Tuesday, October 30, 2007

School Days

Last week I decided to visit one of the area primary schools for the day. The pictures I took were probably the best set of pictures I’ve taken here, so if you get a chance, check out the photos on the flickr.com badge on the right. I’ve spent over a year and a half here and I don’t know a great deal about how the primary schools function as a whole. Mutanoga Primary School is one of the primary schools where a number of our Compassion children attend. It’s approximately 4 miles from the Compassion center and my home and it’s a well run school in large part because they have good leadership from their head teacher (principal). They have 746 students and 15 teachers with 3 ‘helper teachers’. (50 students per teacher.) They currently have 12 classrooms for the 8 grades (including nursery school kids) and are constructing 3 more classrooms. The school is free for the students, the government pays the teachers salaries, but parents are asked to pay 8,000 Ush ($4) for additional projects, such as the new construction. The following are my observations from the day:

I begin my visit with the Primary 7 (P7) students. 7th graders. These are the oldest students in the school. They can be anywhere from 11 to 19 years old. The students all rise upon my entering. They are all wearing their school uniforms: pink shirts with navy blue shorts or skirts. The head teacher is teaching and they are doing graphs. No text books. The teacher is teaching in English. There are just under 60 students in a smaller than normal (by US standards) sized classroom. The students sit 3 to a desk. A blackboard is in the front of the class with a large paper taped to the board with a graph, x & y axis and grid. The students are learning coordinates (3, -2). Around the room several other graphs are taped up to the walls. They all read “distance vs time”. There is also a hand drawn map of Africa and a hand drawn picture of 2 simple machines. Most of the kids have shoes on here, which has come to be my observation of their age and poverty level.

“Who can calculate the area of this figure? Giftee?” As Gift goes to the board the teacher uses a piece off a foam mattress to erase another section of the blackboard. “In ½ h(a x b), what is h, class?” A few students blurt out the answer. “ah, ah…” the teacher says then mumbles something in Runyankore to the extent of, “You should raise your hands instead of speaking out of turn.”

There is no ceiling in this classroom, only an aluminum roof which means when it rains it’ll be almost impossible to teach due to the noise. Even a light rain creates a heck of a lot of noise on a metal roof!

The students don’t have text books. They take meticulous notes in small notebooks. They use newspaper to create covers for their notebooks for decoration and protection.

“Who can name the shape?” “A triangle,” a student replies. “It is a special shape. What shape is eeet?” Class, in perfect unison, “A right angled triangle.”

The students are asked to draw the graph in their notebooks. A flurry of notebooks and metal math sets shuffle. The math sets include a ruler, protractor, compass and eraser. The students rush to copy the graph from the board.

I then shift to the P4 classroom. I can smell the multitude of kids upon entering. It’s a musty smell of mud huts, feet and bodies. It’s a smell I’m accustomed to from living here for so long. As I enter the kids again stand and I’m greeted to the all too familiar clap clap clap-clap-clap, Clap! I immediately notice several of our Compassion kids I’m seated again in the back of the classroom next to Immaculate Harriet, one of my favorite little girls from Compassion. She has severe burns over 90 % of her body from a house fire where she hid under the bed while the blaze burned. Despite her disfigurement she has one of the most beautiful smiles of any child I’ve seen in Africa and she’s a good athlete to boot. Her little hands are misshaped and her fingers curl up. She has to hold her pen in a special way between her fingers just to write, but she’s worked hard to overcome her limitations.

This room has around 80 students in it and is a little bigger than the previous classroom. Far less shoes here. I greet the class and tell them I’m happy to visit them.

“Reproduction in bads. Reproduction in what? Bads (birds). How do we call a male bad?”

Class, “A cock.”

“And a female bad?”

“A hen.”

The teacher is a man called Frances. The students are learning science. He teaches mostly in English but often repeats himself in Runyankore.

“The incubation period of a bad takes 21 what? Days. Which is equal to 3 what? Weeks.”

After class I spend some time talking to Frances. He tells me that as a teacher he makes 200,000 Ush a month. $114. Less than $4 a day. That’s 1/3 of what I make on my very modest Peace Corps salary. There are times when teachers will go months at a time when their salaries are delayed. He also tells me that teacher’s pay is supposed to increase with experience, but to get that raise you have to submit forms to the local government. So far, he tells me, none of his forms have been approved for a raise in his 5 years.

Next it’s on to P1A class. The larger classes are divided into 2 groups, A and B. They are divided randomly, not by smarts. “Hello Saa. You ah wel-o-come.” My nostrils are again greeted with the same aroma. It’s a small classroom. The desks seem to be bigger but maybe that’s because the kids are smaller. 60 kids. 1 teacher. Same uniforms. The alphabet is written in chalk across the top of the blackboard. Upper and lower case. The door is labeled with the word “door”. The only poster in the room is one which says, “Days of the week. The first day is Sunday. The second is _______. The third is ________. “

This class is taught in Runyankore. I recognize some of the words on the board. Enkoko = chicken. Omwana = child. Taata = father. Ente = cow. If I started attending P1A regularly I could definitely improve my Runyankore. Every time I look up from writing there are at a minimum a dozen pairs of eyes on me.

Earlier, as I was sitting in the office waiting to begin my school day visit it was the P1 kids that crowded around the doors and windows to see the Muzungu. I was told that they would be ‘very happy’ to have me in class with them today. The head teacher invited the kids into the office and what felt like 100 kids (though it was probably half that) crowded around me to shake my hand and touch my skin. It’s a little overwhelming. It always reminds me of scenes of Jesus walking through crowds of people wanting to be touched and healed.

The P1A teacher is called Jolly. It took me 3 times before I understood. John? Joann? Jolly! She was patient enough for me to get it right. A sign of a good teacher, indeed!

The teacher asks for any student to come up and read a simple sentence in Runyankore. A wave of hands go up. A few students stand and others grunt, “mmm, mmm…” trying to be called upon. If you have taught elementary school then you know what I mean by, “mmmm, mmmm….” Nice to know that wasn’t just your class, huh? Young Boaz approaches the board, points a stick high to what he’s reading. “Mariira nebigambo byawe.” They read it just like any 1st grader would read it. Sounding it out with mistakes in phonetics all along the way.

When a student goes to the board and fills in the blank correctly they receive the ‘universal reward’. Clap clap clap-clap-clap, Clap!

The classroom is located immediately next to one of the school’s 2 latrines (out houses). When the wind picks up I’m smacked in the face with the odor. No doubt this is why P1 is at this end of the school and not P7.

The teacher smiles a lot. It’s as if she is amused at some of the student’s responses and she is pleased to teach them. There is a lot of repetition in what they are doing. The teacher reads something and the kids repeat it. There is a lot of audible learning. Maybe that’s how 1st grade was for me, I can’t remember. “Ente zituha amate. Aha! I know that one! “Cow’s give us milk.”

“Who can erase the board for me?” I think is what the teacher says. 2 boys sprint to the front and grab pieces of foam and rub the board as if the winner gets a prize. They erase as high up on the board as they can reach. The teacher finishes the job and writes “English” across the top. “Now go to number 2. Go to number…? Two.”

They all take out a worksheet that says, “Primary One Term III Examination” across the top. They’ve all been graded in red pen. Simple English. Fill in the missing letters: s_n (son and sun were accepted), sc_ool, b_ok. Then it went to a picture section. “Fill in yes or no. Is this a box? Is this a chair?” I look around at the student’s papers and see scores in the 70’s, 50’s, 40’s, and 30’s. Ellenah scored an 88%. The kids in upper and middle primary generally score in the 50’s on average.

When teaching English the teacher speaks entirely in English. “We say one boy but two _____.” “We say one house but six _____.” When a student is incorrect the teacher says, “Is it? You are lying.” Which may sound harsh but it’s a common thing to say in the local language.

On to P1B. Tuwensye Maud’s class. I pretend to understand her name when she said it but she was on to me so she wrote it out for me. P1B meets in a structure built of mud bricks. It’s an older, deteriorating building with mud floors, not concrete like the other classrooms I’d been in. 70 kids this time. 3 to a desk, sometimes 5. They’re small so they can fit. Not many shoes on any that I see. The whole room has a brown, earthy look. Brown walls, brown floors. Around the room are posters of Jesus. Fairly well drawn either by the teacher or an upper primary student I suspect. Jesus with kids, Jesus with a larger than life sized loaves of bread and fish, Jesus healing a man. There’s also a poster with the upper half covered in pictures of a chair, a book, a blackboard, a teacher, etc and the bottom half with the corresponding words.

The teacher is asking questions. Kids have their hands raised. More of the “mmm, mmm…” responses but this time accompanied by “Teachah! Teachah!”.

The students begin a song. Clapping and singing. The song is about the Creation Story. I hear the word Adam (Adamu) and the word for ‘man’ and see hand gestures of making or creating and pointing to their ribs. 3 kids are brought to the front of the classroom to act out the story. The story is about Adam and Haawa (I have no idea why) but it of course also involves the ‘enjoka’, the snake. They perform a drama. I hear the snake saying things like “God is lying. You won’t die.” Eve or “Haawa” picks an imaginary apple from the tree and throws it at Adam. The kids laugh. The boy then produces a real fruit that he brought for lunch from his pocket and pretends to eat it. Nice touch! Clever for a 1st grader. The students again laugh. Louder this time.

As I’m leaving I see the kids eating their lunches. A number of kids run home for lunch. That or they’re skipping eating to play for an hour. Many of them have brought small plastic buckets with leftovers from supper the night before. They share lunch with either friends or siblings. I see mostly starchy foods, potatoes, cassava, sweet potatoes, without much, if any protein.

And that concluded my day at the primary school. It was a neat thing to experience. Eye opening. Very different than the States, obviously. Much larger classroom sizes, textbooks used only by the teachers and not by the students. No lunch provided by the school. It’s not a one room schoolhouse. Way too many kids for that to be a possibility. Underpaid teachers. At least that’s the same as in the US. All in all it opened my eyes to the need for aid in their education services.

12 Days of Christmas. How to save money for Christmas by living like a Ugandan.

#9 Grow your own food. OK, so this will be a little difficult to do in the winter but it would also drastically reduce your weekly grocery bill. Grow your own beans, corn, tomatoes, cassava, millet and pumpkins. And while you’re at it, raise 5 goats. The meat is excellent and they don’t require much care. Just tie their hind leg up to a tree and let them graze all day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Nothing to talk about

I have nothing really to talk about this week. I’ve been looking at a blinking cursor for the past 30 minutes now and my mind is blank. I could tell you about my trousers getting stolen from my clothes line. Or that my cat moved her 4 kittens into my place… again. I could. But I won’t. I could tell you the story of Sheila, one of our little Compassion kids who came up to me with big tears welling in her eyes as she told me that she lost $1 which she was going to use to purchase a math set (compass, ruler, protractor) and as she asked me to help her, I reached into my pockets to discover them empty, just as the tears, one after another, came streaming down her face. (I gave her a math set a few days later.) Or I could tell you about Jacob finding what he thought was a tarantula next to his pit latrine. Now I could tell you that we have $17,950 raised for the Community Center thus far and that the walls are up! (http://bikeforcompassion.blogspot.com) Or I could tell you about the dinner I had this past week in the home of Przemek and Jen, my missionary friends, where 6 different countries (and 5 different states) were represented! You know, I could tell you about the book I’m reading called Mountains Beyond Mountains about a doctor named Paul Farmer in Haiti who is living a radical life and working with the poorest of the poor to treat some of the toughest cases of TB and to change their entire health system in one area of that country. (read the book!) I could tell you about getting up at 3:30 am to watch the Colts game and having to monkey with the DSTV for an hour before I finally got the stinking thing to work! I could tell you about my running club where I run Monday, Wednesday and Friday with 30 or so kids to improve their health and well being. Or I could tell you about my Life Skills classes where I am teaching kids about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, peer pressure, condom use, STDs, drugs/alcohol, decision making, etc. I could tell you about the curriculum I developed for the Compassion kids or that we’re getting ready to install the internet at Compassion for the first time ever. I could tell you about the amazing people I work with every day: Japheth, Barbra, Sarah, MacLean and Donnat. I could tell you that the Purdue group is planning on coming back again next year to work in and around this community.

I could tell you.

Maybe someday I will.

12 days of Christmas. Living like a Ugandan to save money this year for Christmas.

#10. Instead of driving yourself to work, carpool. But first, trade in your car for a Honda Civic. You’d be surprised how many people you can fit in one of those things. The most I’ve heard of was 13. 5 in front, 5 in the back and 3 in the trunk! Just think about how much money for gas you’ll save by carpooling!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Give it up Long bus trips aren’t fun. Long bus trips in Africa aren’t fun. I know that I harp on this but it’s true. Bad roads. Cramped seats. My knees up against the seat in front of me. And they overcrowd the thing too so that people have to stand in the aisle. The buses I travel on from Kampala generally begin dropping people off after they’ve been on for at least 4 hours. So when I was sitting in my seat and I saw a woman get on with a baby strapped to her back I knew I had to get up and giver her my seat. I couldn’t let this woman stand for 4 hours with this child. I wonder what the Ugandans thought of that. A white man giving up his seat to an African woman. One old man who was wearing a hat that looked like it came out of Robin Hood (minus the feather) or Gulliver’s Travels grabbed my hand and said “Thank You”. Possibly one of the few English words he knew. But I felt good, giving up my seat. My legs for the next 4 hours disagreed with me. The return of a friend Our friend Shelly came back to our village this week. Jacob and I first met her just a few weeks after arriving here. She came to do an internship with Africare. In her time here she wrote and produced a video in the local language about the dangers of HIV/AIDS. She came back just to show the kids the video, especially the kids who she worked with that were in the video. It was great to see Shelly. She’s arguably one of the funniest girls I know, but she’s also one of the most passionate about Africa and HIV/AIDS awareness that I know. And that’s saying a lot because there are some very passionate people in the Peace Corps (and some that are not so passionate). This is her 6th trip to Africa and she hasn’t even reached her 25th birthday (I don’t think). She works while she’s in school to save up her money to come to Africa. It’s her ‘calling’ in her own words. And she’s a difference maker. She changes a place. She’s a social entrepreneur. I went with her out into the bush to find her actors and to show them the video. The actors and actresses in her video were kids who were part of a program for students who had dropped out of school. Of course whenever you’re showing a video in the bush people flock to see it. We went with Africare and hooked up a TV and DVD player to a generator. We set up in a church for the premier. Before our arrival, however, the church was having classes with upper primary students on confirmation. These kids had come from deep in the bush for confirmation. Upon seeing us they were a little, shall we say… excited. I’m quite sure they had never seen a Muzungu before. At least not up close. They rushed us as we walked up to the church. Fearful at first but when they saw that we came in peace they started to engage in their curiosity. They reached out and touched our skin. They touched Shelly’s hair. If we would turn our head quickly or stop suddenly they all scattered. There were about 100 kids surrounding us. They were curious, apprehensive, fearful and happy all at the same time. It was like something out of a movie and something I haven’t experienced to that extent yet. Being the playful spirits that we were we decided to have some fun with it. We started skipping and all of the kids started laughing and skipping with us. Then we hopped. And they hopped. Then we ran in a circle and they all scattered. One particular older girl was so fearful that whenever Shelly even glanced at her she sprinted away at full speed half smiling but checking her back to see if she was being followed by the strange white people. The video went over very well! The kids were glued to it. The actors in the video, as they watched themselves, weren’t amused with their own performance, so much as they were critical. You could see it in their faces. It was quite interesting. In the end Shelly handed out some gifts to her cast that she had brought from the US. We took some pictures to commemorate the occasion. Shelly seemed to be genuinely sad as we pulled away. She worked so hard with those kids and also on the video itself. She didn’t think I saw it but she shed a tear as she left them. She was so proud of them and she knew that it was the last time she would ever see them again. 12 days of Christmas. How to save money for Christmas by living like a Ugandan. #11 Send your children to school barefooted. I’m sure child protection services may frown on the idea but think of the money you’ll save in not having to buy the latest style of shoes for kids who are going to grow out of them before they wear them out anyway…

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sole Responsibility and Life Skills

Sole Responsibility

I need to say a HUGE thank you to Sole Responsibility for sending a dozen shoes for my runners! Sole Responsibility is a non-profit organization based out of Ottawa that collects gently used running shoes and distributes them overseas to thousands of underpriflidged people to wear. Last year they collected 10,000 running shoes to send. Of the half dozen organizations I contacted to help me with shoes for my runners they were the only ones to respond!! Check out their website!! I also need to say an equally HUGE thank you to my sister, Jennifer, and her co-workers for also rounding up several running shoes. The kids LOVE their shoes, they are in GREAT shape (the shoes and eventually the kids). They treat the shoes like I treated my first car. They wash them to a sparkling shine and treat them like gold. They are far superior quality than any shoes they can get here and they will last for a long time! Thank You!!

Life Skills

I’ve begun teaching Life Skills. Basically, Life Skills teaches students to connect the information they know (like the dangers of HIV/AIDS) with behavior change. Often students KNOW the dangers of HIV/AIDS, drugs and alcohol use, peer pressure, etc, but when it comes right down to it, many are sexually active, they don’t use protection… essentially they don’t change their behavior despite ‘knowing’ the risks. So do they really know the risks?

I’m using resources that the Peace Corps has given me. They’re good materials. The first day I had the students help me with a drama. In this drama a girl (Lucy) visited her friend (Rita) who had just had a baby. Rita went on and on reminding Lucy to remember all the advice she had given her to avoid having sex with these boys while she was still in school so that she could finish her education, avoid HIV and live a successful life. Rita also gave Lucy condoms as a precautionary measure if she chose to go ahead and have sex. As it turned out, Lucy had come to tell Rita that she had also become pregnant, reasoning that she didn’t use the condoms because her boyfriend didn’t want to and that the church discourages condom use. When I asked the students if Lucy understood the risks of having sex, they had mixed responses. Some insisted that she did know them, that her friend Rita had clearly explained them to her and that Rita had also demonstrated the risks by becoming pregnant herself. Other students argued that she didn’t know the risks, otherwise she would not have become pregnant. I was shocked that they would think she did not understand the risks despite all of the warnings and evidence provided by her friend Rita. It was as if they didn’t think that Lucy was responsible for what happened to her. But that’s why I’m here, I guess. That’s why I’m teaching life skills. To teach them to take ownership of their actions and to fully understand both the risks and the necessary behavioral changes.

I also provide an opportunity for them to ask questions at the end. Now when English isn’t your native tongue and when you’re dealing with difficult subjects such as sex, HIV/AIDS, drug use, etc, it can be difficult to just put up your hand and ask a question in front of all your peers. So I stole this idea from other PCVs who teach life skill. They put a box in front of the class. I call mine the Anonymous Box. The students are free to write down any question they have about what we are talking about or any other topic and to put it in the box. They don’t have to put their name on it, but if they don’t want me to ask the question out loud but to speak with them in private then they should put their name on the paper. Let me give you a sampling of the questions I received. And this was just the first week!

What advice do you give to those who have already been infected by AIDS?

My mother died in 2002 and my father is very poor, even the school fees he gives me he sweats for. I am meeting some problems with my life, what should I do?

If I play sex (have sex) with a boy the first time can I lose my virginity and can I get AIDS?

What are the signs of HIV/AIDS?

I feel pain when I urinate. How can I solve it?

I do not want to play sex (have sex) but my girlfriend wants me to. I want you to advise me on this because I am worried.

I have a married woman nearby our home. She tries to convince me to have sex with her. How can I avoid her?

What if somebody kissed you with AIDS? Can you get AIDS?

I am addicted to porn. How can I overcome this?

Sir, I hear people talking about using condoms but most of us don’t know how to use them. I request you to explain to us how to use them.

I have a boyfriend and I don’t want to have sex with him but I love him and he loves me. What can I do?

I have a girlfriend who loves me so much and I also love her. We tested (negative) for AIDS and every time we have sex we use a condom. Is there any problem we are likely to meet?

How can I live freely with my enemies who have proved to me that they hate me but we have to live together, eat together and study at school together?

And lastly, and this is to be expected: I like whites very much. I would like to have a pen friend from America.


I was biking past the football pitch and saw some kids throwing a Frisbee my dad had sent that said “Davis Towing” on it. I guess I’m just leaving my footprint here one way or another…

The Community Hall

The hall is going up. It’s now up to the top of the windows. The budget has increased recently because of the decision to add 6 office rooms to the hall. This will enable Compassion to shift entirely there when the structure is complete. It added an extra $5,000 to the cost, but after some consideration and talking to others I felt it was a necessary move to make. It’s just awesome to stand in the center of the building and to see it going up around me. So many people have already helped so much in the construction process, I’m truly overwhelmed.

12 Days of Christmas

As promised, I’ll be sharing over the next several weeks what you can do to save money for the Christmas season by living like a Ugandan.

#12. Cut the power to your house 3-4 days a week. Just trip the circuit breaker or remove the fuse. Light some candles, read some books, go to bed earlier. You’ll be saving 50% on your electricity bill. You’ll enjoy the serenity and peace of the TV not being on. Listen to the radio to get your news for the day. It’s funky at first but after a while you come to appreciate it and you soon discover that there is life without power.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bike for Compassion

A common question I receive is, “What are you going to do after the Peace Corps?” My new answer to them is, “Ride a bicycle across the US!”

I’ve begun planning a bike trip across the continental US to raise money for a building project for Compassion International with cooperation from Purdue Christian Campus House. The bike trip will take around 50 days and will cover over 4,000 miles. My goal is to raise $30,000 by August 2008 (the end of the bike ride) for the Child Development Center (Compassion) where I am serving as a PCV. I have yet to determine the exact route I will be taking but it will generally follow the Transamerica Bicycle Trail.

When I first arrived at my site in May of 2006 I began assessing the needs of the community and the organization for which I worked. Doing that requires observing and inquiring. I soon discovered that there was a need for a community hall to be used not only by Compassion but also by the church as well as the 2 nearby schools. Since that time a building committee has been formed, building plans have been submitted, revised and re-submitted, building estimates have been calculated and construction has begun. The building foundation is set and the walls are soon to go up. We have thus far raised $14,000 but we are only half way to our final goal.

For more information on the project and the bike ride or to make a contribution follow the following link: Bike for Compassion.