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…



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


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


‘In the morning it will always, always be Leah’

Yesterday I was proud to reach one of my physical/spiritual milestones: to be able to listen to a sermon whilst jogging!

It was refreshing to listen to a sermon from Timothy Keller (an old favourite) and during the jog I made a couple of personal revelations and reflections.


Revelation 1: Here, I have access to the best sermons in the world! In the past I have often been frustrated at the end of a local church service. Frustrated with (in my eyes) the quality of the sermon, the deviation from the text, the volume of the speaker, the off-the-cuff comments about poor treatment of women, my list of negativity goes on. There are many reasons for this, possibly lack of appropriate education is the root cause though. But going without great quality sermons is my own fault. I just need to make time, they are all there online!

Reflection 1: Keller’s sermon ‘The Struggle for Love’ was based on the Genesis story of Jacob when he was tricked into marrying Leah and later marries Rachel (Genesis 29:15-35). One of Keller’s analogies is that we all want to wake up next to Rachel, but in the end we will always wake up next to Leah. He quotes from CS Lewis to explain his analogy well:

‘Most people, if they really learned how to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something this world can never give them’.

Keller recognises that:

‘in all our life, through every event, there will always be a ground note of cosmic disappointment’.

This was a very good reminder for me. Here, away from my creature comforts; my countrymen who understand my sense of humour; my friends who know my history; I sometimes long for people/things that are not here. Possibly I am hoping to wake up next to Rachel, but it’s Leah who greets me in the morning. It’s also a reminder to not look to things or people to fill any void that is there. If you have time, listen to the sermon. You will hopefully be challenged, stretched and learn more like I did.

I went for a jog this morning and listened to half of a really interesting podcast from Invisibilia: Flip the Script. The last two podcasts I have listened to from Invisibilia have made me want to jog further to find out what happens next! Better than a good drumbeat for motivation.

If you have a little time, or want to listen to something whilst cleaning, driving, commuting, download the Flip the Script episode.  It’s about where someone does the opposite of what their natural instinct is, the psychology term is: non-complementary behaviour.

“Love and caring – for most Western countries, these are not among the weapons we use to fight terrorism..”

Regardless of your motivation or belief system, I think we could all benefit from practising non-complementary behaviour in certain situations…



Unwise donations… story books?

After being a tyrant at the two local teacher’s colleges and finishing with a plea for the student teachers to borrow storybooks from the college library to practise reading aloud… I thought I should look in the primary teacher’s college libraries. What storybooks do they have?

At this local primary teacher’s college this is what I found in the ‘story book’ section. I can just imagine getting out that ‘Windows 2000 Server’ manual for a riveting read to seven-year-olds. Or ‘Cooking Explained’, that’s a real page-turner and will inspire an appetite for reading.

Unfortunately good intentions are not always the best of intentions. I wonder what was running through the mind of the person bringing these books as a donation to this teacher’s college…


Tyrant at the teacher’s college…

read_aloud_Gulu_coreThis week Catherine was away for training in Central Uganda so I filled her spot teaching in our two local teacher’s colleges with Katie, our awesome Peace Corps Volunteer.

This afternoon we were at the government teacher’s college. It’s exam week (end of term exams start tomorrow), so the student teachers seem quite preoccupied and not as committed as they should be. We had planned a lesson about reading aloud to children and how to conduct a ‘Read Aloud’ lesson. Of course, the content of what we had to teach was in my opinion far more important than exam preparation.

For our second session there were only two students in the front row about 10 minutes after the lesson should have started. Where was everyone else? Studying in the library, revising in the computer room… well go and get them!

The small crowd of students under the mango tree slowly increased. Katie began the lesson whilst I hovered to the side, barking at and cross-examining the late-comers.

Why are you late? I was showering. Showering? During lesson time? There are plenty of other times you should be showering!

Why are you late? I was copying a friend’s notes. Copying! When you should be in class! Sit down!

Why are you walking slowly when you are late to class? Move those legs!

I felt like a character out of a Roald Dahl novel and I couldn’t stop myself!

Later in the lesson I modelled reading aloud with Giraffes Can’t Dance – a beautifully written children’s book about poor Gerald who at the beginning fumbles over his feet, but by the end is a beautiful dancer! The students were enthralled during the reading and we shared some beautiful teaching moments together.

I asked a couple of questions after the book, which was a little enlightening, but also quite frightening, to discover the lack of comprehension abilities of our future primary school teachers.

We then gave them the opportunity to practice reading aloud to each other; something that seemed very new to them. We have a long way to go to work on our fluency… but it was a good start.




The significance of ‘shouting me lunch’

A couple of days ago I met one of my Ugandan colleagues for lunch at a local restaurant. It was a slightly more upper-class local restaurant, you pay a little extra, but you also have the opportunity of eating a range of meat dishes – certainly
things that are sought-after, and you can order fresh juice!


Let me assure you the restaurant wasn’t this ‘posh’, lol, just wanted a picture to reflect going out for a meal 

There were two main purposes of this meeting:

  • For me to catch up with this colleague: I had recently increased her responsibility and I wanted to see how she was going, check-in on relations with other staff members (can’t believe I am writing a plural now – yes we are growing!); attempt to mentor her a little; and
  • To give her advise on her research for her Diploma course, which she wanted to discuss with me.

We had a lovely chat about many things, and a fruitful research discussion. After our meal the waitress brought over the bill. It sat in the middle of the

table, to the side, for another hour or so as we continued to talk about schools, reading test results, research, etc. Then suddenly my colleague jumps up and says: “Spencer, have I ever bought you lunch? I am paying today”; and briskly walks to the counter. I shout back some lame attempt at a refusal: “No, it’s ok,” but it is quickly drowned by her insistence.

My employee here bought me lunch. She flipping bought me lunch!

This may not seem like a big deal. But let me just tell you, that this single event is EARTH-SHATTERING! 

This is quite symbolic and says so much! Here’s a few things I took from this incident:

  1. She is not expectant. She doesn’t expect things from me and doesn’t have a feeling of entitlement. (I could possibly write this line 10 times to try to explain the significance of this one single point, but let me just tell you – it’s a big ‘en).
  2. She is generous.
  3. She is humble
  4. She is my friend and values our friendship.

I haven’t written her name, but those of you who know me well, and have followed the work I am doing, could possibly guess who it was.

I am deeply honoured and humbled to work alongside her and blessed to have her alongside me in this valuable work we are doing in schools.

Note: The day before I met someone else for lunch. This particular lady was a westerner, the boss of an international NGO which is planning on starting a primary school here. She requested that we meet to ask my advise about the local education system. We met at a western restaurant in town and we chatted for a few hours. When it came time for the bill, we split it. I think the events of the following day made it so much more powerful and significant for me.

So note for the future: You want to impress me, shout me lunch 🙂


Theft, opportunity, deception and scandal – part 3

‘No human being should have to spend time in that place’

Our local community recently attempted to kick-out a businessman from our small trading centre for sleeping around with under-aged girls. One of the ringleaders to this purge was Denis, one of the main bodas from the local stage who the community (and us) depend on to get things done.

Unfortunately this local businessman didn’t listen to the move-on advice and retaliated with his own form of deceitful revenge. Denis and the captain of the local boda stage were falsely accused of rape and later arrested and spent one day in a holding cell. Denis told me afterwards that the holding cell was so awful that ‘no human being should have to spend time in that place’. The community rallied behind him, however, and streamed throughout the day to the police station, delivering water and food.

While visiting us soon afterwards Denis spotted one of the women who had falsely accused him. He organised for a meeting with another of the girls (in our compound, away from suspicious eyes) and recorded his conversation with her on our phone.

The girls confessed that the businessman had paid them 25,000 shillings each (about £5.20; $8.70) to lie to the police and make-up the story about Denis and his colleague. Apparently two other girls had refused to lie.

Denis and his boda colleague then took the evidence to the police and cleared their name. A community meeting was organised, and the businessman’s father pleaded that they allow him to stay. The father claimed that if his son was expelled from the trading centre it would be like cutting off a limb from his body. The community succumbed to the father’s plea and the businessman remains.

Unfortunately here, it is easy to make up stories about people to get them locked away. It is common practice for people to make up stories about a foe on a Friday afternoon knowing that they will not be processed until the Monday morning. Just to teach them a lesson… with charges often dropped on the Monday.

Theft, opportunity, deception and scandal – part 2

Innocent by name…

There’s a boy named Innocent who lives just across the way from us, around 13 years old. He can barely read, has been out of school more than what he has been in school, and certainly is neglected by his family. His father is a solider and has remarried. The father spends the majority of his time away from the family and Innocent is left under the care of his uncle and aunty who clearly do not care for the boy a way a caring mother and father would. Innocent is known as a local thief and acts more like a streetkid even though he has a ‘home’ to live in.

Innocent attends one of the lowest performing government schools in our neighbourhood and his family has not paid school fees (about 30,000 shillings a term – £6.50, $11) for over a year. He also often complains of not getting fed very often at home; without a doubt he is a neglected child.

Over the past couple of years we have tried to tutor Innocent in reading and writing. We have had him do numerous jobs to try and earn his school fees.

But recently, things started to fall apart more than normal.

During the last school holidays we had organised peer tutoring. Dan had also organised for him to sell some goods at the small trading centre, which would be used to pay for his school fees. Here, we generally don’t like to be known to just give people money; in our eyes it is more empowering and respectful if we give someone the opportunity to earn it.

While Innocent was attempting to earn some of his school fees he stole 60,000 Ugandan shillings (about £13; $21) from a shopkeeper in the small trading centre. Someone saw him and a mob quickly formed. One of the workers called Innocent wanted to give him a terrible beating for spoiling their name. Our boda friend Denis intervened, thankfully, and gave Innocent a ‘controlled beating’ – otherwise he would have been left for dead. Mob justice is a frequent occurrence in our community.

Innocent’s small holiday trading ended and he was banned from the trading centre. Not long afterwards he was accused of stealing a small stove, mosquito net and money from his neighbour. It is hard to know for sure it was Innocent, however he was blamed and beaten severely for it.

There are numerous times like these ones. Like when I heard Innocent wailing in a nearby gutter, his arm swollen. I enquired what had happened: his brother had beaten him with a branch for not slashing enough of the compound.

Community gossip claim that Innocent was injected with a herb (maybe onion?) under his skin when he was a small child and that has placed a ‘stealing curse’ on him.

We continued to feel sorry for Innocent and try to intervene where we could. Although we were disheartened that he stole from the trading centre, we again got him to do some gardening work for us to pay his school fees off. This continued until we were alerted that spaghetti, eggs, cooking oil and milk was stolen from the small hut in our compound (where we used to live). At first Innocent flatly denied stealing it. But later he admitted it and we have been forced to also ban him from our compound.

We have spoken to his school head teacher about the situation, but no-one appears to want to act or do anything about it.

We haven’t given up on Innocent, however the next step would be the local probation officer. Please pray for the future of Innocent.

Theft, opportunity, deception and scandal

Today I begin a short series (four posts) on community life living in Uganda. There are four short stories I want to share with you. I will begin with one today, then the rest should follow in coming days…


Dan with Ned.

The truth about the chicken

This morning Dan went to unlock the gate and was greeted by three women, one particularly agitated. It was the second time this woman had appeared at our gate. Three weeks ago she waved a dead chicken around in the air accusing our pup Izzy of killing it. She appeared the day after Izzy had got out for the first time and had a little run around, it was also after a severe storm. We tried to inspect this chicken, no bite marks, we were skeptical. We asked a lot of questions, we didn’t really get many answers, so the lady threw the dead chicken at our gate, threatens to kill our dog if it gets out again, she walks off and that was that. Quite a few passers-by picked up the dead chicken, also inspected it, and all agreed a dog was not to blame. Common theory of cause of death was stoned by children.

Today this woman returned, flanked by two at her side. Another chicken in her hand (this one alive), this time claiming our beautiful Ned had tried to kill the chicken and she says she has a witness. Ned? Not our Ned! If any of you know Ned, you would know that he would never do such a thing. He sometimes gets out, has a little run around the village, greets a few people, plays with some children, runs around with other dogs, then will reappear around dinner time (funnily enough). Dan was adamant that Ned didn’t do this. A heated discussion ensued for possibly 30 minutes. During that time Dan tried to call the head of the local boda group, he would know what to do, and he knows Ned J One of the lady’s was attempting to interpret the woman, but it didn’t appear she was doing a good job. Dan possibly said about 5 times that he would buy the chicken from her – not admitting guilt, but just to alleviate the escalating situation. Denis (head boda) arrives, speaks with the woman for a long time, and although he agreed that Ned didn’t do it he recommended that Dan buy the chicken from her. So Dan buys the chicken in question but the woman walked away still looking miserable; possibly because we wouldn’t take responsibility.

Less than an hour after the heated transaction we are told by neighbours behind us that it wasn’t Ned, they saw the whole thing, and it was another neighbour’s dog (which isn’t in a fence). These neighbours had to pull the dog off the chicken. They also claim that this other dog had also killed all their chickens in the past.

With this new evidence, Dan and Denis go on an evening walk through the village to find the owner of the chicken. Dan and Denis have a lovely little stroll and meet about three groups of people along the way. Each time they stop, Denis shares about the chicken event each time. Good strategy: publically let the truth out. Ironically the first group of people were the very neighbours who had intervened and pulled the chicken off.

Dan and Denis arrive at the owner of the chicken’s home, however she was at church choir practice and wasn’t in. Her son was, so they shared the updated story with her son and he says he will pass the information on to his mother.

On the way back, they meet another group of people, and Denis continues to share the truth about the chicken. Dan enjoyed interacting with these people along the way for two main reasons: 1: It was lovely to stroll through the village and the residents seemed so friendly. It was off our beaten track that we normally traverse. 2: There was a lot of talk of us being ‘part of the community’, and it was encouraging to hear people’s sense of justice. Many of those we met claim the woman was blatantly making up these accusations to get money from the white person which, in their eyes, was not right.


Ned – falsely accused of being a chicken killer.

Getting the priorities right – slashing?

gamba-grass-leavesMy incredible colleague, Teacher Catherine, travelled out of town to the local government primary teacher’s college this afternoon to continue with our early reading and writing programme which we are piloting with year one student teachers. Unfortunately she met the students slashing the compound. Afternoon lessons were abruptly suspended because the college is receiving visitors tomorrow. I just rang the head of English department at the college to share my concerns and enquired about these visitors. Who are these important visitors that they would suspend lessons for? A big NGO. Makes sense. Although we are an NGO, we are not funding the college, we are instead providing teaching and knowledge to the students (not how NGOs normally work here). A visit by a big NGO brings the hope of funding and perks; and of course cut grass could make that reality so much closer…