The reading revolution

This is certainly one of the highlights of schools being closed since March – Dan’s class of pupils from our local community. Several days a week Dan will listen to the children read (as well as teach them). He must hear them read their borrowed storybook before they borrow another book (at their level). Although learning has stagnated for thousands of children across the country, these children are making great progress with their reading… and having books to read certainly makes a difference!

The rainbows amongst the clouds

Across the world I think we would all have to agree that this year is and will continue to be a challenging year! But amidst the challenges and grey clouds there are quite a few rainbows. Here are my 12 rainbows since schools closed in March.

  1. Spending a lot more time with my family (incredible husband and son).
  2. Having the privilege of homeschooling Myron (not sure if I will give this one up too quickly next year!)
  3. Starting up new ventures (radio programs) which have had a tremendous impact on the community.
  4. Listening to our team blossom into their read aloud skills (I just love how the character voices and sound effects have developed over these past few months!)
  5. The flexibility in time to allow for regular exercise and morning quiet times.
  6. The incredible resources I have been able to tap into made available by some lovely, talented and generous people around the world!
  7. I have read a lot more! I have possibly read more books for pleasure and enjoyment this year than I have in the past 10 years (apart from teaching books and required uni readings!)
  8. We have got to know our neighbours a lot more, mostly thanks to Dan spear-heading daily neighbourhood teaching sessions with children who live nearby.
  9. We started monthly family storytelling sessions and they are often the highlight of our month (now including storytelling capes!)
  10. Being able to spend some quality time on professional development of the wonderful team of teachers we have (and digging in deep with story reading and analysing skills, as well as activities you can do after reading a story – it has been so much fun!)
  11. Discovering an incredible team of dance teachers in the UK who teach Myron on Zoom – Funky Moves teachers you are literally an answer to prayer and have made a big difference to our lives!
  12. Slowing down. Breathing. And resting, well, a little more than before 🙂

Freedom of Simplicity

I have been challenged, shaken, stirred and much more through reading Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster.

This is certainly going down as one of the books that is going to (hopefully) shape and define and change me! I’m not an avid reader, and I can possibly count on one hand the books that I will read and re-read because they are such gems! Although I have finished reading it there’s still a lot more that I need to ponder, process and pray about it.

If you are a reader, or even if you aren’t a reader, why not give it a try!

“Christian simplicity frees us from this modern mania. It brings sanity to our compulsive extravagance, and peace to our frantic spirit. It liberates us from what William Penn called ‘cumber.’ It allows us to see material things for what they are — goods to enhance life, not to oppress life. People once again become more important than possessions. Simplicity enables us to live lives of integrity in the face of the terrible realities of our global village . . .”
Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster

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When there’s no school…

Schools have been closed across Uganda since March. Watch this short video to find out how we have been bringing education to millions of learners over the radio.

If you feel like you would like to give to this project, please get in touch or go to our website.

Read For Life from East Africa Production House on Vimeo.

A library with legs (and a radio)

Dan’s local library has opened! However membership is restricted to the 25 children who regularly attend his ‘lessons’.

Most people reading this page know that schools in Uganda have been closed since March, and it doesn’t look like they will open soon. About six weeks ago Dan started to ‘teach’ the children across the road. We are aware that schools are closed and not allowed to open, but this isn’t normal school. Each afternoon Dan and his assistant, Myron, walk over the road with a radio, slates, chalk, a storybook and stickers of course!

Dan helps to maximise the impact of our radio lessons for our neighbours by taking over a radio (which they don’t have), and some slates so the children can write when instructed by our team over the radio. They participate actively in all aspects of the radio lesson and often call in to answer some questions on the radio! There’s a little extra revision added by Dan after the radio program finishes along with teaching maths facts and another storytime session on top too!

The latest addition to this unconventional class is his book borrowing system. Each child has been issued with a book bag and a book at roughly their level to read. They must read the book to Dan before they are allowed to borrow a new one. Thankfully we have quite an extensive home library of books, and now they are being read by a much wider audience!

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Some of the ‘book bags’ for our neighbours. 

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Children actively answering questions during the radio program. 

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Deep in concentration… 

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Teacher Dan and Teacher Myron return from one of their ‘lessons’ across the road. 

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The only chair on display in the compound is reserved for… the radio! 

 

Celebrating radio achievements

For over four months our team at READ for Life, which has now joined forced with the team at Connect Education Centre, has presented over 275 education radio lessons to listeners. It’s a pretty awesome achievement and it’s not over yet!

So last Friday we took some time to take a short pause to celebrate! We spend an afternoon playing trivia games (with rounds like: who made that sound effect on the radio? Spell these made-up words; or name that phonics song); eat some incredible cake (after taking selfies with it); speeches; a poem and fellowship.

By the end of the day my cheeks were sore from laughing and smiling so much!

Below are some photos from the afternoon, and the poem I wrote for the day:

The schools are closed and children at home
With nowhere to go, there’s no need to comb 
So we jump to the need and go on radio
Are they learning from home? We’ll never know 
But we keep walking blindly, it’s all for the children
We put on headphones and prepare for the lesson

Teaching reading, writing, mathematics and advice for parents
And reading stories about prisons, rabbits, longs and bear hunts
We teach pronunciation while we work on our own 
And who do we read to? It’s just our phone
We politely disagree with commercial breaks and a stubborn presenter
While we give notes and hand signals to our opposite member

But the children call in and answer our questions
And those presenters start listening to our suggestions 
Four months on, they’ve got to be learning!
What an incredible job before they start returning
Thank you for being flexible to learn something new
Like saying on the radio, how do you spell oo? 

I’m grateful for all your work in this time
From here, there’s only one direction, and that’s to climb!

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Teacher Reagan being awarded with a chocolate bar – his prize for being on the winning trivia team!

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Believe it or not – this is a cake! And it tasted delicious.

 

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Teacher Dickenz being awarded with a certificate for the most improve and most creative story reader on radio.

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Staff from Connect Education Centre and READ for Life who have been bringing our radio lessons to life and learning to the homes for the past 4 months. 

Dan picks up some chalk…

Schools are closed in Uganda. They have been closed for more than 3 months, and we are not quite sure when they will open again. Whilst READ for Life has been hitting the studio every day to teach children over the radio, Dan has decided to teach a little more locally – across the road. Each day Dan and Myron walk over with a box of mini chalkboards, a couple of storybooks, a small speaker with some phonics songs and some stickers for motivation!

And… after 5 lessons, he is starting to see some progress!

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Dan teaching the children in our neighbourhood how to read. 

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Dan and his assistant teacher, Myron, on their way back from lessons! 

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A few of the learners. 

 

We will record…. anywhere!

Radio shots

From lovely lined recording studios with comfortable chairs, to small side rooms with plastic chairs, to open-aired huts with cement built-in seats, to dingy, charcoal-infested and cramped make-shift studios with ripped out car seats to sit on – we’ve been there over the past two weeks!

Whatever it takes to bring education to the children in lockdown – right? 

We were in a nice rhythm with our two one-hour live daily education radio shows ticking along at two different stations. Teaching a lovely balance of phonics, mathematics and story time. We were even overcoming the transport restrictions to get to the studios: borrowing bicycles, getting permits to use our vehicle to pick up staff, but on Monday our permit was revoked because too many fake permits are circulating. So back to cycling and walking.

We ambitiously thought we could take more on, and widen our influence, so accepted an offer to make prerecordings for Amudat, another region in Uganda (on the Kenyan border). So… we have to pre-record all the material and send it off for a radio station there. That’s when the wheels started falling off our tight ship (and I’m fully aware that ships don’t have wheels!) and when there are more external influences out of our control.

Some of the lovely calamities we faced include:

  • Endless retakes because of a noisy environment (in the centre of a small trading area)
  • Waiting up until midnight to be sent the wrong file (which needed to be sent to be aired on the radio the next day)…. twice!
  • Waiting for hours for the producer to email the file, but he was out of internet data
  • Having fighter jets constantly flying over our outside studio
  • A constant stream of cigarette smoke wafting in to the make-shift studio
  • After a whole morning of recording, power goes out and we discover all the work was not saved.

But we are still standing, still laughing, still practising reading aloud and sending stories to each other in our staff WhatsApp group, and still managing to send the pre-recordings for Amudat off… just in time! As a team, we are learning a lot during our ‘lockdown’ and practising patience and endurance – harder for some of us than others (me!)

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The entrance to one of the studios. 

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The view from one of the studios. 

 

 

 

Lockdown continues…

Last night President Museveni addressed the nation again and extended our current lockdown and movement restrictions for a further 21 days. We have an evening curfew of 7pm, and are not allowed to leave the house until 6.30am. Private vehicles are banned (unless you get permission from the local government to drive them); motorbikes are not allowed to carry passengers, and all shops not selling food are to remain closed. Motorbikes and bicycles are only allowed on the road until 2pm.

Minimising movement has certainly slowed the spread of the virus, Uganda had its first positive case reported three and a half weeks ago and today it stands at 55 cases (no deaths). Schools were closed a couple of days before the first case was even reported and there is no sign of opening schools in the near future.

Lockdown has certainly had many positive effects on minimising the spread of the virus, and even on the make-up of families. A friend of ours, a local mason, was only commenting to me yesterday that lockdown is helping families: fathers are home more and able to spend more time than ever with their children, drinking bars and night clubs are closed, and we are sleeping peacefully without loud music playing.

However the negative effects are already beginning to seep through with families worrying how they will afford to buy food when many are no longer earning money (there’s no such thing as a social welfare system here). Thankfully the rains have returned and many are planting.

We at READ for Life have been hitting the airwaves twice a day, in an attempt to educate hundreds of thousands of children who are at home and not learning. Myron has been helping us daily in our morning program. He even continues in character in the afternoon sometimes from home as he role-plays himself as a radio presenter.

Personally, we have been busier now than ever before! Home schooling starts straight after breakfast to allow time for radio programs, then often driving to another studio, being stopped by the Army to show our special pass, Dan taking over schooling and being an awesome Dad in the afternoon, planning in the afternoon, and then starting the day over again 🙂

As we continue to pray for an end to this dreaded virus please pray for food security in Uganda and that many will not go hungry in the coming months!

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At Radio Pacis for our daily School to Home Learning education program with Myron, Teacher Beatrice and presenter Enock. 

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Myron riding to the radio studio. 

 

Partial lockdown…

For those who are wondering what day-to-day life looks like in Uganda: here’s a summary of our current restrictions.

It seems like every second day the President is either releasing new restrictions or clarifying old restrictions in a national address.

Although we only have 48 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, we have potentially tougher restrictions than countries with thousands of cases.

The three restrictions that have had the biggest impact on the population (in my opinion) or the biggest potential impact is a ban on public transport – no passengers allowed on any transport and no private vehicles allowed on the road (even with just the driver); the introduction of a curfew of 7pm each day (enforced by the military and police) until 6.30am; and a ban on giving out food (other than by the government).

Although the transport ban is a slight inconvenience for our household, it is a huge problem for hundreds in need of medical treatment. You are not permitted to drive anyone to hospital (on a motorbike or in a vehicle), it must be co-ordinated with local government and health authorities. A knock-on effect to the transport ban is that now a large percentage of the population is very limited in how they can earn money.

The evening curfew has made for some very quiet evenings but also a green light for thieves taking advantage of no people on the road in the evenings. Just a couple of nights ago two thieves were shot dead trying to break into a mobile money outlet.

Finally the President has made it very clear that people caught giving out food (other than the government) will be charged with manslaughter during this period. Thousands of Ugandans are out of work at the moment and within a month or two starvation and food insecurity may be a much bigger problem than COVID-19.

Most of these restrictions have been put in place for the good of the public and to minimus the spread of the virus; however painful in other areas.

Pray for: security, safety and health of our community – and rain so newly planted crops can start growing!

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