You give me knowledge, not money

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Sister Rosalba, head teacher at Mary Immaculate Primary School, and Jody

Whilst going on a jog on the weekend I ran into Sister Rosalba – the head teacher at one of our neighbouring schools, Mary Immaculate Primary School. During the jog I was listening to a Timothy Keller sermon about social justice. As always, it was a challenging word and made me mull over what social justice looks like in Gulu community and how I could try to put a piece of that social justice jigsaw together.

Along the way (and in the middle of my thought process) I ran into Sister. She gave me a lovely embrace and called me her ‘best friend’. She then went on to explain why she said that: “because you don’t give me money, you give me knowledge.” Sister then spoke about how children’s reading had improved so much at her school (it’s true – they are our number one government school in town… at the moment).

She was telling me how P1 children (reception/kindergarten) all want to borrow books and have a new desire and motivation to read. And how her teachers were now more confident in teaching. This was encouragement to my soul.

She then shared how it was her birthday that day – she turned 59!

Some of the children had given her one or two hundred shillings (up to 7c or 4p); a piece of soap and other small items. Sister then told me how she had accepted their small tokens of appreciation; and how it was encouraging to see children learn to be generous. This reminded me of a few New Testament parables and I returned to my musings about social justice. Still don’t have it figured out (probably never will), but happy to be on the journey with people like Sister Rosalba to encourage me along.

 

 

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Mum and Dad, welcome to Uganda!

We have been living abroad for more or less about 13 years (my flipping goodness!)

And it takes a grandchild, seemingly, to entice parents to come and visit. On Wednesday we picked up Dan’s folks from the airport in Entebbe. It was pretty awesome to see them on this side, rather than on a Skype screen! Looking forward to showing them what our life looks like here. I think we are almost past the jet lag, and now dumping these guys in culture shock – let the fun begin!

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Dave and Karen’s first meal in Uganda: on Lake Victoria.

Seven-day school week

Do you have any 7-year-olds, 9-year-olds, even 11-year-olds near you? What did their weekend look like? In stark contrast, take a look at the weekend timetable for primary children at one of our local primary boarding schools:

Spelling mistakes aside (there’s no intended organ or tissue damage which children write about)… it’s a pretty rough innings with two weekly tests and night lessons on a Saturday.

These long school days which now seem to engulf the weekends have almost become cultural. When performance is not great, what’s the answer? Just more of the same.

We are trying to work with the District Education Office to minimise these ridiculously long school weeks, but these things take time…

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Aunty Katie, will you take Uncle Tony…

Tonight Myron had a pretty darn good time at a friend’s wedding. Katie (a board member and strong advocate of READ for Life) married Tony and asked Myron to take a role in their wedding. Myron officiated the wedding and lapped up the limelight. Watch the youtube clip below to hear him lead them through their Myron-friendly vows:

Happy anniversary to our little family

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Enjoying a doughnut after a meal at our local coffee shop to celebrate our family anniversary.

Today – October 25th, 2017 – marks the one-year anniversary of our little family being together. One year ago today Myron came to join our family and it has changed immeasurably!

Here’s a summary of the back-story…

The preparation and journey towards Myron began a little over 5 years ago when we were told we couldn’t naturally have children. This was a significant shock to us, who always thought that it would happen when the timing was right.

While we processed the news ourselves we continued to listen to friends, church members and acquaintances ask us: “when are we going to have children? Our body clock was ticking, we aren’t getting any younger, or are you baron?” – we heard all the lines. Mostly, we politely laughed, and sometimes with strangers pretended we were younger. Occasionally we just went in with a bang and said: “we can’t”. That sometimes stopped the conversation. It’s not exactly true that we couldn’t, we could try IVF, but just didn’t feel it was for us.

After much discussion, and prayer we decided that we would try to adopt. We just wanted to wait for the right timing (when we thought we were stable enough in one country for the process to happen).

We began the fostering-in-the-view-of-adoption process from Uganda. We were in line to foster/adopt an abandoned baby early last year; however close to the end process the baby died. That floored us! And I in particular became quite emotionally guarded from that time. We took a step back but still continued the process. A few months later we were told about Myron. We said we wanted to continue the process with him in mind, but didn’t want to meet him until we knew for sure that it was going to happen (trying to project both of us I guess).

We continued in that vain for a few months then on the 21st October last year we got a call from the Children’s Protection Officer at our local orphanage, St Jude’s, to say that we could come and collect Myron in four days time. Yikes! Better do some fast acquaintance and bonding then!

I was quite worried, about many things. But my fears were quickly relieved. And apart from a bumpy couple of weeks settling in, it has been a match, literally made in heaven! It is quite phenomenal how well Myron suits us as a family.

Myron is loud, boisterous, talkative, absolutely loves imaginative play, screams out Bob Dylan when a Dylan song comes on a play list; often plays a pretend ‘harmonica’ or air guitar, or drums, or lets loose with energetic dance moves in the middle of our local coffee shop, ties everything up, takes an age to eat his breakfast (or lunch or dinner) because he is too distracted, loves wrestling with the dogs (and Dan), offers empathy whenever we hurt ourselves, will get annoyed when he greets people and they don’t greet him back, insists other children use manners when they talk to him, when he sneezes in bed he will yell out to us to “please say bless you to me”, will remind us not to say “huh” or “mmm” but to “say yes”, can sit and listen to stories being read to him for a good 20-30 minutes, will yell out each night (habitually) that his eye is sore, then answer in chorus with us that it will get better when he sleeps…

We haven’t read any books about adoption or attachment; but plenty of research on fine gross motor, imaginative play and early literacy skills 🙂

Although not yet officially adopted, Myron is a big part of our family! And we can’t quite remember or imagine what our life was like without him! Happy anniversary to us 🙂

Jody

 

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Independence Day: Gulu style

Independence in Uganda took place on the 9th of October 1962. Uganda was one of the many African countries that was colonised by the British.

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In the north (not so in central and south Uganda) it is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) days to celebrate. This means meat and lots of it!

Denis, one of our local boda drivers (motorbike taxi), each year takes the initiative and buys a bull to be slaughtered in the early hours of the day. It is then wheel-barrowed up to the designated sale position and sold bones and all to the queuing community. To ensure all the meat is sold, he has employed a very unique marketing strategy: Denis leads the bull up and down the main road and down footpaths (of which there are many) speaking to the community and informing them of the vending position as well as taking bookings for specific parts. The head, the 4 legs, the tail and fillet (we booked that one) were sold before his route was complete. This strategy was so successful that by 10.30am all 140kg was sold!

The fillet was pretty good too!

Dan

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‘In school, but learning nothing’

Here’s a blog post I wrote yesterday for READ for Life about a classroom observation I did. Puts it all in perspective…

This morning I went to observe an early morning ‘extra’ lesson at a

BBC_articlenearby government school at 7.30am. I had recently read an article on BBC News Online with the headline: ‘In school, but learning nothing’. This morning I observed one of these lessons. It was frustrating, and on several occasions I restrained myself from interrupting the teacher to correct her and help the children.

The teacher, approaching retirement age, had attended one of my training sessions on teaching reading with phonics. But simply attending a training and teaching a ‘phonics’ lesson doesn’t necessarily transform teaching; there’s a lot more to it than that!

Some of the highlights of the lowlights would have to be the teacher mispronouncing sounds and making grunts of sounds and asking children to write that word – even I had no clue what she was asking them to write. Or the good ol’ pick the word in the teacher’s head question that wastes a lot of time and achieves nothing. No learning took place in that lesson. I waited until the end of the lesson and during marking of the pointless writing exercise I dashed to the head teacher’s office to share my concerns. I left the head teacher’s office with a wider perspective and insight into the story behind the lesson: the teacher has one child, a son who is currently in prison. The family recently purchased land, which the son was looking after, and whilst he is in prison other people tried to steal the land from them. The teacher sought school leave to try and solve the situation. She also has diabetes and HIV and regularly receives treatment from the hospital. Life shifts back in perspective and I consider carefully how to give her feedback.

Meanwhile, I observed two other infant classes in that school. I was blown away in one lesson with the level of progress one teacher had made with his P2 class. I remember observing him more than a year ago and not knowing where to begin with feedback. But today, he taught a quality lesson: he gave constructive feedback to students, had high expectations for his pupils and beautifully scaffolded their learning. I was encouraged and inspired after watching his lesson.

Yes, some children are in school but learning nothing; but fortunately other children are in school and a lot of learning is taking place!

Find out more about how READ for Life is trying to transform teaching and learning in primary schools in Uganda and to flip the switch from children ‘not learning’ in school, to ‘learning in school’. To keep up to date with how we do this, check out our blog and our Facebook page

Games or reading?

I spent Thursday afternoon teaching reading games with P1 (reception/kindergarten) teachers. Here’s tricky word tic-tac-toe 🙂
One teacher did ask me: but when can I play these games? I don’t have time on the timetable for games, can I do them in the reading lesson? Yes! 

This training session was part of our response to noticing poor reading levels from P1 pupils in our Early Grade Reading Assessments we recently carried out at the end of Term 2. P1 pupils (7 year-olds) were reading at an average of 2 words per minute – we held a super blending training to try and give teachers tools to raise that figure!

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Refreshed… by more than waterfalls

Today we said goodbye to our incredible friends Cam and Leah Grant and their two boys who bravely came out from Australia to come and visit us! We were so blessed by their visit: it was refreshing to spend time with old friends and to show them around our Ugandan neighbourhoods… Although we were busy and had a lot on, it was food for the soul 🙂

 

Another building project…

It’s not a piggery, this time it’s classrooms 🙂
For the past few months Dan has been overseeing the construction of an education complex in Layibi, Gulu, funded by Serve Direct. READ for Life is partnering with Serve Direct and we are excited about the future education opportunities for the local community!

The multi-disciplinary education centre will house a children’s library (first active one in Gulu); classrooms and a teacher training room. The training room will host our nursery teacher’s training college (weekend program) when it opens in February next year; as well as host regular teacher training events. We will keep our training room in Holy Rosary Primary School and now have two training campuses in town (at different locations). Serve Direct will employ local primary teachers to run lessons for classes from the neighbouring primary schools (including Layibi Techo Primary School where our Gulu education journey began). These lessons will be tailored to the specific needs of the learners and will act as remedial lessons to fill in gaps, where a lower teacher-pupil ratio and learning resources could help significantly.

It’s a privilege to work alongside Serve Direct (an organisation with a similar vision to ours) and we are deeply grateful for their investment into our local community here.

We have some exciting plans and dreams for this education centre, keep reading to hear more in the future…

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One of the workers finishing the floor in one of the classrooms. 

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An architectural drawing of the completed education centre in Layibi, Gulu (not quite sure if it will feature a palm tree though… )