NCDC or lamb roast?

Years ago there was a commercial in Australia about a lady turning down a date with Tom Cruise because she was having a lamb roast that night. Nowadays we chat, blog and ponder about who we would invite for dinner (if we could invite anyone in the world) – our Ultimate Dinner Guest List: Albert Einstein? Hugh Jackman? actors, authors, politicians, scientists, entertainers, the list could be endless.

Well in Uganda, if I could invite anyone to visit me who would it be? Director of the Ugandan National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) Grace Baguma of course! The most influential person when it comes to curriculum change and what is taught in Ugandan classrooms. Today I got confirmation from Grace that she is planning a field visit to Gulu to meet us and see first-hand our work in schools. And she’s not visiting alone, she’s bringing a team of 4 others from the NCDC and one representative from the Ministry of Education. We are still finalising details, but the visit is planned for next week (October 24-25).

I have had a rocky journey when it comes to meetings with national government representatives. But this is potentially our biggest meeting yet! Please continue to pray that it goes ahead! And that we would plan wisely for what to share and for our time together.

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One step closer…

Myron_birth_certificate

This piece of paper took six hours queuing in Kampala four weeks ago, numerous phone calls chasing it up, to soon discover the Kampala office wasn’t happy with a couple of the documents. So… we collected the paperwork again, re-lodged in Gulu office last Thursday and…. BOOM: Here is Myron’s birth certificate.

One more piece in the paperwork puzzle.

Next step: Myron’s Ugandan passport (lodging his application tomorrow). Then visitor visa for Australia (including a medical check).

We celebrate these small victories as we are closer in our journey to visit Australia and unite our family and friends together!

Technical ‘know-who’

briberyI was reminded on a boda ride this morning about the thick layer of challenges impeding development in Uganda. If we are working in education as a means to reduce poverty, create independence and for social justice, then education alone is not a guarantee that a person can find a good job in their industry.

My boda rider today has a university degree in business and administration, he also holds a certificate in social work. He had worked for a little after graduating, he had a one-year contract with an NGO but the obstacles were too great afterwards in getting another job in his field. And what was his biggest hurdle? Bribery. He narrated to me how a friend of his had paid 1.5million shillings (£300 pounds, $550AUS) after an interview with a large NGO to secure the job. He did earn a little more than that as a monthly salary afterwards, but that was the payment to get the job.

And we’re not talking about the public sector here, people at the top of charities and NGOs are asking for bribes before selecting their future employee.

I wasn’t shocked about this since I had heard countless stories about these situations, I guess this morning was a reminder.

I then questioned the intricacies of this bribery. So… what happens if I go for an interview and I give 500,000 Ugandan shillings and someone else also gives 500,000?

Interesting answer from my boda: You wouldn’t just give 500,000; if you were asked to give 500,000 you would give 1million to make sure your payment was the highest and to get the job. But if you didn’t give the highest figure, you don’t get that money back, no receipt and no record of what happens in secret.

And would my boda partake in this bribery to get a good job? Of course he would… he just didn’t have the access to money to do so. So people born into rich families secure the high-paying jobs and stay there; contributing to the cyclical continuation of poverty.

And there’s another element to the ‘know-who’ he spoke about. People in high-paying jobs, he said, leave their jobs for relatives. I guess how we would hear of father’s passing down farms to relatives, here employees in high-paying positions are making sure that a relative will succeed them. “It’s a way of making sure that money will keep coming into their family.”

One challenge we have no control or influence over, but one challenge to pray over…

 

Get it off the chalkboard!

This week READ for Life’s Nursery Teacher Training College student teachers began their first week of school practice. One of our biggest challenges and struggles has been to encourage more hands-on activities and group work, a big challenge when our student teachers don’t observe a lot of this in their placement schools. Rote learning and children copying from the chalkboard is the ‘norm’; this is hard to shake off and create new expectations.

But today when I spotted a recycled tub labelled ‘play dough’ come out I knew I was going to be pleasantly surprised! One of our student teachers taught a mathematics lesson on ‘shapes’ and had children make shapes out of play-dough, follow the outline of shapes with beans and thread shapes with string.

Amidst the challenges and difficulties there is a lot of encouragement and fruit!

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Got that cymbal out again…

famously-clangingcymbalsmallAs part of our work here in education I have tried a little advocacy when I find the time (and the energy). I’m certainly a novice in this area and some of you may recall a meeting a couple of years ago with the Ministry of Education, the National Curriculum Development Centre and a few other influential educators (on again, off again, on again…). It’s hard to find that balance between reaching out and not becoming a ‘clanging cymbal’. Sometimes I feel I err on the side of the latter, especially when it comes to challenging a multimillion dollar national reading program which I feel could be significantly improved.

Tonight I got my ‘cymbal’ out one more time. I have been reaching out to a few education officials as part of my research for my Masters and thought I would ask the Director of the Ugandan National Curriculum Development Centre a few questions. Along with my questions, I apologised that I hadn’t seen her in person in Kampala and how I did want to share with her some more about the improvements we have been seeing in children’s reading and writing in Gulu.

This was her reply:

Thank you Jody
You have been at this for a while now.
I think I can come to Gulu mid October and come to purposely visit you and also see some schools.
Can you make arrangements for this and we see how to work together for a better
Uganda.
Regards,

This is the ‘top cat’ of Uganda’s curriculum development! Please pray that this meeting will actually happen! You all know how much I love meetings, but this is one that I will be trying my hardest to bring to fruition!

Squabbles about semantics

Well… I attended that meeting to help review the curriculum for one of the projects of a big NGO. Leaving a little heavier, with much more sugar consumption.

The sugar coatings of the day: let’s see, I made sure my phone was fully charged and loaded on some data and paid the social media tax for the day. That was a bonus! I sent a lot of messages…

What else? Laptop was also fully charged (topped it up at lunch) and I was able to do some university reading whilst hiding behind my laptop; as well as respond to some emails.

Of course these lovely NGO’s look after you with snacks, sodas and a buffet lunch, wouldn’t expect anything else from this NGO culture of the north…

Then what was the thorn of the day? Well… I had already read the curriculum and discovered some pretty big gaps in the literacy component, large sections missing, particularly about the foundations of teaching reading and writing. But what did the discussions centre around?

Deliberations about semantics. Should it be the word objective or competence? Should it be phrased ‘why is communication important’ or ‘the importance of communication?’ What was supposed to be a curriculum review, to discuss how to improve a curriculum, became a 9-hour discussion about insignificant styles of presentation. Ahhhhh!

I occasionally shared my point of view, which was soon lost on a parenthesis, or the word ‘objective’ appearing again. The content was overshadowed by the small details.

Shame. But at least I got some uni study done…

Another… zzzz… meeting…

Last week whilst taking a week off I got a call from a very large NGO which works in education across Uganda. The Area Manager was requesting me to help review one of their curriculum documents for school dropouts. I explained I was a little busy in Kampala (didn’t give all the lovely details since I was relaxing by the pool…) and was returning to Gulu on the weekend. The Area Manager replied: Fine, you can come into our offices on Sunday to review it.
Me: I have family commitments on Sunday…

In the end they emailed me the curriculum documents at about 3pm yesterday and asked if I could read through and then come into their office today to discuss my suggestions. Last night I skim-read about 30 documents (around 300 pages) worth and scribbled down some notes. I arrived this morning, a little late after a different frustrating meeting (a story for anoboring-meetingsmallther day), got out my 4 pages of typed notes and joined the introduction then, wait for it… 

There were 2 NGO workers in the room and three other educators who work with curriculum in Uganda. What followed was the beginning of the opening of each document to read aloud, word by word! The other educators in the room had not had a chance to read through the content so we were about to read it aloud together.

I’ve been to too many long meetings and was not going to sit through an all-day reading of the documents. I very politely suggested to the gathering that those who hadn’t read the documents would spend the rest of the day to read it and we would meet together tomorrow morning to discuss our comments. Victory! I quickly exited and await for the next round of fun tomorrow!

 

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.

ostrich

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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