etc were all being used. Instead of having to sell though the community has surrounded her and said we do not want her to leave and ‘chased’ the family away. Good news!
Off to school, on the way discover that a student from another school was unable to do their S4 exams as his money had been ‘eaten’ by the director of the school. I do not understand. Later I find that this happened to about 15 students and from what I gather they will have do the year again but won’t have to pay fees! Such consolation, what about if they were going to earn money next year etc, etc. Rights, what are they?
So now for school… Exams are in full swing, I am met by the S4 students at the gate who rated the exam the previous day fair – which basically means bad. So, I prayed with them for the day’s exams. Then, class cannot be in the usual classroom because that is the exam centre. The new classrooms however did manage to get a roof on during the weekend despite the setbacks due to rain. Well, it was quite funny. I thought of all the occupational health and safety people I know as I clambered over rocks, small building materials and then ‘climbed’ the large step into the classroom. Unfortunately, there has not been time to concrete the floor so it is sticky mud with a bit of grass growing. The board is plastered cement which does not quite work the same as a blackboard. Oh well, no problem on with the lesson. I again discovered the difficulty of teaching distance-time graphs to students who never travel in vehicles where they have access to speedometers. In fact, most of them only walk or catch the occasional boda. Basically, the difference between 5 km/h and 50 km/h is only theoretical. We did talk about local taxis and how they stop and start and what that looks like on a graph. “But, madam, what is the formula?”
On with the day, a huge pile of books to mark, too many to bring home so I stay at school to mark. Interestingly, I am only really at school while marking or teaching – such a different lifestyle, I prepare at home and go in to teach. During the marking process I need to go and check the students going into the examination. Lady teacher needed to check the girls. I soon found out why, I was told “Not just their pockets, check their breasts, they might have a paper stuck in there.” Not a great feeling doing something like that for the first time! Oh, the experiences I have here in Africa.
Home for a late lunch, Lucy’s frittata was a lot more appealing than posho and beans! However, I had told Lucy I would help her learn to make biscuits so I had to find a recipe to go with the new biscuit forcer that I happened upon on Saturday. Lunch hardly swallowed, trying to help Lucy and Robert dropped in with some things to discuss for the village. Well, Lucy made great biscuits and hopefully the discussion was fruitful. In the midst of this as well, we were having rissoles for dinner. I needed to show Lucy how to prepare these, though I would cook them later. I realised it would also be helpful to introduce her to a hamburger. She had no idea what I was talking about but we quickly managed to put one together for Ron and so now she knows yet another main food type!
Then, after finishing things off we went off to the village. Sandal type shoes purchased the previous day needed to be handed out. Oh, some happy children and then others wanting ones even if theirs were all right. Yes, a normal family just on a bigger scale. While at the village there were plenty of things to deal with as per usual. Workers had been putting the finishing touches to the floors in the new houses in preparation for the new children to come in. Hence, we needed to wait for them to be ready as here transport home from work is part of the expectation. They are fun blokes and so into the car we piled - four large men in the back (this is only a Rav4), one in the boot. We arrived home to be greeted by a guy who we have helped with some medical expenses but have told that the help given is enough. He had obviously been drinking so help was definitely out of the question. Ron 'dealt' with him while I ran inside to get something for one of the workmen. Ron left and then I saw a hand coming through the gate to open it! I yelled out something about having helped enough, and then heard a response, it was Nicholaus - oops. However, the man was still there and I did tell him to leave.
Dinner on and waiting for Ron, he was not long. Then, just about ready to serve and a phone call from Judith could they drop in and see us. Yes, of course. So, delay dinner thinking they would be here in a couple of minutes. They took a little longer and just as I decide that hunger is getting the better of me and put the dinner back on they arrive. Of course their visit was very pleasant. Then, finally a late dinner.
Probably heaps more stories I could add about the day but as you can tell. There is usually things to laugh about, things to cry about, things to pray lots about and always things to do.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Friendship is such an important thing, and we have been privileged to make some good friends here and to recognise how much we miss good friends in Australia. This last week one of those friends here Robert Kafeero turned 40 years of age. No, there was no big party despite the fact that when you turn 40 here you are considered to now be wise. However, we were able to celebrate with him and Rachel which was an immense privilege for us. They invited us to go out to dinner with them. In usual Ugandan style it was meant to be what would suit us, but we were able to convince them that it was about Robert not us. So, off we went. Unfortunately, the new restaurant that to all appearances looked open was only able to serve drinks. So, after a nice soda we moved on to another place. It was so nice to share a meal with friends. We feel so much on an equal level with this couple. Robert as director of the school has spent a bit of time discussing school matters with Anne. Ron and Robert work closely together on all the building projects, with Robert as the ultimate boss but Ron able to give his thoughts. On matters Ugandan, Robert is our authority. He will not give us an answer to please us, he will tell us what he really thinks. We love that! We are so fortunate, they understand us (not just the language) and hopefully they feel like we understand them. We do not get that much time to spend with Rachel but when we do we really appreciate her input and thoughts. Why can we have such a friendship? I think part of the reason is that they are not coming to us and begging. They are part of the team that we are part of. This is their country and they do not want others to do the work for them, they want to work with the people that come to help. Their attitudes are so often very refreshing. Something that made me so happy recently was when Robert made a special effort to drop in. He said how he had thought, "I haven't seen Anne for days, I will go and see them."
Robert and Rachel do appreciate that through friendship they gain. However, the gain is not a one way thing. Just this weekend, after a very long day Robert made sure that there was suitable food for us to have on our return. Amazing how much this makes one feel cared for. Then, just last night when returning from taking some of the children to a crusade, the bus broke down. Who did we ring? Robert of course. He came happily, despite having had a really busy day and only just returning home from picking up Rachel and the children from the same crusade. Friendships like this help to make life here very possible. Not only do we have God, we have some human bodies who we can turn to when in need.
There are other friends here. Judith and Fred are a couple from YWAM who we have got to know. Judith a bit more than Fred but we consider them both to be friends. This last week when Ron was not well and I was a little unwell, there were messages. They dropped around to see how we were. Judith and I pray together on a regular basis and she understands my concerns, it is not just about her. They also understand so much about the situation here and their insight is invaluable. They are about making a change. Interestingly, like Robert Kafeero, Fred has chosen to do things that are not for his personal financial gain. Fred is into community development and has taught a lot about this. He also is working on this in other ways. His assistance with the health work that we looked at was invaluable. He values important things and recognises the types of things that are detrimental to true development.
Other friendships happen, the guys who work on the buildings. It is hard not to consider them good friends, because they are. Not quite the same, but close. We care about their lives, they care about us. We have lots of laughs and plenty of banter shared. They would love us to help change their lives and in many ways through regular employment we (Hopebuilders) are. Of course there are other things too that are provided when needed. Only tonight Emma reminded Ron of his willingness to teach him to drive. So, the lessons will begin... These are people that add to our lives, we talk to them in a real way, we listen to their problems and share our joys with them.
Ultimately, how fortunate Ron and I are, we have so many friendships both new and old.
So at 8 am, as arranged, we had the bus running ready to go and we met George. First stop was to collect the cakes and the lady who made them. Then back to the start and after a few minutes George was busy trying to get the people at Florence’s (one of his ex wives, not the mother of the graduate) house on to the van. Then we met Fred, the graduate, who was a little flustered. Our bus was nearly loaded, but apparently we had to collect some people from Kakira, just up the road. But Fred was waiting for the other van to come that he had arranged. A bit longer and some terse words between George and Fred and we were dispatched to Kakira, not to collect people but crates of sodas. More waiting there, but sill no sign of Fred and the other bus. Eventually we decided to return to Wairaka and wait for the van on the highway. I did some checking. Knowing that we had a trip of at least 2 hours in front of us, what time was this graduation supposed to start I asked. Midday was the reply, so I suggested to Fred that he leave someone else to worry about the other van, that he get in mine and we hotfoot it out of there. This plan was not well received and so we waited. At 10:30 the van eventually arrived. OK, let’s go I say. Wrong. Back up to Kakira Sugar Mill to collect some people. Why we had to go through several security gates to get these people rather than have them use some of the 2.5 hours they have been waiting to get down to the road is the difference between African and Lilydale logic! Never mind, its not our party I keep telling Anne. (Those who know her will appreciate how hard the lack of punctuality is for Anne) Finally we are underway at 11:10 am - only a little over 3 hours later than expected.
We had several stops along the way to pick up more passengers, some were ready, others not, and also one stop in a small town to buy drinking water. At this stop every window had at least three arms poking in trying to sell various kinds of meat on a stick or other goodies, and it can be very hard to drive off when there are still about 10 stray arms and 80 chicken sticks inside the van, but drive off I did. The road for the first part was familiar, and quite good, then when we branched off onto the Mbale road it became the most pleasant driving experience I have had in Uganda. Great road, less trucks, even a higher speed limit! But that couldn’t last. The final part of the journey was to be over dirt roads. There has been a lot of rain in recent times, and whilst the road was basically dry, the rain had taken its toll and there were many holes and puddles. No problem the van handled them with ease. Until, we came across a bigger hole than the rest. A culvert had collapsed leaving a road that was about ‘1 shoe’ narrower than the width of the bus. First attempt at getting around didn’t work as one wheel was airborne and the other just spun. “Go Back” was the call, but I was aware that “Go Back” could mean the last 40 minutes or so would have to be repeated and then added to on another route. So, with a little careful manipulation of the broken pieces of concrete and a couple of rocks, I filled enough of the hole to get about half way across. The rest would just have to be left to momentum. It worked a treat and I was left with that nice feeling of all the benefit of those 4x4 trips that we have done at church. Thanks Andy! Anne clapped, the others didn’t seem sufficiently impressed to me.
|A small part of the waiting crowd|
|Approaching Mbale with Mt Elgon as backdrop|
Mbale was interesting, very different to Jinja. I think it was not as old as Jinja. On the return journey the phone rings, it is Emmanuel. Apparently they are up to the gift giving, and a couple of guests have left theirs in the van. OK, we’ll be back soon. There goes the planned ‘toilet’ stop. But that’s good news, because we remembered it to be well down the agenda.
|Fred's graduate friends honoring him|
Alas, Fred is not making the return journey, so I have lost my guide, and I don’t plan on going back over the washed out culvert in the dark. No worries, I’ve got George.
So we head off and get instruction to turn down another road. It looks dodgy, but my sense of direction tells me its going the right way. Sure enough there are plenty of pot holes and bog holes, but I’m tired and I want to get home so on we plough. Come to a slightly familiar looking village and instructed to turn left. but its not the road we came on so quickly we stop and directions from the locals are sought. Don’t turn down here they say, just keep following that other road. Now as I said, my sense of direction was happy with it, but I am wondering why Fred didn’t bring us that way if it is shorter. Well he could have. It was no worse that any other sections of the dirt roads that we had been on, nor any better.
|George and Fred - with Fred in the gown!|
10:30 pm, 14.5 hours, we are finally home. At least everyone appreciated it.
The things we do for love!
What did we learn? Our kids were seriously short changed, but there is a statute of limitations on that that has expired if they have any ideas.
|The cake - with exploding candles!|
|Fred's young half sister, Prossie, who kept us company.|
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Kim and Jo are both primary teachers and with the thought of new children coming without any English or education I am very keen to get as many ideas as I can. Ideas not just from them but also from Allie and Adam are flowing and with them working with the children from P1 and P2 in the afternoons. The admin centre is beginning to look more like a lower primary classroom! It is exciting to see and helps me to see ways to help it continue, if only there were more hours in a day! Kim has flown out today ready for Term 4 in Australia but the others are here another week. So, tomorrow I am spending the morning with Jo to tease out a bit of a program for the newbies. She is also doing some study and so hopefully I will be able to help her with answers about the work here. It is so nice to be able to talk about different things and brainstorm together. After all, I think by talking, and to have others who talk education is such a change for me.
Education is really important. For those who have not heard what I think is one of the most significant statistics, over 50% of the population is under 15. Then, when you consider that many students continue secondary school into their 20s due to lack of school fees at different times, the number of people to be educated is enormous. There must be a way that this can happen better and in smaller proportions. I teach over 80 students in my class and yet people are relational as probably the highest priority. Hence, their natural learning styles are squashed, they are forced to learn in more a lecture style environment - imagine 200 preps in one class! However, thinking about numbers, with this many people to educate how can you possibly afford to have small (even 40 would be good!) class sizes? Hence, while we develop a bit of a bridging program for our new children it will be very present in my mind about how this could be adapted to bring to adult groups, villages, and other places.
Our visitors have also been able to go to Hope Community High School where I teach. Jo was handing out penpal letters. Her school in Australia has been able to have a lot of contact. It is a little different as it is primary students interacting with secondary but very valuable none the less. Today when I went many of the students expressed their enjoyment of the visitors. At Hope Community it is exciting to see things developing further in preparation for S5 next year. The building needs to be ready for when the S4s have examinations next month. So, it looks like the roof will be going on today and I have been busy working with the science department on the budget for those monies. It will be great to see a fully equipped science laboratory. Now, the challenge is how to store the materials so that they are available and kept well.Meanwhile while our visitors were at the high school Ron and I went to Kampala. The chief reason for the visit was for me to meet with the Head of Curriculum for Uganda. Of course, other jobs were included as is always the case. We had had the opportunity to meet him on another day and he was keen to renew the acquaintance. He is also the person in charge of mathematics for Uganda and so of particular interest to me. I was able to give him a graphics calculator and a CAS calculator. How amazing is that, the head of mathematics and he had not ever had even a graphics calculator. So many issues we discussed. They still have issues with people wanting log table books to be included. He asked how long ago they were stopped in Australia - we said 30 years (might not be completely accurate but close). There are so many dilemmas even in mathematics education. Inequity is even more evident in a country like this. Many schools struggle even to have students have exercise books and pens while others (probably a small number) are private and have computers and all the facilities. Numeracy is a real issue with so many people not having any concept of number. This is taught so well in our primary schools with concrete aids - hence the need to develop programs here using materials that are readily available.
So, what is happening from these discussions. I have come away with the curriculum documents for all subjects for S5 and S6. My understanding is that I will look at these (of course in particular the mathematics) and make any suggestions - they are not yet in printed form. Then, there is new curriculum coming in for S1 - S4 and this will involve a pilot program and gradual introduction. He is very keen for me to assist in the development of teacher inservicing of the new material and how to teach it. So, who knows how this will pan out but I know that God is guiding and opportunities that arise need to be taken up. It has been so good to have had the background of teaching all year at Hope Community to gain a real insight into the issues, challenges and strengths of teaching here. I will continue to remain in reasonably close contact with Baale, though he is a very busy man with his very important role.
This year has certainly provided me with so much to think about and to ponder. The way forward for education relating to the children in the village, education in schools and ways to assist in the literacy programs for adults. I have seen some poor models, with Ugandan people only knowing a rote form of learning and hence learning English in this way. Having English as my first language I know how most things can be expressed in so many ways. This is not the case here, most people learn one way of saying things which then leads to misunderstanding that boths sides are unaware of in conversations with Muzungus. So, the thinking process continues, the work continues and hopefully the effecting of change continues to have a small part in the breaking of the cycle of poverty.
Monday, October 3, 2011
So, the day dawned and Ron using the Village bus was all set to transport the ladies at 7.30. Of course in good Ugandan style, the traditionally dresses which had all been made in the same material, wee missing buttons. Judith was endeavouring to rectify the problem the night before but due to power outage had to wait until morning. Hence, their scheduled departure was late. In fact, I was picking up the leader at 9.00 and met them on the way. It was a little wet but I had been assured that the road would be fine. Due to the sewing Judith was not ready and other ladies who were coming with us were delayed. Hence,Ron was able to go up and discover that the road had become vey slippery and so as the wonderful husband he is, he said he would drive us and he could make his own way home.
the lovely JudithWhen we went it was a lot better so I was able to drive most of the way and Ron walked back. Though the conditions did deteriorate significantly later and many had to walk up the hill and about 50 cars were at the bottom of the hill at one stage, just outside our village.
The event was well prepared for with wonderful marquees and plastic seats for all. Our ladies looked wondeful and were so proud and happyto be there. They sang beautifully, danced gracefully and full of energy as only Africans can and looked fantastic. If it was only to see them it would have been worth while. However, there was so much more.
The primary boys school associated with the school, the school boys themselves and the associated girls school all performed a number of items. The dancing is amazing and so great to see. I often thing about the number of experiences I just 'happen' to be able to have. I am truly grateful. It of course was colourful, tuneful without accompaniment and a joy to witness.
Other parts of the four hour proceedings were also interesting and intriguing. There was a church service type of thing at the start with a great message from the Bishop. A person who is highly regarded in Christian circles here.
The school was started by the Church Missionary Society and obviously had English headmasters for quite a time. There were people there from the UK including an ex-teachers and relatives or significant headmasters. The school also had a connection with Manchester Grammar school and students come for their gap year to the school to assist (yes, you can probably hear my mind working!!!) The chairman of the board made a very interesting speech in terms of my experience with education here in Uganda. He suggested that the government (who were significantly represented) should supply teachers with a laptop and that students soon should be required not to have a calculator but to have a smart phone. His significant premise was that the school should not dwell on the past hundred years but look to the future and how to deal with the future. Many things that would be such a jump from what I have seen.
Another important peson, the head of the Old Boys' Association (more commonly the OBs) spoke of past students. The previous president Obote was a former student of the school. He had grown up a peasant and then through the education he gained able to lead the country. Surprisingly to me they also spoke of Museveni being infkuenced by the school. He was very involved with Scripture Union and came to the school and debated with a teacher who was there. The essence of the teacher's perspective was that politics and religion should not mix, Museveni disagreed, but went away convinced of this stwnce, what a great pity that was. Another strange thing ti boast of was that an ex-student was high up with Kony (leader of the LRA - the rebel forces that have caused innumerable atrocities including child soldiers). The bright side of this was that two other ex-students were in the government delegation to meet with him and through the school connection were able to come to a good agreement. Unfortunately, big time, was that Kony did not hold to the agreement.
The government representative who was there somehow had a connection to the school despite being female, it being an all boys school. Museveni could not attend due to being out of the country, in India, the deputy was at the United Nations conference and so in fact she was in charge of the country at that time. The most significant thing from her fir me was the promise from the president for 30 million shillings for the building fund. In Australian dollars this is not much but I know that many many schools would love a small part of this and have more need. Considering the wealth and depth of the old boys of the school one would think that the funds could easily be raised from them. Though to be fair the school is not in a great condition and so had obviously been neglected for some time.
Other important guests came from the Mathvani family. They run the local sugar mills and have donated large amounts to the school, I think enough for the library. I found this recognition hard to handle. Many local people work at the sugar mills and for the lowly workers the conditions are terrible. You may well say but they are employing people. I know of a lady who works there and earns 70000 shillings a month! This is sbout 2500 shillings a day which is a lot less thsn $1 a day and I have heard that if they do not make their quota when cutting cane that they don't get paid. However, donations to organisations and giving scholsrships to university is meant to compensate! Sorry for any cynacism but it is hard to see honour given in these circumstances. I hope that change can happen so that this is not the case. The sugar mill should bring prosperity to this area not added poverty.
All in all, such an interesting event to have been a part of. Our ladies, most of whom are in extreme poverty were guests for a lovely lunch and felt truly special. I am was so pleased for them. It will be a precious memory for them for many years to come and for that I am vy grateful. I too, will remember it as another special event I was privileged to attend.