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get to the studios: borrowing bicycles, getting permits to use our vehicle to pick up staff, but on Monday our permit was revoked because too many fake permits are circulating.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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The wriggling DJ

Our daily teaching radio programs started yesterday. Myron made a star ‘wriggly’ performance with a retelling of The Three Little Pigs.

Here he is in all his wriggling glory:

The retelling was after I told the story on the radio with a little help from Myron and my colleague Beatrice:

This story reading and telling was part of our education program that also included the teaching of sounds (reading and writing), some mathematics and advice to parents on what they can do at home to help their children learn.

I think it was a good start!

And… record!

We are now bringing stories and education to the airways every single day of the week during the closure of schools in northern Uganda! And it began tonight, with read alouds in English and Acoli (local language) at Mega FM studios.

I read Handsome Hog in English – no photos or video of that – sorry,  however a colleague did record part of it. Click below to listen :

Sam, one of my colleagues at Connect Education Centre, joined me in the studio and read The Cat and the Rat in Acoli (local language). You can see a photo below, as well as a short video clip of him reading below that.

After reading we had the opportunity to share about the importance of reading aloud, and answer phone calls from the public who rang in with some very good questions. It was a great time and we look forward to returning to Mega FM studios next Sunday!

In the meantime, we will be debuting on Radio Pacis tomorrow and each day from Monday to Saturday to share a wider range of educational areas such as teaching children how to read, mathematics, more reading aloud and advice to parents. We are very blessed to have this time on the radio when schools are closed. Pray for wide radio coverage and a big impact in households.

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Sam from Connect Education Centre reading The Cat and the Rat published by education NGO Pangea Education. 

 

Hitting the airwaves – every day!

microphone in radio studioWherever you are around the world it is likely that your schools have closed (or about to close). Schools in Uganda closed one week ago and our office closed two days ago.

Unlike other countries around the world, online learning is not an option for children in northern Uganda. However, I’m extremely excited to announce that we are bringing learning to homes across the Acholi sub-region over the radio! We have secured a prime-time spot on Radio Pacis (101.4FM), one of the local radio stations, to have 45 minutes of teaching on the radio every week day from 10am to 11am (after the news) during the period of school closure.

I have just drafted our radio content for the first episode, about to meet with one of my colleagues to discuss it, and then meeting with the presenter at the studio to prepare for Monday. We will have two READ for Life staff each day on air teaching reading, writing, mathematics, reading aloud and giving parents advice on how they can help with children’s education at home.

The station is also giving us a weekly Saturday slot to focus on reading aloud and supporting younger children’s education from home. And another station is giving us a one-hour slot on Sundays for read aloud in both English and Acholi. So we have every day of the week covered!

Go to the Radio Pacis’ website to find out how you can tune in online.

Pray that we can bridge the gap in learning and for listeners to tune in!

Stop spreading fake news!

Today I’m joining my health friends in attempting to shout from the rooftops: stop spreading fake news about Coronavirus!

We met with our staff the day before the Ugandan President’s first address to the nation about the virus in an attempt to educate staff accurately about symptoms, new measures we were putting in place at the centre, how staff can help to keep their family safe at home and to dispel myths floating around in social media (this was last Wednesday). I’m not a health expert, but in an attempt to bring accurate information and truth to our team I have returned to ‘research-mode’.

Facebook friends and WhatsApp contacts from three continents have been forwarding me messages about how I can protect myself against Coronavirus. Some are laced in truth, others are almost laughable! Staying away from ice cream? C’mon!

What is also shocking is fake news being spread in the ‘name of’ trusted sources, such as UNICEF and the NHS. Would the NHS really say go out and sunbathe? UNICEF Deputy Executive Director slammed the attached one as false – of course advice to stay away from ice cream and cold food is wrong!

In a country where residents have limited access to up-to-date, accurate health information, but easy access to social media, this is extremely dangerous!

Please only share what you know is accurate. And the best way to do this is to share directly from accurate sources such as the World Health Organisation.

It is also worthwhile to find out what some of these myths are. The World Health Organisation has a whole page dedicated to tackling it here, however there are many more circulating than are on this list.

Another way to prevent being misled and to participate in sharing accurate information rather than myths or fake news is to make sure you are well-informed. Please go to the World Health Organisation website, if you haven’t already, and read up on all the latest information about how to protect yourself against Coronavirus.

According to my limited knowledge, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to regularly wash your hands. From chatting to family in Australia, I’m surprised to hear that many shops, banks, and other high-frequented places do not have any hand washing facilities for customers to use before entering. Even if hand sanitiser is sold out, there’s always soap and water!

To date, there are nine confirmed cases in Uganda. We are in partial lock-down (schools are closed, public gatherings are band including church services, large weddings and funerals), we are recommenced not to use public transport and our borders are closed.

We continue to join you in prayer against this pandemic!

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One of the many ‘fake news’ messages about coronavirus. 

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From the World Health Organisation’s Myth Busters page. 

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One of the hand washing stations at our centre. No need for expensive alcohol hand sanitiser! 

Stories on air

live-broadcast-airtime1For the first time I will be joining one of my colleagues to read children’s stories live on the local radio station. We will be reading in English and local language (no prize for who’s reading the English version…)

I’m pretty excited about this opportunity and it couldn’t have come at a better time (with schools closed for one month). Hopeful that this will be a regular slot which is shared amongst educators in Gulu.

 

We’re joining you…

Dear World,

We are praying for you! And joining you in partial lock-down…

Today Ugandan schools closed for 30 days. Although Coronavirus (COVID-19) hasn’t reached Uganda yet, it has reached our borders and the government is trying to limit the spread by imposing a partial lockdown for 30 days.

All over the country parents are struggling for unexpected transport fees to return their children from boarding schools. Schools have closed; churches have closed; weddings and funerals limited to 10 people present; travelling markets are banned; along with sporting events; and drinking bars.

Tomorrow morning we will be closing our college for 30 days; giving our students homework and a lot of advice on how to protect themselves and their family against the virus (if it comes).

At READ for Life, the current plan for staff is to still visit the office, make some resources, do some online learning, write some lesson plans and catch up on all those jobs we never get a chance to do! Unless, of course, our restrictions are tightened.

Almost all expat short-term volunteers have left for their home countries, and there has been a crazy rush to book flights before airlines stop. There is a general feeling of anxiety and uncertainty in the air.

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Painter allergic to paint

We’ve hired a painter to do some work at our workplace. He’s always wearing a bandana around his mouth and nose. I asked him about it today, and he tells me he is allergic to paint. He’s a great painter though!

Dan