Glasses for classes

Today I was deeply humbled by this incredibly generous gift from one of our student teachers. She’s a hard-working and dedicated student: I gave her a little helping hand to get a job in one of our local schools and this was a surprise thank you gift! This was certainly my ‘rose’ for the day.




Coming to life…

Tree growI took a photo of the tree to the right a few months back in our local national park. There was something so striking about this tree, and I have often pondered about it since. There is certainly a lot of life in this tree, and it seems to just appear out of hard stone walls – ruins that have been left untouched.

You wouldn’t think the conditions are perfect for the tree, yet it is thriving and the roots just keep growing and reaching down.

These past two weeks we have conducted two lots of teacher trainings with 65 nursery (preschool) teachers. Currently – I’m exhausted, but it was well worth it! We thought many of our local schools were ready for the next big step: teaching them how to teach with children working in groups, using resources and being actively engaged in their lessons. Although we had taught all of these schools teaching methodology about early reading skills, most of it was still being taught from the chalkboard, the old ‘chalk and talk’ method. However, this was the first step. We are on a long, slow journey and it was important to improve the teaching of reading first, before we can then move into taking these teaching principles and then making them more active and engaging to learners. But – we are there!

And just like the tree in this photograph, our local classrooms are beginning to burst forth with life and energy!

Over three afternoons (over two weeks) we demonstrated how to use resources practically in the classroom, how to manage ‘stations’ and rotate children through using different resources and then dedicated an afternoon to making resources with local teachers. Clearly one afternoon for resource making wasn’t enough – we virtually had to kick them out of our training room before it got dark!

The last step in making resources with teachers is quite important, since resources here are scarce and oftenest unattainable. Making something is the only option. So out came the cardboard, paper, scissors and markers.

We have already started to follow up some of these teachers in their schools and it is so exciting to see children practically making letters with bottle tops and play dough and to see learning come to life! To see that tree start growing out of its hard brick foundation.

Below are some photos from the past two weeks:

Art on show…

At Myron’s little school co-operative all of the parents offer up their skill-set to help enhance our children’s education as a community. Myron was blessed to have small-group art lessons run by a very creative parent! If anyone knows me well, these are certainly skills I don’t have and so thankful that others can input creatively into Myron’s life. Here are a few pictures from his recent art show.


Jigsaw introductions…

At READ for Life we have started professional development sessions every Friday afternoon with our core staff. We have a new little routine that goes something like: jigsaw puzzles (and progressing to other puzzles and logical thinking activities); grammar and then training in teaching methods.

I know the jigsaw puzzle idea is a bit out there! But we are looking to develop problem solving skills in our team and jigsaws are a great introduction. Problem solving and critical thinking is something that is not included in the Ugandan Curriculum and up until a couple of weeks ago some of our staff members had never seen a jigsaw puzzle before. It’s quite a novelty and we have started with 9, 12, 16 and 24-piece jigsaw puzzles. Looking forward to adding many more pieces in the sessions to come.

Please watch Play School

Don’t you just love it when one of your professional development suggestions for a staff member is to watch Play School 🙂


Police and seatbelts

While travelling to Kampala recently to pick up my new visa I was pulled over by traffic police in a small town for a random check. This is a very standard occurrence here and not to get pulled over on a journey between Gulu and Kampala is almost strange. I wound down the window, greeted the female officer and just handed her my licence. Her response was: “What are you giving me this for? I could just run away with it.” I replied: “True, but I would chase you.” She then told me she just wanted a lift. After a long conversation of trying to find out where she wanted the lift to (but didn’t give a direct answer to), I told her to get in the car.

Our next conversation made me laugh out loud, and giggle for the rest of my journey.

Daniel: Madam, put your seatbelt on because I don’t want to get pulled over by the police.
Policewoman: (belly laugh) that won’t happen!
Daniel: You put your seatbelt on.
Policewoman: (trying to reach the belt and pull it around herself) I am too satisfied for this! It is squeezing my stomach, I am not putting it on.
Daniel: (laughing out loud and enjoying the conversation immensely) OK.

We drove off. We only went around 500m down the road. I figured she didn’t tell me where she actually wanted to go because I might have made her walk and she didn’t want to do that 🙂

By the way, she gave my licence back but I’m doubting she would have got too far with it before I caught up with her…


Reading reaches refugees

Uganda has one of the biggest refugee populations in the world, with more than 1.2million refugees (the majority from South Sudan) seeking refuge in Uganda. Many of the refugee settlements are within a few hours drive from Gulu and this year we have partnered with another NGO (ZOA International) to begin a pilot project in one of the settlements. Two of our READ for Life trainers recently travelled to one of the largest refugee settlements where they visited three schools to test children’s reading levels and then train teachers from two of the schools (one school will be a control school).

Although our team returned quite discouraged from the reading results, I’m pretty excited! Third grade children could barely read one word; one school had grade 3 reading levels at 0 words per minute whilst in another the average was 1.1 words read in one minute. You could say that after three years of education, these children were illiterate.

I’m really excited about this project!
I’m excited that we have an opportunity to work with refugees.
I’m excited that although currently the children cannot read, I am completely confident they will make a lot of progress this year!
I’m excited that these teachers will be learning new teaching methods that will change the face of education for refugee children.
I’m excited that we can visit and mentor the teachers throughout the year.
I’m excited about seeing the results at the end of the year!
And I’m excited about the future possibilities from this project.

Play dough, character voices and behaviour stories…

There were a few things during last week’s new training sessions that brought a smile to my face: watching our READ for Life staff train local teachers in how to make play dough (over charcoal stoves in school kitchens); listening to teachers try to change their voice for different characters when practising reading aloud children’s storybooks to each other; and fielding a whole host of questions about behaviour management scenarios in the classroom (I particularly loved one teacher’s active question where he re-enacted the student clinging to the chair and door frame as he picked her up and carried her out of his classroom).

Last week’s training was part of a new set of training materials we developed to help READ for Life create a couple of local ‘model/example’ schools in three areas: what we’re calling group-based active learning (just another way for saying children have activities on their tables and work practically, rather than sitting on their desks and copying from the chalkboard all day long); teachers reading aloud storybooks to the class (this is new for our area and something we have broken down step-by-step); and also positive behaviour management strategies (as opposed to beating children – pretty revolutionary stuff here!)

It was exciting to partner with the Uganda Christian Lawyer’s Fraternity to cover the Child Protection part of the training and join forces for positive behaviour management. We are planning to work closely with these two schools (and possibly a couple more in the future) to raise up their teachers to become leaders and examples to schools and teachers around them.

We chose these two schools because they have already proved passionate in improving children’s reading and have a strong administration team which responds very positively to professional development. Looking forward to working with them more in the future and seeing the face of education change even more in our community!

Education for poverty?

Two days ago a professional Ugandan businessman approached me to ask me to reserve two good students from our nursery teacher training college who are graduating this year so he can employ them in his new nursery and primary school opening next year a few hours away from Gulu. He expressed interest in our students since he believed we were offering them a quality education and they would be very good teachers. He, like many other business-minded Ugandans, claimed he wanted to start up a good quality school.

At the end of our brief conversation I asked him what the rate of pay would be for our graduate teachers. He thought momentarily and replied: 150,000 Ugandan shillings (£30 or $AUS55 per month) plus accommodation.

Since then I have not stopped thinking about that figure and it has stirred up an anger deep inside me. I asked two Ugandan friends what they thought was the minimum amount of money they would need to survive on: just to buy themselves food, cleaning products and occasional trip to the health centre. One replied 200,000 Ugandan shillings (£40, $AUS75) a month; whilst the other replied 250,000 shillings (£50, $AUS95). A quick search online also indicates that the suggested 150,000 shillings a month is below the poverty line for Uganda, meaning our graduate teachers would enter the large statistic on ‘income poverty’ and not earn enough money to eat three meals a day.

I then shared with my two Ugandan friends why I was asking these questions and the figure suggested for our graduate teachers. As soon as I said it was for a graduate nursery teacher they said: ‘yes, that’s fair. That’s good for a starting wage for a nursery teacher’. I argued that they wouldn’t be able to live off that wage and one replied that their family would be expected to support them.

Government primary teachers earn four times that salary; whilst secondary teachers can earn up to seven times that salary. And if our graduate teacher wants to visit her family in Gulu in the holidays, she would spend more than 1/5 of her salary on a bus fare.

I’ve decided I’m not going to ‘reserve’ our graduate teachers to enter the wage market below the poverty line. I’m going to try and get our graduates the best possible jobs they can get from schools that will value them and compensate them accordingly (at least above the poverty line). And I do plan to discuss this further with the said businessman later in the year.

Someone is praying for a family of 4…

Myron gets some sidewalk chalk and announces that he is going to draw a family picture on the kitchen floor. He starts with himself (of course) and then starts drawing what he calls his future sister. “This is going to be my new baby sister,” he says. After completing the family picture (complete with boxing gloves for us to punch the ‘bad sun’) he asks if he could have a sister. I tell Myron he will have to talk to God about that one. So then he prays to God for a little sister to join our family.

We have ‘knocked on some doors’, also prayed about it, but leaving it in God’s hands.



Daddy (on the left) with the ‘biggest head’ and ‘biggest eyes’ in the family, then Mummy with her ‘big head’, the future sister (prayed and drawn by Myron) and then Myron.