Not just a book fair!

Yesterday we had our first ever Book Fair in Gulu attended by about 80 people!
And it went smashingly! Librarian/author Cathy Kreutter was our key note speaker and challenged many directors and head teachers present! Her presentations were more than challenging to the many present and the language of school leaders soon changed. I heard remarks like: “we don’t have a functioning library, we have just a library, in fact we don’t even have a library we have a store room.” The self reflection and inspiration amongst local school leaders was so encouraging!

And what was even more encouraging was books were flying off the shelves! Two vendors who travelled up from Kampala with a range of books for sale sold out on the day. Ye of little faith in Gulu I said. It was an incredible sight to see local schools buying books.

Yesterday a small seed was sown to change the reading culture in our community. But we pray that we can continue to water that seed so it can grow.

Thank you again to all of those who donated to help bring this event to life! Many are requesting it should be an annual event… we are pondering that one 🙂


School participants and vendors at the book launch of Cathy Kreutter’s new counting book 1, 2, 3 Good Morning!


Participants browsing and buying books! 


Cathy Kreutter’s storytelling aids for Tendo’s Wish. 


Explaining the difference between a beginning reader and a storybook. 


More browsing and buying at one of the stalls – a range of books from a book shop in Kampala. 


Education NGO Pangea Education with their range of books and discussing with a local school director. 


Connect Education Centre co-ordinator Sam Lukwiya announcing the new mobile library project – more on that one later 🙂 


Education NGO Enjuba with a range of their locally produced storybooks on sale. 


Jody’s first book signing 🙂 The local speech and language therapist Ojok Isaac asked me to sign his phonics reader. 


A local 7-year-old reading ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ during our Book Fair. 


Cathy Kreutter delivering the most active read aloud I have ever heard! And the rolex flew…… during her reading of Rock ‘n’ Roll Rolex. 


School leaders participating in a role play during a reading activity led by Oasis Book Project. 


More Read Aloud fun with Cathy Kreutter! 


Gulu and northern Uganda’s only speech and language therapist Ojok Isaac discussing the benefits of reading to language development during the Book Fair. 


Book Fair day!

I will sleep well after tomorrow night!

Tomorrow is our Book Fair! The first ever Book Fair in Gulu which we are hosting.
Quite a few months ago we ran a little ‘gofundme’ fundraiser to raise money to put an event like this together. You (or several people like you) were extremely generous and we quickly raised enough money to host the event. Since then we have put in quite a lot of preparation to bring this event to fruition and it’s finally here! We are as ready as we can be!

We are expecting around 75 directors, principals and head teachers from about 40 primary schools and local organisations. We have only invited what we call the ‘serious’ schools; schools which we are working well with, head teachers who seem quite interested in improving their school and schools which have dedicated teachers who are  trying hard with their teaching of reading and literacy.

It’s actually more than a Book Fair – it’s an event! Our keynote speaker is author and illustrator Cathy Kreutter who will also be launching her new book 1, 2, 3 Good Morning on the day! It’s the first board book to be published in Uganda! Cathy will be speaking about the importance of a picture book as well as how to establish a school library. There’s also going to be presentations on the importance of children reading (or being read to), demonstration of a reading activity, explaining our new mobile library (details on that one later), and a local speech and language therapist discussing the importance of reading for speech and language development.

We are hoping that the Book Fair will ignite a little spark in schools, small fires where libraries will be open, expanded or possibly even used for the first time!

Please pray that this is the beginning of something quite incredible in our local schools – the beginning of a reading revolution!

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350 teachers: 7 days

We have just completed a LONG seven days of training 350 ‘Speed School’ teachers, along with their supervisors, mentors and community volunteers. The Speed School programme is funded by Geneva Global and organised as remedial/catch-up lessons for children out of school – the idea is to teach three years of education in one year so children can quickly catch-up and enter grade 4 (P4) after one year.

The most challenging part of the experience was teaching group work using resources to 100 teachers in the dining room (not the best environment for explaining and modelling group work, but we managed!). The second biggest challenge was packing all our resources into two bags to fit on one boda back to the office – and we also managed that!

Now we rest: a week-long break for us and all our staff!


Glasses for classes

Today I was deeply humbled by this incredibly generous gift from one of our student teachers. She’s a hard-working and dedicated student: I gave her a little helping hand to get a job in one of our local schools and this was a surprise thank you gift! This was certainly my ‘rose’ for the day.



Coming to life…

Tree growI took a photo of the tree to the right a few months back in our local national park. There was something so striking about this tree, and I have often pondered about it since. There is certainly a lot of life in this tree, and it seems to just appear out of hard stone walls – ruins that have been left untouched.

You wouldn’t think the conditions are perfect for the tree, yet it is thriving and the roots just keep growing and reaching down.

These past two weeks we have conducted two lots of teacher trainings with 65 nursery (preschool) teachers. Currently – I’m exhausted, but it was well worth it! We thought many of our local schools were ready for the next big step: teaching them how to teach with children working in groups, using resources and being actively engaged in their lessons. Although we had taught all of these schools teaching methodology about early reading skills, most of it was still being taught from the chalkboard, the old ‘chalk and talk’ method. However, this was the first step. We are on a long, slow journey and it was important to improve the teaching of reading first, before we can then move into taking these teaching principles and then making them more active and engaging to learners. But – we are there!

And just like the tree in this photograph, our local classrooms are beginning to burst forth with life and energy!

Over three afternoons (over two weeks) we demonstrated how to use resources practically in the classroom, how to manage ‘stations’ and rotate children through using different resources and then dedicated an afternoon to making resources with local teachers. Clearly one afternoon for resource making wasn’t enough – we virtually had to kick them out of our training room before it got dark!

The last step in making resources with teachers is quite important, since resources here are scarce and oftenest unattainable. Making something is the only option. So out came the cardboard, paper, scissors and markers.

We have already started to follow up some of these teachers in their schools and it is so exciting to see children practically making letters with bottle tops and play dough and to see learning come to life! To see that tree start growing out of its hard brick foundation.

Below are some photos from the past two weeks:

Art on show…

At Myron’s little school co-operative all of the parents offer up their skill-set to help enhance our children’s education as a community. Myron was blessed to have small-group art lessons run by a very creative parent! If anyone knows me well, these are certainly skills I don’t have and so thankful that others can input creatively into Myron’s life. Here are a few pictures from his recent art show.


Jigsaw introductions…

At READ for Life we have started professional development sessions every Friday afternoon with our core staff. We have a new little routine that goes something like: jigsaw puzzles (and progressing to other puzzles and logical thinking activities); grammar and then training in teaching methods.

I know the jigsaw puzzle idea is a bit out there! But we are looking to develop problem solving skills in our team and jigsaws are a great introduction. Problem solving and critical thinking is something that is not included in the Ugandan Curriculum and up until a couple of weeks ago some of our staff members had never seen a jigsaw puzzle before. It’s quite a novelty and we have started with 9, 12, 16 and 24-piece jigsaw puzzles. Looking forward to adding many more pieces in the sessions to come.

Please watch Play School

Don’t you just love it when one of your professional development suggestions for a staff member is to watch Play School 🙂


Police and seatbelts

While travelling to Kampala recently to pick up my new visa I was pulled over by traffic police in a small town for a random check. This is a very standard occurrence here and not to get pulled over on a journey between Gulu and Kampala is almost strange. I wound down the window, greeted the female officer and just handed her my licence. Her response was: “What are you giving me this for? I could just run away with it.” I replied: “True, but I would chase you.” She then told me she just wanted a lift. After a long conversation of trying to find out where she wanted the lift to (but didn’t give a direct answer to), I told her to get in the car.

Our next conversation made me laugh out loud, and giggle for the rest of my journey.

Daniel: Madam, put your seatbelt on because I don’t want to get pulled over by the police.
Policewoman: (belly laugh) that won’t happen!
Daniel: You put your seatbelt on.
Policewoman: (trying to reach the belt and pull it around herself) I am too satisfied for this! It is squeezing my stomach, I am not putting it on.
Daniel: (laughing out loud and enjoying the conversation immensely) OK.

We drove off. We only went around 500m down the road. I figured she didn’t tell me where she actually wanted to go because I might have made her walk and she didn’t want to do that 🙂

By the way, she gave my licence back but I’m doubting she would have got too far with it before I caught up with her…


Reading reaches refugees

Uganda has one of the biggest refugee populations in the world, with more than 1.2million refugees (the majority from South Sudan) seeking refuge in Uganda. Many of the refugee settlements are within a few hours drive from Gulu and this year we have partnered with another NGO (ZOA International) to begin a pilot project in one of the settlements. Two of our READ for Life trainers recently travelled to one of the largest refugee settlements where they visited three schools to test children’s reading levels and then train teachers from two of the schools (one school will be a control school).

Although our team returned quite discouraged from the reading results, I’m pretty excited! Third grade children could barely read one word; one school had grade 3 reading levels at 0 words per minute whilst in another the average was 1.1 words read in one minute. You could say that after three years of education, these children were illiterate.

I’m really excited about this project!
I’m excited that we have an opportunity to work with refugees.
I’m excited that although currently the children cannot read, I am completely confident they will make a lot of progress this year!
I’m excited that these teachers will be learning new teaching methods that will change the face of education for refugee children.
I’m excited that we can visit and mentor the teachers throughout the year.
I’m excited about seeing the results at the end of the year!
And I’m excited about the future possibilities from this project.