The things you can buy…

We have had some strange requests from friends and neighbours during our stay so far in Gulu, in particular of things we might want to buy: mercury, owls, turtles even a hawk. But our offer this week throws these out of the ball-park: “Jody, would you like to buy an ostrich? – a full-grown adult ostrich?” A boda driver from our community even rang me especially with the offer. I’m not sure how much it was going for, but I politely turned him down.

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A day in Kampala: queues, ‘fruit bowl helmets’ and important people

We’re taking a week off, as an organisation and a family, but… it started off on Monday with a few errands in Kampala.

Three meetings in government offices, surely we can knock these off in a couple of hours… a colleague of ours was even certain that 2 would be done and dusted in 45 minutes. Well… some 45 minutes that was!

Visit one: National Identity and Registration Authority (NIRA) in Kampala. On entering we were stopped (as usual) by the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defence Force – [Army]). He checks the car over, sees Myron, and says ‘I have one for you (meaning he has a child he wants us to take). We side-step and dance around the topic, trying to laugh it off, but he seemed dead-serious, concluding with ‘you go in now, I’ll talk to you on the way out’. We took a different gate on the way out…
We had to stop by with our paperwork so staff could take their own photograph of Myron for his birth certificate. They had four machines and four staff: two machines were out of action and three of the staff members seemed to be lacking the skills to use this technology, acting more like ‘trainees’. We arrived at about 10.30am, and were ushered into the ‘processing tent’ to begin searching for a queue. An hour later we found the real end of the queue: the reason it took so long for us to find out because that is how long it took for them to process one person. When they left and the queue shuffled along, we knew where to stand. Six hours later we left with a tracking number and told to check on it in 3 to 4 weeks…

Visit two: Jody nipped out of the NIRA office leaving Myron, myself and a colleague waiting in ‘queue’ for an informal meeting with Makerere University. She wasn’t expecting to ‘boda’ in Kampala, so Jody took what looked like a safe option: a boda with a helmet for his customer. She donned an oversized helmet with an unadjustable strap (felt more like wearing a fruit bowl, didn’t actually undo the strap to take it off) and then weaved her way through traffic to get to Makerere University. She wanted to have an informal discussion to help clear some queries for our Nursery Teacher Training College (our students are being examined through Makerere University). Jody entered finding the person she was meeting gently berating a former student for having a forged university transcript. She then presented her list of about 10 questions and got answers to most of them. I guess you could say this meeting was more fruitful and efficient than mine.

Visit three: Ministry of Education head office for registration of our nursery teacher’s training college. The previous week we had sent down all our documentation with a colleague who was turned away because the director was the one who had to hand it in. I (Dan, our director… long story) went in person with the colleague and our paperwork. On opening our file, they tell us we have the wrong application form! They then proceed to try their level best to describe how important they are, commenting that she wanted us to have ‘teachers like her’. A few outlandish statements and crazy questions later, we walk out with the original documents but now a new (hopefully correct) application form to complete.

This is just a fraction of our red-tape melodramas. It’s days like these when we praise God for creating grapes, ahhhhh! 🙂

Dan

Myron’s life story book: The first reading

Yesterday morning we finally had time, space and were alone. So… the three of us sat down (Dan, Myron and I) and I read Myron his life story book, aptly named ‘All About Myron’. So excited to report that the reading and introducing Myron to ‘his story’ went really well! It was a little hard when I came to one page which read:

Myron_book2“Myron didn’t come from Mummy’s tummy. He came from another lady’s tummy, but we think she wasn’t able to look after Myron, so she left him by a road for a kind policeman to find…” 

No tears, no choking back, we made it through!

However we were really impressed with how Myron took the story and how excited he is to have his own book. It’s named after him and has many pictures of him with us and his friends, so who wouldn’t love it! It’s much more than a scrapbook of photos, we have written a story to try to describe, in an age-appropriate way, the story of how Myron came to join our family. He certainly doesn’t understand everything yet, but his understanding is growing and it’s lovely to have all this information out in the open – an important part of the process for both us and Myron. When we drove past St Jude Children’s Home this morning (around the corner from our house) we did point it out again to Myron and said that was where he used to live before us. He currently thinks he was born there, but that’s ok. He did ask whose tummy he was in, but we said we didn’t know. He also asked a lot about which children lived with us before him, he found this one a little hard to comprehend, and thought it was a little odd that we were ‘alone’ in his words, before he came.

We are very thankful for the beginning of this narrative – thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey with us and has prayed for this special milestone of the life story book introduction.

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Feeling loved…

This week we were extremely blessed to have Fairfield Church pastor Chris Reveley and his lovely wife Lucy visit us. It’s hard to put into words how special it is when people from our lives ‘before Uganda’ come to see us here. We attended Fairfield Church when we lived in the UK, just before moving to Uganda about five and a half years ago.

Chris and Lucy made a detour on their 40th wedding anniversary trip to come out and see us – how awesome is that! We had three and a half days with them in Gulu and we soaked up all of that time! Along with visiting a few schools and The Recreation Project, we were able to dine in a local restaurant, chat whilst Myron had a swimming lesson, organise for Lucy to get a wrap skirt made by a local tailor (Fairfield attendees – please ask her to wear it, she’s a stunner in it!) but also share what life is really like for us in Gulu: like sitting in when I give feedback to a teacher (which was a little hard when my list of suggested improvements was a lot longer than my list of positives); keep guard as Dan rounds up pigs who have escaped their pens; and offer support and encouragement as I hear from my colleagues about challenges on the ground (when clearly I was on a 3-day ‘jolly’).

It was re-energising to hear some solid ‘Reveley’ advice and to be honest, a little teary when it came time to say goodbye! Of course we are grateful for the Hobnobs and the Cheddar cheese (not sure how grateful Dan is for Myron’s little Chelsea kit), but more importantly we feel so loved and are deeply thankful for this opportunity!

P.S. Myron’s life story book arrived and it looks great! Excited to sit and read it to him over the coming days when we have time and space…

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We have it! One more off the checklist…

Dan was looking like this for a while, but not any longer! After spending about 10 hours in the police station this week we have the police report for Myron! A huge thanks to everyone who has been praying for this. This was the missing link in ouskeleton waitingr paperwork for birthday certificate and passport. Now, we can proceed to register Myron’s adoption and apply for a birth certificate. After this, we can apply for a Ugandan passport for Myron. Let’s hope the next stage is smoother!
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More stories to read

I am in the final editing stages for our Set 3 readers. Hopefully in a couple of weeks our set of five Set 3 phonics readers will hit the printing presses in Kampala, Uganda.

Set 3 is our last set of phonics readers and by this stage the stories are much more interesting. We decided to go with local Acholi/Ugandan stories. They are a little ‘dark’, with a few animal deaths, but that’s just the way the stories go, of course there’s a moral at the end.

A huge thanks to Phoebe Wright who sat down with a local teacher to listen to the stories and turn them into written form.

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The hurdles of starting a college…

We opened up a nursery teacher training college at the beginning of the year: a two-year weekend certificate programme to become a nursery teacher (a teacher of 3-6 year olds). We have the teaching curriculum, that was the easy part at least that was emailed to me from the Ministry of Education. But we are still finding our way when it comes to School Practice and ‘Display’ assessment areas. There are no details about these in the curriculum and finding information about these parts of the course is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I finally had a conversation with the head of nursery teaching training colleges for the northern region in Gulu (we had been calling his number for 2 weeks but he lost his phone).

The conversation had many moments like this:

Me: Is there any guidelines for the School Practice? For example, what percentage of the day the student has to teach, etc.
Mr X: They have one week orientation then three weeks in the classroom.
Me: So in orientation do they only observe or do they teach?
Mr X: In orientation week they become familiar with the school environment, classroom and the children.
Me: Do they do any teaching?
Mr X: You don’t observe them in their first week.
Me: But what about teaching time?
Mr X: Oh yes, they do teach.
Me: For how much of the day: 20% of teaching time, 50%, 80%?
Mr X: A minimum of two learning areas.
This continues for a LONG TIME!

At last getting somewhere! But still more digging needed.

Then I find out about a vague mention of Display Materials with dates listed.
Me: What exactly does this mean: ‘Display of Materials’.
Mr X: You display materials.
Me: Where? In the classroom? Somewhere else?
Mr X: Learning materials but in a centre.
Me: How many displays to they need to prepare.
Mr X: A range.
Me: What does a range mean?
Mr X: The make some learning displays.
Me: Do they make 1? 5? 10?
Now Myron joins in: 20? 30? 40? (I’m excited he’s counting in tens, so I decide to count with him until we reach 100.
Mr X: A little laugh, a range.
Hmmm still no closer to finding out the answer to this one.

We have had a lot of encouraging moments since opening up our nursery teacher’s training college, but there are certainly many challenges as well. Finding any sort of guidelines for implementing parts of the course is also another challenge. It’s a certificate course, written by the Ministry of Education, examined by Makerere University, so we can’t really just ‘wing it’… although so far so good 🙂

 

Life Story… on its way!

Myron has said a few comments over the past few months which are really quite revealing: we think he has forgotten all about life before us! In a way this is a relief (we do want him to forget about any of the pain he experienced before joining us as a family); it’s also quite flattering (in a slightly selfish way); and finally quite surprising, now forcing us to think what should we do now? Some of his comments and questions even lead us to think that Myron believes he came from my tummy. In a few years this will clearly be obvious to him that he didn’t, but what about now?

I feel we began our adoption journey slightly blind and naive. How many adoption books did we read beforehand? Zip! Not necessarily due to arrogance, merely no time! And besides, who needs adoption books, blogs and research articles when we have a UK friend who has worked with ‘looked after children’ for years and also is on her own adoption journey. What did we do when Myron cried for hours at bed time in those first two weeks? Send a whatsapp message to our dear UK friend. When he threw tantrums out of defiance? The messages continued back and forth.

And now we feel it’s time to start explaining things about Myron’s life and family to him in a child-friendly way. So what do we do? Well initially I started looking for children’s books about adoption. There are plenty of naff ones out there! And many that are very specific to individual situations. I asked around for recommendations, looked up forums and found some titles that people both raved about and slated. Some bright spark suggested to me that I create my own one, since everyone’s story is different. So that’s what I tried to do. I started with what looked like a scrapbook of family pics in a Snapfish  My Project folder online; then after consulting my number one support line friend, she helped me turn a scrapbook into a life story. The marathon of messages and support ensued, I didn’t realise that a life story would be so raw and open but of course that is the point. Telling the truth, in a child-appropriate way, when they are still young. Saying it now, when Myron may not completely understand, so it’s not considered a taboo or something we don’t talk about. I feel I have taken a journey within myself writing his ‘life story book’ – what a process that has been for me! Writing where he was found and his journey after that.

After a mountain of edits, I go to pay online and… blocked! What? Several support chats, possibly one hundred whatsapp messages to my adoption mentor (to the rescue), several emails to customer service, several phone calls her end to customer service and… it’s ordered! I couldn’t pay in Uganda, a banned country for Snapfish purchases…

Myron’s ‘life story book’ has been ordered. We are hoping it will arrive in time for our UK pastor and his wife to bring out when they visit us in a week and a half’s time. Please pray for speedy printing and for it’s quick arrival. And also for when we first share it with Myron.

 

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The cover of Myron’s ‘life story book’

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The first page of Myron’s ‘life story book’. A big thanks to my ‘adoption mentor’ and incredible friend from the UK who helped me put this together.

College conclusions with a story reading…

Last week was our final session on story reading with year 2 student teachers at Gulu Core Primary Teacher’s College. We finished our 5-week mini project with students planning to read a story aloud (yep, lesson plan and all!) and then reading aloud to us.

What an incredible 5 weeks! We journeyed a long way in a short amount of time and pray that these student teachers will remember a lot of what was shared and put it into practise in their classrooms next year.

A huge thank you to all our reading ambassadors from a variety of different organisations around Gulu – thanks for sharing this journey with us and volunteering your time to help us out! We, and the students, thank you!

Considering and planning how to pilot a similar training with some of our more enthusiastic local primary schools.

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Our reading volunteer teachers with Gulu Core Primary Teacher’s College year 2 students and college deputy principal Francissy (far right sitting); and college language teacher Gracious (centre crouching – slightly in front of me)

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Read Aloud guru (teacher and author) Phoebe Wright sharing some last minute read aloud tips with her group of student teachers.

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Restore Academy volunteer Kellie Ojeda sharing with her group of student teachers.

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Read for Life teacher Akello Catherine listening to her group plan and read a story aloud.

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Connect Education Centre librarian Kate gives student teachers feedback on reading aloud.

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Students discuss lesson planning.

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Students prepare a lesson plan for reading their story.

Free education a business…

During a school visit and lesson observation I chatted with some of the teachers about class sizes. How many in this class? 138. That’s almost 140 P1 children crammed into one class! Squeezed like sardines on benches, and some sitting on the floor out the front. It’s impossible to move throughout the classroom.

Why so many? Well, the number one reason is: the more children you have, the more money a school gets. Although we have all heard about ‘Free Education for All’ and ‘Universal Primary Education’, it’s not really free; that’s just what the international community hears. Parents pay school fees. It may not seem much to us, but it certainly can be to parents; an average government school here will charge about 40,000 Ugandan shillings per term (£8, $14.50); and parents also have to supply books, uniform, toilet paper, a soft broom and a hard broom (that’s just a given). And along with parents paying school fees for each child; the government gives ‘grants’ to each school depending on how many children they have: 7000 shillings per child per term (that’s about £1.40 or $2.50) per child three times a year. This slowly adds up when you have around 140 in a class, so why stop at the government recommended number of 55 children in one class…