Bang! We’re back!

Welcome back to Uganda!

We’ve changed the names in the short true stories below to protect their identities (how serious does that sound!)

We’ve recently returned from a seven-week holiday in Australia. Many people have asked us since we returned was it as good as what it looked like on Facebook? Yes it was!

Many have also asked us: how are you settling back? Generally, well, but here’s some small insights to the realities:

Whilst away we paid Tom, a friend of ours, to stay in our house, keep it clean, and to do one main job for us on the house. The job would have taken about 2 weeks to complete. As we returned to a dust-ridden house in the middle of the dry season, the job was half-complete. On the positive side the dogs and guinea pigs are still alive!

Tom rang Dan a couple of times whilst we were in Australia. On one occasion he began the conversation saying that he had become a “very perfect” motorbike rider, practicing regularly on Dan’s motorbike (after being told not to ride it). He also tells Dan that his two sheep have died and he doesn’t know why.

Jack is a good friend of Dan’s and takes care of a few cows and the late sheep that Dan owns in Gulu. Jack takes a little time to make his way to greet Dan and after they sit down for a long time Dan hears how one of his cows has died – and the story gets worse… Jack’s grandmother killed the cow (and probably the sheep too). She feed the cow plastic bags knotted together that had been boiled in salt water. Why? Who knows, maybe she is jealous of Jack and Dan’s friendship… or maybe she is jealous that her grandson has a few cows that he is looking after.

Finally, a friend of ours picked up a letter from the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) which has been waiting for us for a couple of months. The letter was more of an invoice asking READ for Life to pay 4,250,000 Ugandan shillings (about $1,600AUS or £900) for the government to evaluate our phonics readers. To paraphrase, that is for us to pay government workers who are already on a salary to do their job. The letter was ready a couple of days before we flew out, I’m glad we received it when we got back, otherwise would have thought about this one too much on the beach!

Thanks for the welcome Uganda! Will have to blog soon on the positives to balance this one out. We have lived here long enough to expect these things to happen, and almost anticipate them. But don’t worry – we always bounce back!

 

 

 

 

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Sponsor a teacher

Child sponsorship is widely advocated, but have you ever thought about teacher sponsorship? Or one step further: teacher trainer sponsorship?

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Child sponsorship predominantly financially supports children to be able to attend school, but what happens inside the school? This year at READ for Life we have employed four Ugandan teacher trainers to work with local teachers to improve education in schools.

We would love to partner with you on our journey in improving education in northern Uganda and across the rest of the country. In fact, we can’t do this without you.

Together, we can train teachers in improved methods of teaching, particularly teaching reading and writing, and see children’s reading improve drastically. We will be giving children more opportunities for the future, not only will they be able to stay in school longer because they can ‘access’ the curriculum and understand what is being taught, but they will have more opportunities for jobs when leaving school. Who knows the children we will be empowering: they could be future teachers, lawyers, doctors, pastors or many more professionals.

Your influence will not be to support and help one child, but tens of thousands of children and it’s growing every day.

We would love people to donate $50 per month towards teacher salaries (and commit to a period of three years). Individuals or groups can combine together to make this happen.

If you would like to help sponsor a teacher, click on our donations page to find out how to give. Residents from Australia, the UK, US, New Zealand, and Europe can make tax deductible donations. We look forward to sharing this exciting journey with you.

Absence that is empowering

Sustainability. It’s the buzz word in charity and non-government organisational circles. I could talk a lot about it, the misconceptions, the realities, but that’s not the purpose of this post.
The excitement I’m feeling right now is the buzz of activities going on in Uganda with READ for Life whilst I’m here in Australia! Our Ugandan supervisor Lajara Beatrice, assisted by our US volunteer Kelsey Stiers, are doing smashing jobs leading our READ for Life team into the new year.

This month alone there is:

  • a large three-day phonics introduction training planned for teachers travelling from all over the country (I think 50 teachers are already registered)
  • a training for blind teachers in a professional development camp right now! This is something new for us and something I’m really excited about. How to help blind teachers teach blind children how to read. I will share more about this one soon.
  • Sending one of our trainers to Mbale, in Eastern Uganda, to co-facilitate a phonics training and help to strengthen one of our new satellite sites (recommended by the National Government).

There has been a flurry of messages between my phone/laptop and our Ugandan team, but I’m thankful that I can leave this important work in their hands. We still have a long journey to go, and a lot of planned mentoring for this year, but this is one important step in our growth. So as I have a dip in the river, slunk down into the armchair at the local movie theatre on Australia’s east cost, and tuck into some much-needed cheese, I reflect on how my absence is in fact empowering.

Success by numbers…

Over the holiday period some of the READ for Life staff and volunteers in Uganda (and abroad) have been busy collating results from our big end of year Early Grade Reading Assessment. We haven’t finished crunching all the numbers, but there’s some really encouraging results so far!
Currently in northern Uganda, children read an average of 3 words per minute in English by the end of P3 (around third grade level). In Australia, the US and UK, children read an average of more than 100 words per minute by the end of third grade. I think the numbers speak for themselves and you can clearly see that children in northern Uganda (and the rest of the country) need a lot more support with their reading to become literate and independent readers!

We did a rough average of the schools we have worked with in Gulu (and the results which we have collated so far), and our current average for P3 children in Gulu is 50 words per minute (42 wpm for government schools and 57 wpm for private schools). This is so encouraging! Over the next few weeks of holidays, along with doing a lot of teacher training, we will complete collating all these results and use them to inform our programme and planning for the year.

Thank you for being a part of this journey!

SPF 70… we’ve been away a while!

Some things in Australia have changed a lot since we were here last, other things haven’t changed much at all. Here’s one telling sign that we have been away for a while: when did SPF on sunscreen get to 70?

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A new culture… just like Mowgli

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A few nights ago I watched the new Netflix film ‘Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle‘, based on a chronological compilation of Rudyard Kipling’s stories about Mowgli from The Jungle Book. During the film, (spoiler alert) it captures beautifully the struggles ‘human cub’ Mowgli faces in adjusting to a new ‘culture’ when for a time he is separated from the wolf pack which raised him to live with local villagers.

Reflecting on this film, it parallels how Myron must be feeling these past few weeks in a completely foreign culture to his own. I cannot even begin to list the multitude of new experiences for him.

It has been the first time for Myron to:

  • See the ocean
  • Swim in the ocean
  • Be ‘dumped’ by a wave
  • Collect shells
  • Draw in the sand
  • Make a sandcastle
  • See letterboxes outside houses
  • See a postman (and was very annoyed he put nothing in Nana and Pop’s mailbox)
  • Wear a Superman suit
  • Get kissed by a dolphin
  • Hug a seal
  • Pat a koala
  • Hand-feed a kangaroo, emu and fairy penguins
  • Eat sweet corn, peaches, nectarines, cherries, blueberries, an ice cream in a cone, Nutri Grain, Minties, chocolate frogs, leg ham, battered sea fish, prawns, squid, Ice Magic, hot chips with chicken salt
  • Drink a Caramel milkshake and a babyccino
  • Chase a seagull
  • See crabs
  • Cut himself on oyster shells
  • See an airconditioner
  • Use a vacuum cleaner
  • Watch a garbage truck empty rubbish bins
  • Help to ride a four-wheel motorbike
  • Visit a local library
  • Borrow and read books from a library
  • Sit next to Santa
  • See a ride-on lawnmower
  • Sit on grandparent’s laps and listen to stories
  • Meet his cousins, aunties and uncles
  • Have a bubble bath
  • Go to bed when the sun is still up
  • Touch a snake
  • Watch Daddy put petrol in the car for himself
  • Swim in a river and a heated pool
  • Turn on the exhaust fan when going to the toilet
  • Watch a roller door go up
  • Walk through automatic doors
  • Watch ‘the news’ and cricket on television

With these changes and new experiences comes a lot of excitement, giggles, questions and some inner exhaustion that we obviously cannot see but we experience in other ways. Myron has taken these many changes all in his stride, and it is quite incredible how easily he has adjusted and fitted in. Of course though, as with any 3-year-old, there are times when life just gets a little too tough and possibly too much going on! If only we could enter his mind to fully understand how he is feeling…

 

 

Rising from the ashes

We at READ for Life recently completed our big round of Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRA) in 85 primary schools in Gulu municipal. READ for Life staff and a team of much-valued volunteers went to every primary school in town and tested children’s reading in the first three years of primary school from a random sample. These results primarily will help us to prioritise our teacher and school support for next year, but also help us to see fruits of our labour and which schools are making good progress.

Our team on the ground in Gulu is still collating the test results (there’s a fair bit of data inputting to do) but one of the huge success stories so far comes from Cubu Primary School. Last year Cubu Primary School was a ‘control school’, this means that we didn’t train the teachers. This year, however, we included them in our ‘treatment’ schools and schools we are working with and trained the teachers at the end of first term.

I remember very clearly when one of our volunteers was out at this school giving the reading test to 15 random children from the first three classes in primary. She messaged me telling me she was crying! With tears of joy to hear the children read so well!

Last year P3 children could read six age-appropriate words in one minute – that’s about one word every 10 seconds. Pretty slow and way below age-expected reading targets. Measuring how many words children can read in one minute is a great indicator of their reading fluency and some of their key literacy skills. This primary school came last place out of 75 schools tested last year. Last year P2 children read an average of one word a minute and P1 children couldn’t read a single word.

This year… drum roll… P3 children at Cubu Primary School can now read an average of 51.5 words per minute – that’s tremendous progress! P2 pupils went from one word to 17.7 words and P1 entered the reading table at 2.2 words per minute.

According to research, comprehension begins between 45 and 60 words per minute. P3 children were far from understanding what they could read at the beginning of the year – but now they are well on their way to becoming fluent, independent readers!

We are so proud of the infant teachers for implementing what we have taught them and doing such a marvellous job! We’re not exactly sure where Cubu Primary will sit on our ‘reading league table’ this year, but pretty confident they won’t be at the bottom.

Our volunteer, Kelsey, who was testing the children’s reading asked Cubu Primary teachers what teaching reading was like since we had trained them, some of their responses were:

We were training reading using the cramming method and that does not help the children. We were trained by you (READ for Life) and immediately, we started to work using phonics. That practice really helped us and the children! We work every morning because practice makes perfect!

 

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Cubu Primary School P3 teacher with the three best readers in the year after the end of year Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) conducted by READ for Life.

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READ for Life volunteer tester Martin carrying out Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRA) at Cubu Primary School in Gulu.

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A range of teaching reading resources Cubu Primary School teachers made and have been using after their phonics training earlier in the year.

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Some of the P1 pupils at Cubu Primary School who have improved in their reading this year.

First culture shock moment…

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Culture shock: according to the ever reliable dictionary.com it’s state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.”

We’ve read about it, talked about it, and sometimes experienced it. Last visit to Australia (four years ago) I remember having a mini culture shock meltdown in a relative’s bathroom during Christmas crazy shopping season. This time around it wasn’t quite the same.

We arrived back in Australia just over a week ago. On the second day I was ‘shopping’ in Westfield shopping mall with my nieces. Warning: danger! Prime opportunity for culture shock and uncontrollable meltdown! Negative result (phew!). We zoomed past Santa’s photoshoot booth and bought simcards and clothes for a wedding.

But where did this ‘state of bewilderment and distress’ descend upon me? A few days in we went to our local swimming pool/gym which has been renovated since our last visit. Myron and I frolicked about in the heated swimming pool (aside: which costs about the same as the hotel swimming pools in Gulu); and from the pool I observed what is very difficult to describe: Adults with disabilities being treated with uttermost dignity and respect. There was a man in a wheelchair working out in the gym, waving to us and then later assisted; an elderly woman in a wheelchair who was unable to talk wheeled into the pool and supported by two other ladies; also a man who was blind enjoying the facilities and assisted by others. Myron asked me why were they bringing the lady in a wheelchair into the pool when she couldn’t swim? I said that maybe she wanted to just enjoy the water since it felt so beautiful. On entering the pool the lady let out a noise. Myron asked me what she said, I said I’m not sure, maybe it meant she was enjoying how the water was feeling; he disagreed and thought she was referring to how warm the water was.

This was culture shock for me. This beautiful and incredible observation of how wonderful people with disabilities were cared for and loved in those few small moments. How strikingly contrasting it was to what I had left behind in northern Uganda! Such a beautiful experience that I was both bewildered and distressed.

What a homecoming!

It has almost clocked one week exactly since we touched down on Australian soil – the first time in four years. The lady of the hour was certainly Elyce Unterrheiner – Dan’s sister who married on Saturday. Dan, Myron and I were honoured to be involved in the day: I was a bridesmaid, Myron was a page boy and Dan was the MC with an apparent South African accent. We are still reeling from this day, possibly surviving on adrenalin but just so blessed and thankful that we made it here just in time. It was an absolutely stunning wedding on the Unterrheiner farm, and without a doubt the two highlights (apart from the beautiful bride of course) was Hannah Unterrheiner’s matron of honour speech and ‘flash dance’ with Dan taking a lead role; and the originally decorated surroundings with a vintage-like feel and ‘grazing table’ fit for royalty.

It has been an incredible reunion with family members and friends and I am completely blown away with the marvellous welcome Myron has received, along with how incredibly well he is fitting in with everyone and adjusting to such a foreign environment! He’s hit it off smashingly with his cousins, and already bossing some of them them around. Looking forward to many more firsts (can already tick off vacuum cleaners, carpet, seeing the beach, sniffer dogs, crabs, and eating squid and lamb!)

Last minute hiccup… 11th hour answer!

We booked our flights on Thursday but never received our E-Ticket or booking confirmation.

Over the past few days I have spent many hours talking to staff from South African Airways trying to get to the bottom of the issue to no avail. I was told by the Ugandan team just to come into their office (5 hours from Gulu) to sort it out. Drop in hours before flying? Like I believed that one. I continued to call multiple staff members: South African head office; then Perth office. We were told the booking was not paid for even though we had confirmation from credit card statements that the money had left the account.

We prayed and I was extremely anxious about the flights. But we just left the South African Airways office in Kampala and they were right – they sorted it all out! They knew it was us as we walked in, had the manager informed and on stand-by waiting.

We now have our tickets in our hands – praise God for answered prayer! We left the South African Airways office with a big hug from ‘Milcah’ who sorted it all; along with her business card and a request to meet up when we return to Uganda.

And now on our way to the airport to catch a flight that leaves in a little less than 5 hours.

See you soon Australia! Now we can get excited! Xx