Friday, 13 January 2017

A road trip

This is the promised rant on roads and religion – if that's likely to offend you stop reading now!

Steve and I have spent the last three weeks driving from one side of Uganda to the other and back again.  We have travelled on roads that range from excellent to unbelievably awful and seen driving that defies belief.  We have seen very little scenery en route as both of us have had eyes firmly on the road monitoring traffic, pedestrians and other hazards coming from all directions.  Steve has decided to turn the experience into a video game that can be used as training for tourists and vetting for NGO drivers.  We travelled north-west to Lake Albert (border with DRC), Masindi and Murchison Falls NP, then south-west to Fort Portal and Kibale NP and lastly east to Sipi and Mt Elgon NP which borders Kenya. You can see from the map that there is still a lot of the country we’ve yet to tackle!
Our recent perambulation

As a student of social geography the things that catch my eye are schools, hospitals and places of worship.  They’re everywhere! You wouldn’t be in the country very long before recognising ‘Eddwaliro’ as the local word for health clinic.  They often have catchy names – my favourite is “The Hope of Life”.  These small clinics offer consultations, laboratory investigations (code for malaria and HIV testing), minor surgery and often family planning, ante-natal and maternity services.  Quite a few are run by various Roman Catholic social services and we wonder what family planning advice they proffer!  On the plus side regarding sexual health there are posters everywhere promoting STI and HIV transmission prevention and condom use and also contraception (“Injectaplan – for a small manageable family”).  Regional hospitals here are sad looking places – dilapidated buildings and families milling about or waiting, sitting on the grass, for news.  USAID has had quite a bit of input – their motif is everywhere – so I guess that would mean therapeutic abortion is not an option.

There are signs everywhere for schools too – mostly private and often boarding schools, right down to Nursery School level.  I’ve talked before about the Ugandan Government ceding provision of education to the private sector.  The Ministry of Education and Sport licences the schools, for a fee of course, and administers the National Exams.  There are also some Government Aided schools run by parents committees or one of the local churches or mosques.  The MOES minister is Janet Museveni, wife of the President, and no-one gets to meet and have discussions with her because of security concerns!  The system is a shambles but is not my topic for the day.

Under resourced government school system

Take money offered by anyone

Today’s topic is Roads and Religion.  Facebook friends have had an earful already.  You can never relax while driving or even being a passenger.  Being on the road is about the most dangerous and stressful thing you can do.  The roads are crowded with mini-bus taxis, motorbikes, overloaded and unroadworthy trucks, small Toyota sedans and large, expensive 4WDs.  Drivers are impatient and discourteous – they all drive as if they are the only one on the road.  In town traffic jams are inevitable as cars, bikes and trucks fill every available square centimetre of tarmac looking for a way through and hence blocking everyone’s path.  Gridlock is common at roundabouts and intersections.  On the open road drivers take incredible risks overtaking over double lines and on blind corners to get around usually overloaded trucks which cannot reach highway speeds, often forcing other vehicles off the road or into other evasive action.  We often see the consequences for the vehicles, which end up deposited outside the local police post.  So far, luckily, no blood and gore!

Link buses are the worst offenders.

Light entertainment

So road trauma is partly due to appalling driving and partly due to unroadworthy vehicles but also due to, you guessed it, roads and religion.

We’ll tackle religion first.  East Africans are still quite medieval in belief structures.  Christians and Moslems have fundamental understandings based on literal interpretations of their respective books.  Their God is the micro-managing type and has credit and blame for everything. People are not responsible for their health, exam results, fecundity, car crashes … - it is all down to God’s Will.

I will happily put my hand up to being Christian (believer in the goodness of our world and adherent to the social justice principles of Jesus) but the Christianity here – be it Church of Uganda (Anglican), Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist or Born Again (Pentecostal Assemblies of God) is not one I subscribe to.  We have driven past so many Healing Ministries and Miracle Centres where pastors prey on people’s desire for health and well-being.  Declaring yourself a Pastor can be the road to riches but heaven help the pastored as they are well and truly fleeced.  All you need is a tent and a sound system – uneducated, superstitious and desperate people will flock for the entertainment and hand over cash in the hope of being rewarded either now or in Heaven.

Plenty of money for building churches.

There is little hope for change when the school curriculum includes Religious Education where fundamentalist principles about creation and miracles are taught as fact.

Yesterday there was a story in a local paper about a high level civil servant – presumably educated and intelligent – who wanted to be buried with all his wealth so he could buy his way in to heaven.  His wife, also a senior civil servant, went along with it. 

So in big and small ways the lives of East Africans are ruled by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful being they may be able to influence in their favour with stickers on cars and trucks (“In God we trust”, “God is able” and “Allah Akbar” are popular), attendance at worship and gifts of money to His earthly representatives.  And their reckless driving and other behaviours are neither here nor there as God is in charge!  There is total abdication of responsibility at a personal level leading to all sorts of tragedy and religion can take the blame.

And the state of the roads doesn’t help – a pictorial essay follows.

More pothole than tarmac

Road humps
Chinese supervisor in thongs

Work in progress

Just as bad in town as on the open road

About 15 cm drop off the edge of the tarmac

Culvert works

Another of the scores in progress

Doesn't slow everyone down

Flag man ignoring mayhem

No broken windscreen luckily

Tomorrow I’m back at work with ideas for workshops on all manner of topics bubbling away in my brain.  More on that soon, Jenny

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Mopping up 2016 work-wise

The students have been finished for just over two weeks and now I am on holidays too. Steve and I have been reconnoitring possible places take any family and friends who come to visit us over the next 8 months.  I am writing this from a shady cabana at the New Court View Hotel Masindi.

The last few days have been all about birds – Steve’s life list has increased by 30 since Tuesday when we set off for Murchison Falls NP.  I enjoyed seeing the Nile River and there were very many new to me antelopes in the national park.  We have travelled to the far west of Uganda and looked at the Democratic Republic of Congo across Lake Albert (don’t tell DFAT!) from the Albertine Rift. 
Chinese slot machine

Masindi district has a large sugar industry owned (we’ve been told) by Indian interests.  I need to do some research to see if they have held it since pre-Amin or if it is more recent.  It brings employment and therefore cash to the locals in the villages around it.  We have noticed very many of the gambling machines that are causing a problem in Uganda on the verandas of the shops.  They are cheap slot machines (they cost about US$150) that are unregulated and are reported to be being used by school children who are wagging school and stealing from their parents to feed their addiction (the most lurid claims by ‘Clerics’) but at the very least are probably not ‘a good thing’.

Birding with Raymond - crick in the neck guaranteed!

Also near Masindi there is a famous forest – Budongo Forest – managed for conservation of flora and fauna by the Ugandan National Forests Authority.  We paid US$20 each today for the privilege of strolling, in the company of Raymond, a local guide, down the ‘Royal Mile’ that has a very large number of locally endemic birds that Steve was keen to see.  Apart from the driving – still legendary and not in a good way – which continues to be stressful even in rural areas and national parks (we saw a RAV4 totalled on the main Murchison Falls NP road yesterday which was sobering!) we are feeling quite relaxed after a very busy start to our 12 months in Uganda.

A road hazard

My last work task was being on the interview panel for the new teachers for next year.  Over 8 hours we interviewed 40 applicants for the available positions and then decided on to whom to offer the jobs.

The campus where I usually work will become ‘complete’ with the first Primary 7 class next year.  The other campus will go up to Primary 3 after two years of just having the nursery classes.  This has meant hiring another ten teachers to begin in 2017.

My Head Teacher does not think you can really “know” an applicant from the letter of application and wanted to interview every applicant.  I’d thought 20 would be enough so inviting 60 was probably a compromise.  (I was alerted to this when Ange told me she’d printed 60 of the interview forms at his request!)  In the end 40 applicants, mostly new graduates, presented themselves for inspection at 9:00 am and by 4:30 we had spoken with them all!  The questions on the interview script were interesting – many would not pass muster in Australia for instance: What is your religion?  Do you have any political affiliations?  Do you have any health concerns?  How much do you want to earn?  Answers were also very interesting.  To the question “What is your discipline philosophy?” we heard “I make the learners my friends then they do what I want”, “First I forgive them” and “I use the Bible” as well as “The second time I use a stick”!  One of the teacher training colleges must be a Bill Rogers convert as we also heard several times “We have classroom rules and regulations.”

Another problem was the over supply of excellent upper primary maths and science teachers and the under supply of inspiring lower primary teachers offering English and literacy as their major subject.  I’m sure though that we’ll be able to whip those we’ve hired into shape and they’ll be exceptionally inspiring users of child centred methods by February 6th when the students return to school.

The penultimate task, during the previous week, had been recording registration details at the two schools.  All the Kampala based staff with lap-top computers were involved, as was Steve, and we each had a 'local' teacher to ask the questions and interpret the answers for the spreadsheet.  Each child had sat an entrance 'interview' exam to make sure they were aiming for the right class (these I had composed, typed and had printed as recorded in the previous post!) but the answers on family income and circumstance will be what determines if they get one of the limited places.  A single mother of eight children earning about Ush50,000/= (AU$20) per month has a pretty good shot of getting her youngest in, especially as the second to last, currently enrolled in P1, has Down Syndrome and the mother is getting limited help from the child's father.  There were many sad stories told at the registration days but the uplifting thing was the value placed on education by all the families and the high regard in which School for Life is held in the communities where it works.

Registration day at Katuuso PS
In Victoria for the last several years we’ve had 1 or 2 days of preparation time before the students begin.  At my schools here we will have 3 weeks!  This time will be spent doing workshops with the teachers and preparing teaching aids.  The rooms will also be thoroughly prepared as stimulating learning environments before the students begin.  The Head Teacher is trained in the Varkey Instructional Program.  This is a system sponsored by the Varkey Foundation, an Indian/ Anglo charitable foundation that works in developing countries. (Varkey is also the owner of the GEMS private schools in many African and Middle East countries, which charge fees that make Geelong Grammar look cheap!) It promotes child-friendly and activity based teaching methods and is used by all the current teachers at my schools.  The current teachers will get a refresher course too and I guess they will be able to mentor the new teachers.  I have been preparing some workshops too.  The topics include Gender Socialisation (and how to avoid it!), Whole School Approach to Discipline (The Bill Rogers Method), the Differentiated Curriculum (or how equal outcomes for all children is not essential) and introducing the SfL Child Protection Policy.  

So, I have two weeks of holidays, then a week or so to get my activity based workshops together ready for the teachers who will start again, refreshed and recharged in mid-January.

Our askari Richard was really disappointed when we told him he'd be on his own for Christmas, but his eyes did light up when he saw his Christmas stocking.

Mossie net, new shirt and treats!

Next blog will have pics of our safari.

Best wishes to everyone for a Happy Christmas, love from Jenny.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Clerking and Parties

For the last fortnight I have been Uganda’s most overpaid clerical assistant.  I have typed and retyped holiday homework, registration exams, adult literacy exams, class reports and Registration Day posters including several documents entirely in Luganda!  All documents have to be proof read to make sure I have the nuances of Ugandan English correct. I then send the documents to Ange in the Kampala office for printing. The required copies get sent out with one of the drivers the following day and Steve and I collate and staple the resulting reams of printed matter. All this to a background of insistent drumming to the point where I wasn’t sure my heart would remember what to do without the drums to keep time with.
Holiday Packages - a mammoth effort!

Since the end of exams the students and teachers have devoted all their time and energy to training for the Talent show – a concert pitting ‘Colour’ against ‘Colour’ in categories of ‘set piece’, creative dance, traditional dance and folk song. The Colours are what we would call ‘houses’ and though they have names – yellow are Lions , blue are Elephants, green are Cheetahs and red are Leopards (I think!) – they are known as the Colours.

The ‘set piece’ was each choir singing the East African Anthem.  This is a relatively new song, I had not heard it before, and in Swahili. Each choir has been trained to sing it by the music teacher, Frank, who also plays it on a Melodeon. We heard it over and over!

The dancing and folk singing were all accompanied by traditional drums hence us having them ringing in our ears for the past fortnight. We also had a preview of the singing – both the traditional and the more European pieces the ECD, pre-primary and P1 presented.

Over the past week and a half there have been quite a few unscheduled staff meetings as concerns over the talent show were aired and discussed. These occasionally became quite heated and there was passionate debate as to whether each colour was getting a fair amount of time with Teacher Frank and had enough time to practice.

Choir singing Ugandan Anthem
So Thursday afternoon last week was probably not the best time for my foray into teaching a model lesson, as the minds of teachers and students were elsewhere.  With exams over, the students assumed the academic year was over and weren’t particularly interested in my revision lesson.  The teachers had reports to write as well as singers and dancers to train and weren’t in the mood either.  It wasn’t a total disaster but I’d have to say we were all a bit disappointed with how it turned out. Feedback was kind however and we were able to do WWW (What went well) and EBI (Even better if). From my point of view it could have been EBI I’d known I had 40 minutes rather than the 80 I’d planned for sooner than the 40 minute mark when the Teacher on Duty whispered in my ear that I needed to finish straight away as the children were being sent home! Being questioned during feedback about my time management was a bit tough‼

Unto us this Holy Night

On Tuesday we finally had the Talent Show  As well as the colours competition, there were performances in dancing and singing from each of the younger classes – ECD, Pre-primary and Primary 1.  We heard “I’m a little teapot” as well as The Wiggles “Unto us this Holy night”. The parents were all there and each item was greeted with thunderous applause and ululation - they were a most appreciative audience. The traditional songs and dances were particularly well received.

Folk song
Traditional dancing

The creative dance had a theme of preventing family violence. I found the pieces very powerful! Most involved a drunken father, a battered mother and a daughter denied an education, problems solved either by the local priest or policeman with the father repenting and promising to do better. The mime contained within each dance was very well done. I suspect my reaction to what was displayed was quite different to most of the audience who were cheering and laughing in places I thought quite inappropriate. And yet, for them it was real life, so who am I to judge?
Creative dance - mother & children

Wrapping prizes
The concert finished with “Prize Giving” with categories that would seem odd in Australian schools but seemed quite logical here – cleanliness, kindness, parental support. The prizes were 130 wrapped packages of toothpaste, shoe polish (Kiwi!) and shoe brushes. I helped present these, alongside the Chair of the Parent Committee. We must have smiled for a hundred photos as parents came up to be photographed with their prize winning offspring. It was a long day culminating with the announcement that Yellow had won the competition and the presentation to them of a goat that was to be slaughtered and roasted for them to eat at the party the following day. Student reports and “Holiday Packages” were also distributed to parents who had paid their school fees.

Yesterday we had the Children’s Party. It was a lot of fun! Steve and I contributed the music – we paid for a DJ with mixing desk and large speakers. He played local popular music – the same stuff we were blasted with at Forest Park – as well as imported music including Kenny Rogers and Neil Diamond! The children had a great time dancing and there were class level competitions. There was chicken and Irish potatoes for lunch as well as the usual rice, fish and ground nut and greens, and each child had a small bottle of soda. There was even a cake large enough for all 300+ students to get a piece! For the children it really was Christmas. They went home tired but happy after what is a long school year.

The Party

Pre-primary Dancing

The teachers still have a bit more to do before their well-earned break begins, as have I. More about that next time. Jenny

PS: On the electricity front we’ve had no more long outages, just fairly frequent little short ones. So the fridge has been doing the job and our meat, chicken and fish have been fine. Also warm showers have usually been possible and we’ve only had two coffee-less starts to the day. Well done Umeme!