Education for poverty?

Two days ago a professional Ugandan businessman approached me to ask me to reserve two good students from our nursery teacher training college who are graduating this year so he can employ them in his new nursery and primary school opening next year a few hours away from Gulu. He expressed interest in our students since he believed we were offering them a quality education and they would be very good teachers. He, like many other business-minded Ugandans, claimed he wanted to start up a good quality school.

At the end of our brief conversation I asked him what the rate of pay would be for our graduate teachers. He thought momentarily and replied: 150,000 Ugandan shillings (£30 or $AUS55 per month) plus accommodation.

Since then I have not stopped thinking about that figure and it has stirred up an anger deep inside me. I asked two Ugandan friends what they thought was the minimum amount of money they would need to survive on: just to buy themselves food, cleaning products and occasional trip to the health centre. One replied 200,000 Ugandan shillings (£40, $AUS75) a month; whilst the other replied 250,000 shillings (£50, $AUS95). A quick search online also indicates that the suggested 150,000 shillings a month is below the poverty line for Uganda, meaning our graduate teachers would enter the large statistic on ‘income poverty’ and not earn enough money to eat three meals a day.

I then shared with my two Ugandan friends why I was asking these questions and the figure suggested for our graduate teachers. As soon as I said it was for a graduate nursery teacher they said: ‘yes, that’s fair. That’s good for a starting wage for a nursery teacher’. I argued that they wouldn’t be able to live off that wage and one replied that their family would be expected to support them.

Government primary teachers earn four times that salary; whilst secondary teachers can earn up to seven times that salary. And if our graduate teacher wants to visit her family in Gulu in the holidays, she would spend more than 1/5 of her salary on a bus fare.

I’ve decided I’m not going to ‘reserve’ our graduate teachers to enter the wage market below the poverty line. I’m going to try and get our graduates the best possible jobs they can get from schools that will value them and compensate them accordingly (at least above the poverty line). And I do plan to discuss this further with the said businessman later in the year.


Someone is praying for a family of 4…

Myron gets some sidewalk chalk and announces that he is going to draw a family picture on the kitchen floor. He starts with himself (of course) and then starts drawing what he calls his future sister. “This is going to be my new baby sister,” he says. After completing the family picture (complete with boxing gloves for us to punch the ‘bad sun’) he asks if he could have a sister. I tell Myron he will have to talk to God about that one. So then he prays to God for a little sister to join our family.

We have ‘knocked on some doors’, also prayed about it, but leaving it in God’s hands.



Daddy (on the left) with the ‘biggest head’ and ‘biggest eyes’ in the family, then Mummy with her ‘big head’, the future sister (prayed and drawn by Myron) and then Myron. 

‘By disturbing the Sabbath we break their confidence and hope’

Shabbat Wooden Letterpress Concept

A Nazi soldier wrote to his commander and said: “here’s what we have learnt. We have learnt that if we can disturb the Sabbath of the Jews then they lose all their confidence and hope… Because whenever the Jews keep the Sabbath it’s like they get their spirits back.”

Over the past couple of months we have been learning, as a house group and also as a family, how to practice the Sabbath. The quote above challenged me during listening to one of the sermon podcasts on my morning jog yesterday. We have been increasingly challenged and stretched during our years living in Gulu, and of late this elastic band seems to be losing its elasticity. But it is the Sabbath that is keeping us ‘somewhat grounded’ and allowing us to enter the week from a place of rest.

We have been personally challenged and refreshed from establishing a Sabbath in our family life (which we celebrate on a Monday). We are still working out exactly how this looks best for our family, but lately the ingredients seem to be a jog, reading the Bible together, listening to worship music and a podcast, a swim, a ‘thank you God’ impromptu yoga session, yummy food, a family jigsaw, and no shopping, screens or work.

We have posted this before, but if you wanted to also listen to any of the Sabbath series from Bridgetown Church in Portland, US (I love that we can listen to sermons from all over the world whilst jogging through our local village), then click here.

Screen Shot 2019-04-30 at 10.09.23 pm

Baby steps…

An excerpt from a student’s handout at our nursery teacher’s training college for our behaviour management subject. At least it’s an improvement from three strokes down to two! (Thankfully 10 students did write zero for both questions, just two students left to crack!)

Screen Shot 2019-04-23 at 8.40.18 pm

They can read… where are the books?

question_markOur work with schools is going so well that we have a new looming problem – children can read but they have no books in schools to read! We have come up with what I think is a pretty awesome idea: a one-day book fair in September. Ugandan authors, illustrators and publishers from across the country will showcase their books as well as inspire head teachers and directors on the importance of having books in schools.

But we can’t pull an event like this out of thin air, it needs a little push start. We have budgeted for £500 ($AUS 950). If you would like to help make this day happen, just hop on over to our gofundme page we have set up for the day.


Corruption chain…


A head teacher of a government primary school says to the P7 teacher that he needs his pupils to bring in 2000 Ugandan shillings each for PLE registration (end of year exams). The teacher tells the students in his class that they need to bring in 2500 shillings for PLE registration. A child goes to his mother and says he needs 3000 shillings for PLE registration. Then the wife goes to her husband and says she needs 4000 shillings for their child’s PLE registration.

When the child’s father later visits the school he asks the office for a receipt and questions why the receipt is for 2000 shillings when he paid 4000 shillings.

True story from a Ugandan primary school. This is how thick corruption has spread…

Illiteracy in behaviour management?

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Alvin Toffler

A friend of mine shared this quote with me (as an encouragement) after I had a battle in the classroom yesterday morning. I had been co-teaching two lessons with our Ugandan team: the first was Language, followed by Behaviour Management. I went from a high of a joint rendition of Incy Wincy Spider with my colleague during a lesson on fine motor skills with our year 1 student teachers; down to rock bottom when discussing the recent case of the secondary student who died after being caned by his teacher in Mbale (from my last post). I used the newspaper article as a review discussion exercise and wanted our student teachers to reflect on this. Our students have had numerous lessons this year where they have learnt about Child Protection, what corporal punishment is and how it is illegal in Uganda. During our discussion one student said that the death could have been from ‘over-beating’. Over beating? Of course my next question was how many strokes is enough? The student’s response: ‘according to the government of Uganda, three strokes.’

What? Face palm!


Ok, we are all going to answer this question now, how many strokes is enough: I go around our students one-by-one: 3, 2, 3, 3, 2, 2, 3, 3, 2, 2, 0. Momentarily that lesson plan went out the window and I went on a rant. My co-teacher followed my lead and had her say after mine.

I told that student I would give him 100,000 Ugandan shillings if he could produce evidence for the three strokes being the maximum amount of strokes recommended by the government. He told me he would bring me the evidence next week.

It’s easy (in many ways) to teach student teachers how to teach reading and writing, mathematics, even skills in reading aloud and making resources. But teaching and re-teaching about behaviour management and positive discipline is an enormous challenge! Especially in a culture that believes strongly that ‘children’s ears are on their buttocks!’ 

Toffler has got me thinking and reflecting a lot about unlearning and relearning…



Satan, Police and turkeys threaten children

Shall I take you to the gate so those policemen can take you?

Do you want Satan to come for you in the night? For those talking, Satan will come for you in the night and throw you in the fire.

When you are in class you don’t talk. When you keep talking you will become like a turkey with a long nose. Do you want a long nose?

These threats were part of a local nursery teacher’s toolkit for behaviour management. I scribbled them down as I was observing her reading lesson to five-year-olds this morning. The longer I am here working in education in Uganda, the more I am learning about education and particularly how I cannot isolate the teaching of reading from the teaching of the whole child.


Above was part of my written feedback for the teacher. Although I have tried to stick to a very tight line of only supporting the teaching of reading and writing in the classroom, this is impossible! Good teaching and learning often comes from a good learning environment and we need to support (within reason) the wider learning environment. As part of a way forward, we are planning on identifying six local nursery schools which we want to attempt to raise up as model nursery schools – example schools to those around them. Not only will we be supporting their reading and writing teaching, but also three other key areas: group work with activities, positive behaviour management and reading stories aloud to children.

The school I was at this morning will be one of those schools. I was extremely encouraged when the head of infants (nursery and lower primary) commented how they had picked up some ideas from our student teachers, particularly how to read stories aloud to children and had now started including that in their timetable.

I’m quite excited with the next chapter of working with these six key schools… hopefully Satan or the Police will disappear from their behaviour management toolkit in the coming months, oh and the turkey too.



Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 10.24.05 am

THIS is part of the reality of working with Ugandan schools. Thankfully these cases are rare, but nonetheless absolutely heart-breaking when they do happen! Unfortunately caning, however, is not rare and would happen hundreds of times every day (in one school). This was one of the headlines in the news this week: not in Gulu district where we live and our main work is, but in a district with an organisation we are partnering with (click on the image to read the full article).

THIS is also why we are grateful to be partnering with the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) and the Ugandan Christian Lawyer’s Fraternity (UCLF) with their work on Child Protection in schools, and grateful for the expertise they have shared with our student teachers.

THIS is one of the many reasons why we have started our own nursery teacher training college, to train teachers in ALL aspects of teaching and learning and not just reading and writing; and to encourage young teachers to see the value of each child and to treat children with dignity and respect.

THIS is one of the reasons why Myron attends a small home-school co-operative.

THIS is one of the reasons why it is extremely difficult for me to recommend schools when parents, friends, colleagues and acquaintances ask me which school should they send their child to.

THIS is one of the reasons why we are still here…



Secret balloon ride anniversary

We’ve kept it a little quiet, and were a little late to celebrate… but we just returned from celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary at Murchison National Park! Myron doesn’t know the fun we got up to, so shhhh, let’s keep it that way 🙂

Myron was extremely excited to have his first sleep over at his friend’s house, the perfect escape plan for us: he thought we went somewhere for a ‘meeting’. Our meeting was two nights at two different park lodges (like a mini double holiday!), and a sunrise balloon ride over the park. It was the absolute peak of the dry season and we hovered over a very scorched and dusty savannah, but we still got to see warthogs, various antelope, and many elephants from above.

We tried to skimp a little and didn’t pay extra for an air-conditioned room for the first night. Big mistake! But that was soon overshadowed by the glorious balloon ride, having two lovely pools to ourselves (in two destinations), a bush buffet breakfast in front of the Nile, some lounging around reading fiction (yes, fiction!), and an incredible sleep in an air-conditioned room in the second lodge where we woke momentarily to a loud thunderstorm outside signalling potentially the end to a long dry season.

As we left the park the animals were also out, returning to yesterday’s dried-up watering holes which were now brimming with water. The rain brought a welcome reprieve to many, and those two nights away were also a welcome reprieve for us! As one season comes to an end, so a new one is about to begin…